The results of the 2022 opener at St. Pete surprised a lot of people. First with a Chevy front-row lockout and 1-3 finish at a track where Andretti and Honda were expected to dominate. As a result, the manufacturer’s race and driver’s race into a bit of turmoil ahead of the season’s first oval race at Texas Motor Speedway March 20. Let’s explore some winners and losers before covering over some other newsy topics.
Winners and Losers in the Driver’s Championship.
Big winner: Scott McLaughlin (Penske-Chevy). He won the race from pole, which was a big surprise considering his previous performances and Chevy’s recent weakness on street courses. With this win, he leads the drivers’ title race, although no one really expects him to be in the same spot at the end of the season (wait … didn’t we say the same thing last season when Alex Palou won the first race?)
Big winner: Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda). This is a classic case of making chicken salad out of chicken excrement. Palou, the defending driver’s champion, started 10th and passed several cars in the pits during the pit stops on the first caution period, possibly by short-filling. He came out behind McLaughlin and Will Power (Penske-Chevy). He passed Power on the first green lap after the caution ended and stayed with McLaughlin the rest of the way to finish a close second. In the process Palou passed title contenders Colton Herta (Andretti-Honda), Romain Grosjean (Andretti-Honda) and Rinus Veejay (Carpenter-Chevy), who all started ahead of him on the grid. This is one example of why Palou being part of the Ganassi team is a huge advantage for him in the title chase. The improvement on that pit stop was worth as much as 21 points. Keep in mind that Palou won the 2021 title by 39 points.
Other driver’s title winners: Herta (started 3rd/finished 4th), Grosjean (5rd/5th) VeeKay (4th/6th), Scott Dixon (Ganassi Honda) (7th/8th), Marcus Ericsson (Ganassi Honda) (8th/9th). They are winners because they are contenders who finished in the top 10.
Driver’s title losers: The worst thing you can do if you want to contend for the driver’s title is to put yourself in a hole at the first race. That list includes Pato O’Ward (McLaren-Chevy)(12th), Josef Newgarden (Penske Chevy) (16th) and Alexander Rossi (Andretti-Honda) (20th). All of them need a podium finish soon before the others leave them behind.
Rookie winner: Christian Lundgaard (Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan-Honda) was the top finishing Rookie in 11th. A steady, uneventful race. No other Rookie finished better than 18th.
Winners and Losers in the Manufacturer’s Championship
Chevy surprised everyone by locking out the front row in qualifying (McLaughlin and Power) on a street course.
Loser: Honda lost a race that they were probably counting on winning, given Andretti’s dominance on street courses, especially with Colton Herta. On the other hand, most of Honda’s contender’s for the driver’s championship did better than their Chevy counterparts. If you consider Newgarden and O’Ward to be Chevy’s best hopes, they finished well back of the accepted Honda contenders Palou, Herta, Grosjean, Rahal, etc. So, it’s not all bad for Honda.
Who’s got the best chance to win this weekend?
The race at Texas this season is a great example of a spin of the roulette wheel: no one knows what will happen. Not much can be learned from last year. Among the more interesting things to consider:
- This is the first Texas race to be run in the daytime on quite some time. Historically, warmer conditions favor Honda on ovals. But it snowed last week, so who knows?
- Indycar gave the teams more aero options.
- The Texas surface is treated with a chemical to help the NASCAR cars stick to the pavement. It does the opposite for Indycar. Will running in the daylight have any effect on that?
- This is the first Indycar oval race for Jimmie Johnson. Will his NASCAR skills help him in an Indycar?
Introduction of Hybrids delayed
Indycar announced recently that it was delaying the introduction of Hybrids until at least the 2024 season. They were schedule to be introduced in 2023. The reason is supply chain delays in getting the pieces necessary to Honda and Chevy to test.
The latest rumor is that the new hybrids might be introduced with new cars, instead of installing the new power units into existing cars. The reason? Updating the existing cars for the hybrid units will cost about $250,000 each. While new cars would cost about $500,000. So why spend the $250,000 for one or two seasons?