Coming off one of it’s best seasons in team history, Chip Ganassi Racing heads into the 2022 season as the odds-on favorite to win the championship for a third straight season. In 2021 Alex Palou collected his first three career victories on the way to his first ever championship in just his second season. Scott Dixon continued to be Scott Dixon, winning at Texas and finishing on the podium in five races, resulting in a 4th place finish in the championship. Marcus Ericsson found the checkered flag in his first two career races, winning at Detroit and snagging another win at the inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville. Jimmie Johnson took strides his first year with the team and Tony Kanaan made the fast 9 in Indy qualifications. 2022 will see a five car effort at the Indianapolis 500, adding Jimmie Johnson for the first time at the age of 46. It was an impressive season for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021. It was the first time Chip has had three different drivers win a race in the same season. If Jimmie Johnson continues to make strides and neither Ericsson or Palou take a step back, they will again be the favorites in 2022 to win the championship and the Indianapolis 500.
After a breakout season in 2021, Palou returns for his second season at Chip Ganassi Racing and his third full time IndyCar season. After standing on the podium in half the races in 2021, winning three times with an average finish of 7th, Palou brought home the championship. With three wins on the season and an impressive 2nd at the Indy 500, Palou led the points throughout the summer in 2021. The three most impressive drives in my opinion came over the last three races on the west coast. Being chased by four other drivers at tracks Palou had never seen, the Spaniard took the win at Portland and finished the season with a second and fourth place run.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Grid penalties after unapproved engine changes cost Palou valuable starting positions at second IMS Grand Prix and at Gateway. He finished 27th and 20th in those races.
PROJECTION: It’s tough to go back to back as the IndyCar Champions. In fact, only two drivers have won back to back titles since 1996. Palou needs to stay consistent in 2022. The worst thing that could happen is Palou takes major steps back in 2022, but I don’t perceive that happening.
What can be said about Scott Dixon. The guy is the best driver in the sport over the last 20 years, he’s one of the best of all time yet isn’t recognized by 99% people that see him on the street, but that’s how the Iceman likes it. Dixon snagged the pole for the 2021 Indy 500 and moved into third in all time laps led at the Indy 500. He is 42 laps shy of second all time and is 74 away from being the all time lap leader at Indy. Dixon will be with a new crew chief in 2022 as Blair Julien moves into a bigger role inside Chip Ganassi Racing. Taking his place as the head of the #9 PNC Crew is Tyler Rees. Rees has spent time with Dixon in the past and comes over from Jimmie Johnson’s crew.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Be perfect. I mean, finishing on the lead lap in 15 of 16 events last year just isn’t going to cut it. In all honesty, compete for the Indy 500 win. Dixon has started on the front row in the last two 500s but hasn’t been a threat towards the end. He dominated the 2020 race until Takuma Sato took the lead late in the going for the victory.
PROJECTION: Dixon will contend for the championship again in 2022. For the 18th consecutive year Dixon will win a race and continue that record streak. Dixon can run in IndyCar as long as he likes and still win, the 40 year old just might have another eight seasons left in the tank.
Marcus Ericsson had been waiting for a year like 2021 since 2013. 2013 was the last time Ericsson had won in any series he had ran in. Now yes, the first win came after Will Powers' car wouldn’t fire after a red flag at Belle Isle. He backed up his first career win with another on the streets of Nashville after launching off of the back of another car early in the race. Ericsson finished the season 6th in points, improving six spots on his previous best. Just like a few of his teammates, Ericsson will be with a new crew chief. Dave Pena will move over to the #8 car after spending several years on Scott Dixons crew.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Indianapolis. Both the oval and the road course have show dismal results for Ericsson over his career. His best result at IMS is 9th with his best result at the 500 coming last year when he finished 11th. If Ericsson can figure out the speedway, he has a chance to finish top 3 in points in 2022.
PROJECTION: Ericsson finds victory circle again in 2022. I am still not willing to bet he can contend at the Indy 500, which eliminates me from picking him to win the championship. He’s improved his finish in the championship in each of his first three years in IndyCar. I think he will solidly finish inside the top 10 in points.
The excitement level and new eyes that Jimmie Johnson brought to the team and IndyCar will only be matched by the excitement of the seven time Nascar champ to run the greatest spectacle in racing. Johnson showed strides late in the season snagging back to back 17th place finishes while staying on pace with the rest of the field. Johnson will bring back Carvana to test the entire IndyCar schedule, adding all the ovals to his plate in 2022 and most importantly the 106th Indy 500. Johnson will be paired with Mike Le Gallic who has F1 experience and returns to IndyCar.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Staying on pace with the field and contending for top 10s should be the goal in year two for Johnson. The learning curve of reteaching your brain and muscles to drive deeper and faster into a corner opposed to racing a stock car was steep in year number one. Johnson will have a fast car at Indy and a chance to run out front. Finding speed early in race weekends and not feeling behind the eight ball before qualifying will increase Johnson’s chances of success in IndyCar.
PROJECTION: Johnson will continue to make strides on road and street courses but from a fan’s perspective, it’s all about seeing him run the 2022 Indy 500. Johnson will have a fast car at the 500 and score a top 10 finish after a great qualifying effort. I can only hope Carvana continues to make hilarious commercials with Jimmie Johnson, although the jingle still hasn’t left my head.
Kanaan will enter the 2022 season at the age of 47 (although Robin Miller always thought he was younger). It was a decent 2021 campaign, but even TK will tell you he was disappointed with his 10th place finish in the Indy 500 after qualifying inside the fast 9. This could very well be TK’s final shot to win the Indy 500, and he enters the last of his multiyear deal at Ganassi. Kanaan will make his 21st consecutive start in the 500, ranking him 8th all time with Gary Bettenhausen.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The only focus TK now has is on the Indianapolis 500 and winning his second. This is possibly Kanaan last run in the Indy 500, getting off to a fast start and dialing in the car in race trim early is key to his success.
PROJECTION: This will be Kanaans last chance to win the Indy 500. The 500 has been won by drivers over the age of 35 in 10 of the last 12 runnings, including Kanaans triumph in 2013 at the age of 37. TK will have a good Indy 500, finishing solidly inside the top 10 in his final run at the Brickyard.
CHAMPIONSHIP PROJECTION ODDS
SCOTT DIXON +400
ALEX PALOU +550
MARCUS ERICSSON +850
JIMMIE JOHNSON +3500
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