Note: Today’s guest panelist on the INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable is INDYCAR Art Director Kelly Kough. She has worked for INDYCAR since 2014.
Today’s question: The NTT INDYCAR SERIES has had seven different race winners each of the past two seasons. If that number holds true in 2021, who are your seven winners?
Kelly Kough: Let’s start with the most likely to win races: Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. 2021 is going to be the year Alexander Rossi returns to the top of the podium after a tough 2020 season. I also give a win to both Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, who showed great speed during recent preseason test. That’s seven. But the competition is fierce, so I also predict a win for Rinus VeeKay and rookie Scott McLaughlin.
Curt Cavin: Let’s start with the locks to win races: Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. I think Alexander Rossi will bounce back, so that’s five. Give Colton Herta at least one, which makes six. After that it gets tricky. I’ll actually say eight winners because I think Pato O’Ward will win one, and Takuma Sato will repeat in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The driver due: Graham Rahal. The sleeper: Sebastien Bourdais.
Zach Horrall: This is absolutely the hardest question we’ve answered all year because the NTT INDYCAR SERIES field is so competitive and stacked with talented athletes. Seven!? No way we only have seven different winners this year. But for sake of the question, I’ll say Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi are locks. This year’s roster features several young drivers with really strong teams. Maybe it’s just because I’m young, but I say 2021 is the year of the young driver. Give me Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay. Now, I’ll point out that I didn’t list Sebastien Bourdais, Scott McLaughlin, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power or Takuma Sato, all of whom I strongly believe can visit Victory Lane. Twelve different winners in 17 races? Seems unlikely only until you look at this year’s roster.
Paul Kelly: First, it’s a tribute to the ultra-competitive nature of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES that there were seven different winners in 14 races in 2020. I think that number will climb this season, and not just because there are 17 races. The field is THAT deep. But if forced to choose, there are two drivers who are as certain as sand in the Sahara to win this year – Scott Dixon and Will Power. Dixon has won at least once in the last 16 seasons, while DJ Willy P’s streak is at 14 straight seasons with at least one win. They’re 1-2 all time in INDYCAR history on that list. Josef Newgarden is on a six-year streak of winning at least one race, and he will extend it to seven in 2021. That leaves four left. Hmm … Alexander Rossi must return to the top of the box this season, right? Colton Herta is just too fast to be denied, so, two to go. Takuma Sato is the fine wine or cigar of INDYCAR; he improves with age. For the last choice, I must pick a first-time winner, and that will be Pato O’Ward. He’s just too fast, talented and focused to miss out on a win this year. Curt listed a sleeper this year, so I’ll do the same: Jack Harvey. Meyer Shank Racing has made inexorable progress every year, and I think Harvey is one of the most underrated drivers in the field. If everything goes right, Happy Jack could break through with that elusive first win.