Will Power

Today’s question: As the NTT INDYCAR SERIES enters “oval season” this weekend at Iowa Speedway, Josef Newgarden is the series’ unquestioned king of ovals. He has won nine of the last 12 races on circle tracks. Who is the second-best oval racer right now in the series?

Curt Cavin: If not Newgarden, the pick is Will Power. The series champion in 2014 and 2022 won both poles at Iowa last year and led both races, including 119 of the 250 laps in the opener. Power faded a bit in Race 1, finishing fifth, but he chased Newgarden to the finish line in Race 2. He came up seven-tenths of a second short. For good reason, we spend a lot of time touting Newgarden’s success at the track, but Power has nearly been his equal. He has won the past four poles, finished second in four races and added a third-place finish. He also has the third-most oval-track wins among active drivers with nine.

Eric Smith: Rivaling Newgarden for oval prowess will be no easy feat, but if anyone can top the Team Penske driver, I’m looking at Pato O’Ward. He has 11 runner-up finishes in his career and six of those were following Newgarden to the checkered flag. Plus, sometimes a win can go a long way for the psyche of a driver and their team. O’Ward never thought much about the season-opening St. Petersburg triumph because he didn’t get the benefits of celebrating in victory lane that day. He kept saying the win was handed to win with Team Penske’s Push To Pass penalties and that in his mind, his winless streak dated to 2022 at Iowa Speedway. Coincidentally enough, that’s where we go next, and he enters on the heels of a victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In 21 oval starts, O’Ward has a pair of victories, six runner-up finishes and 16 top-five results. At Iowa, O’Ward has three podium finishes in his last four starts. At World Wide Technology Raceway, O’Ward hasn’t finished worse than fourth, with three of his five results being a runner-up. The Milwaukee Mile and Nashville Superspeedway are essentially new for everyone. I expect O’Ward to win multiple times in this stretch.

Paul Kelly: I’ll resort to my stock answer for any “best of” list – or “second-best of” list, in this case – Scott Dixon. But this pick is based on more than just the gloss of six NTT INDYCAR SERIES championships and 58 career victories: It’s backed by statistics. Accuse me of recency bias, but I averaged the finishes of the last six oval events – five last season and this year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge – for Dixon, Pato O’Ward, Will Power, Scott McLaughlin, Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson. Guess who had the lowest number? The Iceman, at an average finish of 4.5. Palou, who never has won on an oval, is second at 5.0. Third is McLaughlin, at 6.3. So, yeah, I’m challenging your presumptions, Curt and Eric! Dixon’s worst finish in the last six circle-track races is sixth, three times last season. He also won at World Wide Technology Raceway last August in a masterful display of fuel saving. So, if Joe New falters this weekend at Iowa (which I doubt he will), look for Dixon to pick up the pieces and restart his championship charge after a last-place finish at Mid-Ohio.