Note: The INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable is taking the opportunity of the summer break in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule to analyze the first 10 races of the season and offer discussion and opinions about a variety of topics in the first half of the season. This multipart series will run regularly for the rest of July.
Today’s question: Who produced the best non-winning drive so far in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season?
Curt Cavin: Simon Pagenaud in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The Frenchman’s charge from 26th to third was something to behold, and former Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves said after the race that Pagenaud was the driver he was most worried about in the closing laps. Pagenaud was alongside Alex Palou at the finish line – a separation of .0698 of a second – and trailed Castroneves by only .5626 of a second. Castroneves is right: Had there been one more green-flag lap, the outcome might have been different. Honorable mention here goes to Ed Carpenter, Sage Karam and Conor Daly in the “500” and Josef Newgarden at Road America.
Zach Horrall: I thought Romain Grosjean’s drive in the GMR Grand Prix in May was extremely impressive, especially considering it was just his third-ever NTT INDYCAR SERIES race. The IMS road course is more of a European-style course with a flat racing surface and smooth curbing, so it certainly fit his driving style. Because of that, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. But still, to win the pole and lead a race-high 44 laps on his way to a second-place finish is something no one should take lightly. That was the performance that really made me say, ‘OK, Romain can do this.’ And it’s that performance that makes me eager to see if he can score his first career win when the series returns to the IMS road course Aug. 14 for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix.
Paul Kelly: Scott McLaughlin in the Genesys 300 on May 1 at Texas Motor Speedway. Sure, Scott Dixon dominated that race, leading 206 of 212 laps. But McLaughlin was the only driver who kept the race interesting over the closing laps, chasing down Dixon and falling just .2646 of a second short of a shock victory in the very first oval race of his career. McLaughlin showed the composure and tactics of an oval racing veteran while stalking Dixon, working his way through the field after starting 15th and staying within about a half-second of the legendary Dixon over the closing laps. It was a mighty impressive performance by NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie McLaughlin, who was justified to say after the race: “I’ve never been this bloody happy to finish second in my life. I’m really stoked.”