More than half of the 16-race NTT INDYCAR SERIES season is complete, with 10 races down and six to go in what has been one of the most unpredictable INDYCAR seasons in recent memory.
The final stretch of the 2021 season begins next weekend with the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in the streets of Nashville on Sunday, Aug. 8 (5:30 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN). It starts a stretch of six races in eight weeks that culminates in what is sure to be a thrilling battle for the Astor Challenge Cup in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, Sept. 26 (3 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN).
This season has seen unexpected winners, many first-time winners, some big names up top while others struggle and a crop of young drivers showing the world why they deserve to be an NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion.
Here’s a look at some of the more impressive and intriguing statistics from the first 10 races of the season. While some might surprise you, they also offer a look at who is heading toward September with the most momentum.
So far this season, we’ve seen four first-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winners. Alex Palou opened the season with a win at Barber Motorsports Park, Pato O’Ward claimed his first win at Texas Motor Speedway, Rinus VeeKay outdueled Romain Grosjean to win the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course and Marcus Ericsson benefitted from some good luck and hard racing at Belle Isle-1 for his first career win.
The surge of new drivers winning in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is something of a rare sight after the turn of the century. Since 2000, only three other times have there been as many, or more, first-time winners in a season:
2000: 4 – Max Papis, Helio Castroneves, Roberto Moreno, Cristiano da Matta
2002: 5 – Jeff Ward, Airton Dare, Alex Barron, Tomas Scheckter, Felipe Giaffone
2013: 4 – James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball
Already, this is an impressive statistic, but don’t be surprised if it matches or exceeds the 2002 season. Considering drivers such as Grosjean, Scott McLaughlin, Jack Harvey and Conor Daly have all competed for wins this season, it’s fair to consider this statistic far from closed.
Different Winners To Start Season
This season opened with seven different winners to start the season with Palou, Colton Herta, Scott Dixon, O’Ward, VeeKay, Helio Castroneves and Ericsson all finding Victory Lane in the first seven races of the season. O’Ward broke the streak by scoring his second win of the season at Belle Isle-2.
Seven different winners to start a season is extremely rare, having happened just three other times in the last two decades. There were seven different winners to start the 2000 CART and IRL seasons, as well as the 2017 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
Had Josef Newgarden not given up the lead to O’Ward on old tires with three laps to go at Belle Isle-2, he would have become the eighth different winner to start the season, the most different winners to start a year in the INDYCAR SERIES modern era. What’s more, it would have been the most different winners to start an INDYCAR SERIES season since there were 13 different winners to open the 1911 season.
While that feat didn’t happen, it’s still an incredible statistic that represents how wide-open this season is.
Different Winners In Season
While Newgarden didn’t get that win at Belle Isle-2, his victory two races later at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course made him the eighth different winner this season, which is the most different winners in a season since there were eight different winners in the entire 2018 season.
The last two NTT INDYCAR SERIES seasons have each featured wins by seven different drivers. The most different winners in a season in the INDYCAR SERIES modern era is 11. This has happened four times: 2014, 2001 CART, 2000 CART and 1948.
It’s not crazy to think that this statistic can reach a historic mark and make the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season the most diverse in the INDYCAR modern era.
Drivers still looking for their first win this season include 2020 winners Felix Rosenqvist, Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato and Will Power. The only repeat winners from 2020 are Dixon, Newgarden and Herta.
Should even just those four winners from last season find Victory Lane in the next six races, that puts us at 12 different winners this season. There haven’t been that many since 12 different drivers won in 1917.
Most Top-10s This Season
Defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon leads the field this season for consistency, with nine top-10s in 10 starts. His lone finish outside the top 10 came in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 when a pit lane issue relegated him to 17th.
Points leader Palou and the driver in second, O’Ward, are close behind Dixon with eight top-10s apiece. Palou’s lone finishes outside the top 10 came at St. Petersburg and Belle Isle-1, while O’Ward’s were at St. Petersburg and the IMS road course.
Seeing this consistency, it’s no surprise these three make up the top three in the points standings. Following close behind are Newgarden, Ericsson and Graham Rahal with seven top-10s each, and VeeKay, Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi with six.
Most Top-Fives This Season
This is when the championship battle starts to hone in. Only three drivers have scored five or more top-five finishes, and points leader Palou leads the field with seven top-fives. O’Ward and Dixon are in his tire tracks with six top fives a piece, while Newgarden and Rahal each have five.
Most Podium Finishes
Want to fully understand the championship battle? Look no further than at the driver who has scored the most podium finishes: Palou, with six.
What’s even more impressive is that Palou is turning up the heat as the championship stretch gets closer. He’s finished on the podium in each of the last three races to extend his championship lead on O’Ward. He finished third at Belle Isle-2, first at Road America and third at Mid-Ohio.
O’Ward and Newgarden trail Palou with four podium finishes each. Newgarden’s have been spaced evenly throughout the season, while O’Ward’s have been confined to the Texas Motor Speedway doubleheader (third and first, respectively) and the Belle Isle doubleheader (third and first, respectively).
Maybe Palou should consider himself lucky that there are no more doubleheaders left on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule.
While he only has one win to show for it, six-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon has dominated the season from in laps led. He easily leads the field with 396 laps led over 10 races. That’s already more than the 340 he led in the entire 2020 season and the most he’s led in a season since he led 456 laps in 2012.
Newgarden is second in laps led with 197. Interestingly, all but 25 have come in the last three races. Between Belle Isle-2, Road America and Mid-Ohio, Newgarden led 172 of 205 laps. That’s just shy of 80 percent.
Herta has led 115 laps this season, 97 coming in his St. Petersburg win. Palou has led 108 laps, and O’Ward has been out front for 73.
As far as organizations are concerned, Chip Ganassi Racing easily leads the field in laps led with 511 between Dixon, Palou and Ericsson. Team Penske is second with 243 laps led, Andretti Autosport has led 121 laps, Ed Carpenter Racing has led 112 and Arrow McLaren SP has led 87.
Best Average Finish
The best average finishes this season are fairly representative of the points standings. Palou leads the field with a best average finish of 5.6. Dixon is second with a 6.2, and O’Ward is third with a 6.7 average finish.
These three have distanced themselves from the field a bit, with Newgarden having the fourth-best average finish this season at 8.3, and right behind him is Ericsson with an average finish of 8.5.
Best Average Start
NTT P1 Award Qualifying serves as the biggest outlier among statistics this season, as Herta is crushing the field in qualifying. In 10 races, the 21-year-old has an average start of 4.6. Surprisingly, he only has one NTT P1 Award for pole, coming at his St. Petersburg win in the second race of the season.
But Herta has yet to start outside the top 10 this season and has started second in each of the last three races.
Speaking of starting in the same position in each of the last three races, Newgarden has the second-best average start of the season at 5.8. He’s scored three NTT P1 Awards for pole position, and each of them have come in the last three races.
Have you realized that the front row of every NTT INDYCAR SERIES race since June 13 has consisted of Newgarden’s No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet and Herta’s No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda?
Other great starters this season have been Palou, with an average start of 6.7, Dixon at 6.9 and Grosjean at 8.4.