The mid point of the NTT Indycar Series always seems to arrive too quickly. Wasn’t St. Pete just two weeks ago? The crews and teams have a welcome break, which became even better for them as Wednesday’s scheduled test at Road America has already been cancelled for now due to weather. I don’t know why the test wasn’t scheduled for the Wednesday of race week.
As with every season, 2019 has had some surprises and disappointments along with the predictability of the Big Three winning most of the time.. The top four in points are separated by just 89 points. All four have won at least one race. Josef Newgarden leads Alexander Rossi by 25 points. I don’t think this fight is over by any means. Today I’ll talk about the surprises of the first half of 2019. Tomorrow I’ll discuss the first half disappointments.
Surprises- Rookies, Missing Names from Win Column
The biggest surprise of the season is that Power has not won a race yet. He has two third place finishes, one at St. Pete and last week at the second Detroit race, three other top ten finishes and is sixth in points. Last place at COTA and an 18th place finish at Detroit in race one have hurt his standing. I expect him to win a race or two the second half of the season.
Keeping it Close-
Each of the top four drivers- Newgarden, Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon-have at least one finish below 15th place. Last season in Dixon’s march to the title he had a worst finish of twelfth. Newgarden’s three victories are allowing him to keep the lead. Team Penske drivers generally have a tendency to fade the second half of the year. Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015 let a comfortable lead slip away and lost the championship to Dixon. Helio Castroneves lost a couple titles late in the season. Newgarden in 2017 and Pagenaud in 2016, however, won their titles with consistent runs and were strong throughout their title years.
Where did this guy come from? He was nearly invisible at the beginning of the year, but has shown consistency of late with four top tens in the last five races. he has five top tens this year, including a career best fourth at Texas Saturday night. The Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year now leads the rookie standings by 12 points over Felix Rosenqvist. Ferrucci has driven extremely well on the two ovals. There are three ovals in the second half of the season.
The Other Rookies-
Rosenqvist got off to a great start at St. Pete where he led laps and finished fourth. He then won the pole for the Indycar GP at IMS. Rosenqvist has five top tens and two top fives. His two DNFs and 23rd place finish at COTA have put him behind Ferrucci.
If Herta finished every race Rookie of the Year would not even be close. Four straight DNFs followed his win at COTA. The issues were mechanical. Saturday at Texas he was in a position for at least a podium when he and Dixon collided with less than 20 laps to go. If Herta drives like he did for most of the race at Texas in the second half of 2019, he could win again or see the podium a couple of times.
Ericsson’s second at Detroit has been the highlight of a season filled with lots of frustration. He has just three top tens,but two have come in the last two races. Ericsson has had some good days ruined by mistakes. He still could have a decent season.
The surprise is that Rossi has won just once this year. His car just doesn’t seem to have enough to get to first. Rossi showed frustration after Texas, his third runner-up finish of the year. He is having a great year, but I expected just a bit more. I still think his consistency will get him to the top. Rossi also has two race/season saving moves this season. He was able to keep his car going in Detroit last Sunday after the collision between Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe. Saturday night he narrowly avoided the spinning car of Herta on the apron.
I saved the biggest surprise for last. Sato is driving better than he ever has this season. Two poles and a victory have Sato in fifth place in the standings. He has been on the podium three times, including at the Indianapolis 500 where he cam from way back. Sato’s only mistake this season came Saturday at Texas when he came into the pits too fast and hit a crewman. His stop and go penalty left him three laps down and in fifteenth place. Sato will be a factor in the title fight all season.