Photo: Josef Newgarden on his way to clinching the championship at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca. Photo by Kyle McInnes
In some ways 2019 was an unusual season for the NTT Indycar Series. In other ways, it was a typical season.
Some unusual items:
All three of the championship contenders heading to the final race had at least one finish of 15th or worse.
The seven race winners each won multiple times. I can’t recall that ever happening before. Seven winners seems like the lowest total in a few years as well.
None of the three contenders won a race after July 20.
Alexander Rossi did not lead a lap after his dominating win at Road America on June 23.
Typically, Team Penske drivers led more than 900 laps and won nine races. The team also enjoyed a 1-2 finish in the final standings.
Josef Newgarden combined consistency and some great pit strategy by Tim Cindric to jump to an early points lead which he held most of the season. Rossi climbed to within 16 points after Mid Ohio, but the lead expanded in the following race after Rossi’s involvement in the first lap incident at Pocono. Simon Pagenaud saved his job with his two brilliant victories in May. He had a 4.8 finishing average over the last six races and came up just 25 points short of his second title.
Rossi was dominating at Long Beach and Road America. He finished second in the Indianapolis 500. The rest of the time he was good, but not great. I thought Rossi was more consistent in 2018. Since his Road America win, Rossi had an average finish of 7.7
Dixon’s Title Defense Stalls
Scott Dixon’s season was typical of his title defense years. He never got going. 2019 was just the second time he has finished outside the top three in the standings.
Dixon finished second three times and third once in the first five races. A 17th place in the Indianapolis 500 followed by a crash and 22nd place in the first Belle Isle race put Dixon in a hole he could not climb out of. He did bounce back to win the second race at Belle Isle and also won at Mid Ohio. Dixon now has 46 career wins, just six short of Mario Andretti for second place all time.
Rookies Have Outstanding Year
The four rookies- Colton Herta, Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson, and Santino Ferrucci- collectively had a season that any rookie group would be thrilled with. The class earned 2 wins, 4 poles, and 6 podiums. Ferrucci had an average finish on ovals of 6.2. Rosenqvist’s street/road course average was a respectable 7.1. Herta took most of the headlines with his three poles and two victories, but mechanical issues and accidents suppressed his averages and kept him behind in the points standings.
Rosenqvist won the Rookie of the Year title with a fierce drive at Laguna Seca from 14th to fifth to edge Herta by five points. He served notice at St. Petersburg that the rookies meant business when he passed Will Power on a restart. With Rosenqvist staying at Ganassi and Herta moving to the main Andretti team, I see a future rivalry between these two in a couple years.
Surprises and Disappointments
The biggest surprise of the year was Takuma Sato winning two races and earning two pole positions. Sato had a big slump beginning at Texas and was blamed for the early accident at Pocono. It would be nice to see him put a full season together.
Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank racing deserve consideration for driver and team of the year. Harvey earned the team’s first podium at the Indycar Grand Prix. In just 10 races, Harvey had four top ten finishes, got into the Fast Six twice, and finished on the lead lap in seven races. They seemed to struggle after their long break following Road America. If their plan to be full time in 2020 works out, they should be even better.
Zach Veach was probably the most disappointing driver. After finishing 2018 strongly, I thought he would have a great year. He lingered in the back half of the field most weekends and finished 18th in points, ahead of only Matheus Leist and Ed Jones among the drivers who drove all 17 races.
The Best and Not So Best
Not every race can be great, and like most years a few races stood out.
For me, the best races were the Indycar Grand Prix, Mid Ohio, Iowa, and Gateway.
The worst races in my opinion were Pocono, Detroit 1, Toronto, and Portland.