NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2021 IndyCar Quarter-Season Update: Championship Contenders

With a quarter of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season out of the way, let’s take a look at how the six drivers predicted before the season to be championship contenders are doing.

So far in 2021, only one driver has finished all four IndyCar races in the top five, and that’s Scott Dixon. The six-time champion currently leads the standings with 153 points after scoring a third in the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park, a fifth at St. Petersburg, a win at Texas Motor Speedway’s first race and a fourth at Texas’s second race.

The No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda’s most enduring performance was at Texas’ first race. Of the 212 laps that made up the Genesys 300, Dixon led 206 of them on a track where passing was extremely difficult.

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If the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner can keep this form up, the championship might be decided at the penultimate round in Laguna Seca.

Josef Newgarden won the 2017 and 2019 IndyCar titles but the Team Penske driver has had to climb out of a hole since the first race of the season.

On the first lap at Barber, Newgarden got loose coming through turn 4 and got a couple of wheels on the grass. The resulting spin in front of the rest of the charging pack meant that a few other competitors hit Newgarden, forcing him out of the race.

After a disappointing 23rd-place result at Barber, Newgarden finished second at St. Petersburg, sixth at the first Texas race and runner-up at the second Texas race. Newgarden is currently fourth in points, 37 behind Dixon. It’s not impossible to make up that gap, but Dixon would need to have a bad race quickly for that to happen.

Racing luck is either with you or it isn’t, and in Alexander Rossi’s case, it hasn’t been there for a long time.

The 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner has two top-10 finishes with a ninth at St. Petersburg and an eighth at the first Texas race, but a flat tire caused by contact with Graham Rahal at St. Petersburg resulted in a 21st place finish and the start crash at the second Texas race meant that Rossi’s race ended before it even started with a 20th-place finish.

The California native currently sits 15th in IndyCar points, but Rossi is coming up on some tracks that have been strong for him in the past. If the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda can find victory lane in the summer, then just maybe we could see Rossi get back to a fighting position.

Katy Perry’s song Hot and Cold is a great description for Colton Herta’s 2021 campaign. After being involved in the first lap incident at Barber and finishing 22nd, Herta went on to dominate at St. Petersburg, leading 97 of 100 laps to score his fourth win in IndyCar competition. However, the California native finished 22nd again at the first Texas race after a mechanical failure in the right rear corner of the car.

However, Herta finished fifth at the second Texas race, putting him seventh in points, 53 behind Dixon. Herta could get into the top five in points again with another strong performance or two over the next few races, but let’s see how consistent the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda can be.

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Will Power started the 2021 IndyCar season with a strong run at Barber Motorsports Park where the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet finished second to Alex Palou.

After signing a new contract with Team Penske through the end of the 2023 IndyCar season, Power went on to finish eighth at St. Petersburg after a dismal qualifying effort. However, TMS was not as kind to the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner.

With finishes of 14th and 13th, Power fell to ninth in points, tied with teammate Scott McLaughlin at 99 points, just one behind Herta. Power has won at the IMS road course before so he will be a threat there on Saturday. Can we see a mid-season swing go Power’s way? Time will tell.

Simon Pagenaud’s 2021 season got off to an unremarkable start with a 12th-place finish at Barber Motorsports Park, however the 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner has finished the last three races all in the top 10 with a third at St. Petersburg and a 10th and sixth at both Texas races.

Pagenaud has won at both the IMS road course and Detroit, so the next three races could be critical for the frenchman to further his championship charge, especially with the Indianapolis 500 being double points.

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