With so many interesting moments and races during the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, it's difficult to pare it down to a manageable list. The task is also wrought with peril as one fan's great moment may elicit a non-committal “meh” from another.
Overall, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season served up 17 races of close competition where it took eight stops before a driver could repeat in the winner's circle.
The season began with a win and second place for Sebastien Bourdais, which earned him the distinction of being the first Dale Coyne Racing driver to lead the points. Unfortunately, a heavy crash in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 left Bourdais with a broken hip and pelvis that ruined any chance for a miracle title.
It took the second race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader weekend to deliver a two-time winner: Graham Rahal, who swept both races at Belle Isle. Up to that point, seven drivers from five different teams took victories, punctuating the close competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In the end, there were 10 different winners in the year's 17 starts.
Winning was so tough in 2017 that the powerful Chip Ganassi Racing outfit managed only one this year (Scott Dixon in the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America), something that hasn't happened since 2005. Dixon took Ganassi's sole win that year, too.
With the tough competition in mind, here's a Firestone Fast Six season highlight version of my most significant moments in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017.
Mr. Dixon's wild ride
There were several accidents in the 2017 season, but none approached Dixon's jaw-dropping exit from the Indianapolis 500. To say the No. 9 Honda caught air when it collided with a slowing Jay Howard on Lap 53 would be an understatement at best. Dixon soared several hundred feet before landing on the SAFER Barrier on the inside of the circuit. The fact that he walked away with only a limp underlines the safety of both the Dallara IR-12 chassis and the upgrades to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Alonso makes Indy 500 debut
A Formula One world champion starting the Indianapolis 500 really isn't news. It wasn't even the first time an F1 world champion skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” something the legendary Jim Clark did when he won the Indy 500 in 1965. But in today's sponsor-driven world, having an F1 driver – let alone a two-time world champion – in the field of 33 made Fernando Alonso's decision to try his hand at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway one of the shockers of 2017. He qualified a strong fifth and led 27 laps in the race, but an engine failure ended his day with 21 laps to go.
Helio's last win?
With Team Penske reportedly planning to reduce its stable by one car in 2018, the odd-man out in the equation appears to be three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves. The affable Brazilian is rumored to be joining the Penske sports car operation and even tested one for the team last week. Castroneves scored his 30th career Indy car win in July's Iowa Corn 300 in dominant fashion, leading of 217 of 300 laps and never really being challenged. The victory put him in 12th overall in career wins, one behind Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. If Castroneves does make the move to sports cars, speculation has him returning in May in quest of that fourth Indy 500 win.
When a driver gets sideways after sliding into the gray on an oval, the next sound usually heard is the crunching of the car into the wall. Apparently, nobody told James Hinchcliffe, who pulled off a miracle in the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway that many felt was up there as one of the best saves ever.
It happened 102 laps into the race when Hinchcliffe's car got off the clean racing line at the exit of Turn 1. At the time, Hinchcliffe was traveling at about 220 mph and managed to shave his speed to 190 mph before the car's back end broke loose, sending him on a pair of 100-yard drifts. Hinchcliffe desperately sawed at the wheel and somehow kept the car off the wall, but it was ever so close with his front right tire coming within inches of the SAFER Barrier. When he finally regained control and continued on his way, everyone watching could finally breathe again.
The pass at Gateway
Team owner Roger Penske always lets his drivers race, but with one caveat: Don't crash your teammate. 2017 champion Josef Newgarden came ever so close to violating that directive with 29 laps to go in the Bommarito 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsport Park. With a little more than a car width of room, Newgarden dove inside at Turn 1 on teammate Simon Pagenaud and barged his way through to take the lead. When the pair banged wheels, Pagenaud called on every ounce of his talent to keep the car off the wall and in the race. The move not only allowed Newgarden to go on to win the race, but it also demonstrated his determination to be 2017 champion.
Rossi comes of age
Despite winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 on a clever fuel strategy, Alexander Rossi struggled to find his feet in the Verizon IndyCar Series last year. Many hoped that 2017 would see him grow into a solid INDYCAR driver.
Those wishes were granted after Rossi showed speed early in 2017 and then blossomed into a threat to win on just about every weekend as this sophomore season progressed. The luck wasn't always there, but Rossi continued to show tremendous speed and talent. His patience was rewarded at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, where he scored his first career pole and went on to a convincing win, despite having to overcome a fuel filler issue early in the race.
The message was loud and clear: Watch out for Rossi next year.