In honor of Sunday’s Super Bowl LV in Tampa between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, INDYCAR.com is comparing the stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with those involved in the NFL’s ultimate game.
In INDYCAR, Scott Dixon is Tom Brady. Both 40-somethings have six championship rings – Tampa Bay’s quarterback is shooting for No. 7 this weekend, Chip Ganassi Racing’s driver seeks to tie A.J. Foyt’s all-time record in a 2021 season that begins April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Like Brady, a case can be made for Dixon being the GOAT of his sport (Greatest of All Time). His 50 career race wins stand just behind Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52).
Throw NTT INDYCAR SERIES newcomer Jimmie Johnson into this conversation, as well. His seven NASCAR Cup Series championships are tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for stock car racing’s record. Johnson’s 83 race wins has him tied for sixth all time with Cale Yarborough, one win behind Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Johnson will drive alongside Dixon at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021.
Linking Alexander Rossi to future Brady greatness is also possible. Both broke onto the scene with big wins, Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 and Rossi with a win in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in 2016. The Andretti Autosport driver also is a dedicated fan of Brady.
Kansas City wide receiver Tyreek Hill has been clocked on foot at nearly 22 mph, making him one of the fastest players in football. Will Power is fleet of a different foot, easily the INDYCAR SERIES’ fastest active driver over a single lap, regardless of the type of track. The 2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner enters the 2021 season with 61 career poles, trailing only Mario Andretti (67) in that category over the sport’s history.
THE YOUNG GUNNER
The Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has the NFL coming up with new adjectives to describe his play. INDYCAR’s equivalent is Colton Herta, who continues to impress beyond his years.
Andretti Autosport driver Herta is the sport’s youngest race winner (18 years, 359 days). Mahomes is poised to become the first NFL quarterback with two Super Bowl victories by age 26. Herta has yet to emerge as a series MVP, but he finished third in last year’s championship and could take the two big steps to the title in 2021.
Herta may not be the only comp to Mahomes. While Josef Newgarden is 5 years older than Mahomes, he also is a champion – twice, in fact. Plus like Mahomes, who played football and baseball in his first two years at Texas Tech, Newgarden is a very diverse athlete. He didn’t look out of place at all while participating in drills during a promotional appearance at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2015. Plus, have you seen Joe New play ping-pong? The guy has insane hand-eye coordination and skills, like Mahomes.
The Chiefs have tight end Travis Kelce, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and a player who often makes Mahomes shine. His INDYCAR comparison is Sebastien Bourdais, a four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion who has seemingly helped every team for which he has driven.
Kelce plays for the family of Lamar Hunt, who coined the term “Super Bowl.” Bourdais has driven for two men with “Super” credentials: Actor Paul Newman and driver A.J. Foyt.
This is the category of tight end Rob Gronkowski and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves. Both have changed teams since establishing stardom (Gronkowski was with the Patriots, Castroneves is the winningest driver Team Penske history). But each has shown to be a popular entertainer, too.
Castroneves won the Mirror Ball Trophy with Julianne Hough during a 2007 season of “Dancing with the Stars.” Gronkowski played the loveable White Tiger on “The Masked Singer” in the spring of 2020. Coincidentally, both shows were staged in the same Los Angeles theater. However, Castroneves, who weighs about 140 pounds wringing wet, surely will never make a cameo WrestleMania appearance as Gronk did.
MR. SMALL BUT MIGHTY
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu earned his “Honey Badger” nickname while playing tenaciously against larger opponents in college at LSU. Mathieu is arguably football’s most versatile player, and he shines in the biggest moments.
In INDYCAR, Takuma Sato doesn’t have a snappy nickname, but he, too, is diminutive and versatile – he has won races on each of the four different types of tracks – and in recent years he’s come up won in the sport’s brightest spotlight.
Sato won the first of his two Indianapolis 500s in 2017, then added a second such win in 2020. But here’s the thing: If Sato would have successfully passed Dario Franchitti on the last lap of the 2012 “500” and been four-tenths of a second quicker over the 500 miles in 2019, he could be a four-time Indy 500 champion right now. Only legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears have accomplished that.
THE REIGNING CHAMPION COACHES
Andy Reid, meet Chip Ganassi. With one Super Bowl title, Reid can’t match Ganassi’s mark of 13 INDYCAR championships, but they’re both known for being out-of-the-box thinkers. Reid’s strength is his offensive creativity while Ganassi turned little-known drivers Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya into INDYCAR SERIES champions.
Reid and Ganassi were both born in the spring of 1958 and have strong Pennsylvania ties. Ganassi, a Pittsburgh native and resident, was once a minority owner of the Pirates; Reid was the longtime coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, if only Ganassi would grow a walrus moustache like Reid’s.
THE MEN IN CHARGE
The NFL has a Commissioner (Roger Goodell), INDYCAR has a Captain (Roger Penske), and they are linked by the year 2006.
Goodell was elevated to his position nearly six months after Penske served as chairman of Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Goodell might be the son of a U.S. Senator, but Penske has been awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, an off-track honor as impressive as his record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories. It’s also worth noting that Penske’s first “500” victory came just after Goodell turned 13.