Pato O'Ward

Looking ahead to the 2024 INDY NXT by Firestone season, it could be a barnburner to the wire to crown a champion. Four drivers who won races last year – Louis Foster, Nolan Siegel, Reece Gold and Danial Frost – return, and there figures to be several other drivers, including returnee Jacob Abel and rookie Myles Rowe, also in title contention.

While the top two in points from last season (Christian Rasmussen, Hunter McElrea) have departed, behind them were Siegel, Foster and Abel, separated by just 18 points.

In that spirit, here’s a look at the top five INDY NXT by Firestone championship battles through the years, in reverse chronological order:

2021: Kyle Kirkwood vs. David Malukas (-13 points)

One would think Kyle Kirkwood, who won a record-tying 10 races in a single season in 2021, would have run away with the championship. Instead, the battle between himself and David Malukas went down to the wire.

Malukas finished only 13 points behind Kirkwood after scoring seven wins to go along with five runner-up results. His 16 podiums scored in the 20-race season are a record and kept him in the title fight for the duration of the campaign.

2018: Pato O’Ward vs. Colton Herta (-44)

Andretti Global teammates Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta had a heavyweight bout for the 2018 championship. It was a season filled with haymaker after haymaker, with each delivering what they hoped was going to be the knockout blow.

O’Ward won three of the first four rounds of the season while Herta finished third, eighth, second, and third, respectively, to keep the race close entering the Month of May.

Herta then swept the weekend on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and followed with a Freedom 100 victory to complete a perfect May in Indy.

In June, Herta won the opening race of the Road America doubleheader weekend to score four straight trips to victory lane. Meanwhile, O’Ward produced a pair of runner-up’s and a fourth-place run in that span to allow this title race to remain tight.

While Herta didn’t win again, he had five runner-up finishes over the next seven races. O’Ward had four wins, a runner-up result and a third-place finish in that same span.

That set up an O’Ward vs. Herta showdown entering the season-finale doubleheader at Portland. O’Ward beat Herta in Race 1 to clinch early and doubled down with a win in the finale.

Combined, the duo won 13 of the 17 races and went 1-2 in seven races.

2014: Gabby Chaves vs. Jack Harvey (Tied)

The closest margin in the history of INDY NXT by Firestone ended in a tie between Gabby Chaves and Jack Harvey. With each being tied on points and on race wins (four each), the championship was decided on the second tiebreaker scenario of runner-up finishes. Chaves scored five, with Harvey just one.

However, initially it looked like it would be Chaves vs. Zach Veach after they combined to win each of the first four races. Chaves had a pair of wins and a podium, and Veach finished first, second, first, third respectively.

Harvey was quietly strong early but mounted a charge of six podiums in the final seven races, including four wins in the last five races to end the year tied on points with Chaves.

Harvey swept the doubleheader season finale weekend at Sonoma Raceway, but Chaves sealed the championship with clutch runner-up finishes in each race.

It was an underrated, competitive season that saw six different drivers combine to win during the 14-race schedule.

2000: Scott Dixon vs. Townsend Bell (-9) vs. Casey Mears (-14)

Scott Dixon’s first championship in the United States came in his sophomore INDY NXT season in 2000, when he held off Townsend Bell and Casey Mears in a thrilling season finale at Fontana.

Dixon won the first two races of the season and three of the final five, but a pair of 15th-place results, at World Wide Technology Raceway and on the streets of Houston, opened the door for Bell and Mears to join the fight.

Bell finished first and second and Mears second and first in the races in which Dixon struggled. That set up a three-way fight for the championship at Fontana.

In typical icy Dixon fashion, he pulled out a victory to claim the title. Bell finished runner-up and Mears in fourth.

That 2000 season previewed what we have seen from Dixon so far in his storied NTT INDYCAR SERIES career.

1997: Tony Kanaan vs. Helio Castroneves (-4) vs. Cristiano da Matta (-15)

The 1997 season was full of Brazilian power as Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Cristiano da Matta were separated by 15 points at the end.

While Castroneves and da Matta won three of the first four races of the season and were second (da Matta) and third (Castroneves) in the fifth race of 1997, Kanaan powered his way into the championship conversation from the sixth race on.

After finishes of sixth, fifth, fifth, 23rd and 10th to start 1997, Kanaan followed with seven consecutive podiums, including wins at Detroit and Toronto.

That feat allowed Kanaan to barely maintain his lead in the season finale at Fontana, scoring the championship by a mere four points over his good friend Castroneves.