Friday, March 3, 2023

Fearless 2023 IndyCar Predictions

 Welcome to the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season!

Finally, after thousands of long, lonely days without racing, the series is finally ready to get it on this weekend on the streets of St. Pete.

(Editor's note: It has actually only been 173 days since the last day of the 2022 season, but my sentence makes it a little more dramatic, don't you think?)

I am so excited to be covering the series for Frontstretch, and will be on-site at several races over the course of the summer. Most of my work will go there, but sometimes you need to make musings or write freely without the corporate overlords looking over your shoulder, so expect to see the more fun-type of writing appear in this space, as it has for more than 12 years.

Wow, 12 years! Thanks to everyone who is still with me after all of this time. It's crazy to think it's been that long, and even crazier to think that there just aren't a lot of true bloggers left. 

Anyway, it's prediction time, so here are a few thoughts about what I envision seeing over the course of the 2023 season. And of course, since I am a credentialed member of IndyCar media, they will be completely objective and without any bias whatsoever.

Yeah, right. You guys know me better than that! It's my blog! That's what it's here for!

Anyway, on with the predictions.

2023 IndyCar Champion -- Alex Palou. This year could, quite simply, be the most wide-open championship fight that this series has ever seen. I legit think that there are close to 10 drivers who, if everything goes right, can be holding the Astor Cup in September. And "things going right" will be the key because with the depth of the field, I don't see anybody piling up a lot of wins, it's going to take a consistent, Will Power-type season to get it done. Except for a couple of hiccups, that's what Palou did en route to the 2021 championship, and to have gone through everything he did last year and still kept it together win the final race of the season and finish fifth in points shows that he's a monster. I still think he is one of the three-best drivers in the paddock, and is only getting better.

With hindsight from what happened last year in mind, here's another prediction: Palou stays at Ganassi in 2024 and beyond. Chip Ganassi is a pretty sharp guy, and I don't think he fought the way he did solely to force Palou into honoring the last year of his contract. If he truly had an issue with Alex or his performance, he simply would've let him walk. This was about keeping a generational talent on his team, especially with another generational talent approaching the end of his career. Ganassi has lawyers, he knows the wording on the McLaren contract, and I think in the end it's gonna work out in his favorite.

2023 Indianapolis 500 winner -- Tony Kanaan. Come on, do you really think I'd pick anyone else? I'm still a shade skeptical as to whether or not this year will really be TK's last run at the Brickyard, but if it is, I'd like to see him go out putting his "ugly mug" on the Borg-Warner Trophy once again. If this is the end, I'm happy for him, but I'm a little sad as well as we will be watching the end of the career of one of IndyCar's great drivers, not to mention one of it's most popular ones.

If his 2013 win was anything, it proved that TK is The People's Racer. It's kind of like Rocky in a way, he just had a way of bringing us in every time he strapped into a car. It's about his passion and charisma, and how he made us feel, like we were in the car with him. Few drivers have had the highs and lows at Indy as TK has, and I think that's what made him such a massive figure to a lot of us. I don't know if it is possible for people to "will" someone to a win, but if it an actual thing, TK will have a lot of "will" behind him in May.

Rookie of the Year -- Sting Ray Robb. Originally I had Marcus Armstrong here, then, whoops, realized he wasn't doing the ovals this year, so Robb is our guy. Robb has been a champion in the Road to Indy ladder series, winning the Indy Pro 2000 title in 2019, and last year was the runner-up while in the IndyNXT series. Despite being just 21, Robb has gained plenty of experience in the ladder system, having run 95 races since 2017, and his knowledge of the tracks will be a big advantage for him. I think down the road Benjamin Pedersen will emerge as the best driver out of this class, as I have been impressed with watching him in person in US F4 and F3 Americas competition, and he has six top 5 points finishes in various American open wheel series over  the years. But the fact is, driving for A.J. Foyt Racing this year won't give him a chance to really showcase his talents. 

First First-Time Winner -- Kyle Kirkwood. Like the great DJ Khalid says, all Kirkwood does is win, win, win. While he didn't perform as well as I thought he might in his first season in IndyCar in 2022, he got the most important thing: reps and experience. Moving to Andretti Autosport will definitely changes his fortunes, and if early testing is an indication, he's going to get a chance to run up front.

Comeback Driver of the Year -- Colton Herta. Kinda weird, right? But, last year was an absolute disaster for the 22-year-old, with just one win on the season and two podiums. A solid season for most drivers, but Herta also had four finishes of P23 or worse, and came home just 10th in points. A lot of that points to a basic malaise that followed Andretti Autosport around all year, which, just like I mentioned with Kirkwood, looks to have changed this year. The main thing Herta talked about in the pre-season was the fact that the cars came off of the truck slow and they didn't have the time to catch up to the rest of the field. It's pretty simple -- if they fix that, they win.

Driver on the Hot Seat -- Jack Harvey. When Harvey picked up a podium finish for then-tiny Meyer Shank Racing organization on the IMS road course in 2019, it seemed like he was ready for a full-time gig, which came with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2020, but in three seasons, he's finished P15, P13 and P22 in points. Last year saw him post just one top 10 and six finishes of P20 or worse. He's 29 now, and with a lot of young drivers waiting to move up to the big leagues, this is his show-me season. 

I'm hitting send now, just in time for practice to begin! I hope you have a great IndyCar season, and I'll see you at the track!

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