Tuesday, December 6, 2022

2022 IndyCar Milestones

The IndyCar season ended nearly three months ago. We are still about four months away from the next race. Ahead of the 2022 season, I went over some possible milestones that could happen during the season. 

It is always good to have something to look forward to. Now that the season is over, we should recap some of the milestones that occurred. A few are memorable. A few went unnoticed. A few drivers hit multiple milestones. We will look back at 15 milestones from this season and a couple of names will repeat. 

Scott Dixon: 52nd and 53rd Victories
What does it mean: The long-awaited wait for Scott Dixon surpassing Mario Andretti for second all-time in IndyCar victories is over. Though it was a nervy wait. Dixon went over a year between victories, 422 days to be exact between his 51st victory at Texas and his 52nd at Toronto. It was his longest drought since he went 820 days between victories at Richmond in 2003 and Watkins Glen in 2005. 

Dixon won at Toronto, putting him level with Andretti, but then a few weeks later he won a race of survival at Nashville and that put him into sole possession of second all-time. 

When Dixon entered IndyCar in 2001, only three drivers had reached the 40-victory milestone, three of the top six had the last name Unser and no international drivers were in the top ten with the only foreign-born drivers ranked in the top 18 being Ralph DePalma and Emerson Fittipaldi. 

At the end of the 2000s, Dixon had 25 victories and was tied for 13th all-time with Gordon Johncock and Hélio Castroneves. Among active regular IndyCar participants, Dario Franchitti was the leader with 26 victories. 

At the end of the 2010s, Dixon was up to third on 46 victories and only one Unser remained in the top six. Now, Dixon is alone in second, we have five drivers on 40 victories and there are now six foreign-born drivers ranked in the top 12. 

My how do things change in a career. 

Scott Dixon: 6,519 Laps Led
What does it mean: While winning races, and even when not winning races, Dixon led a chunk of laps in the 2022, 177 laps to be specific. It was his eighth consecutive season leading at least 100 laps and the 16th time in 17 seasons he has surpassed the century mark. 

With all these laps led, Dixon ended the season with 6,519 laps led, only the fourth driver to reach the 6,500 lap milestone, and at Dixon's lap led rate, he should be poised to pick up a few more positions in the record books in 2023. 

Scott Dixon: 305 Consecutive Starts
What does it mean: One final one for Dixon, he ended this season with 305 consecutive starts. This streak stretches back to Michigan 2004. He missed the Milwaukee race the week before after a pair of practice accident banged him up. To date, it is the only race Dixon has missed in his career.

The 300th consecutive start was the second Iowa race and Dixon became just the second driver to ever reach 300 consecutive starts after Tony Kanaan. We will be on history watch in 2023, but we will talk about that at a later time. 

Will Power: 68th Pole Position
What does it mean: Power is now the all-time leader in IndyCar pole position. That is what. 

Power entered the 2022 season with 63 career pole positions, four off of Mario Andretti's record of 67. Power was also coming off a down year for him in pole positions, as the Australian had only pole position in 2021. It was only the third time in 16 seasons he failed to win multiple pole positions in a single season and it was only the third time since joining Team Penske in 2009 he had won fewer than three pole positions. 

The record appeared to be safe through the halfway point of the season. Power had one pole position in the first nine races. Then he swept the Iowa pole positions to put him one away from tying Andretti. He tied the record at Gateway and broke the record with a crucial pole position at the Laguna Seca season finale with a title within his grasp. 

Will Power: 94 Podium Finishes
What does it mean: While passing Andretti in pole position, Power was making his way up the chart in another statistical category. Power had nine podium finishes in 2022, matching the most he has had in a season.

But those nine podium finishes has him on 94 for his career, tying him with Hélio Castroneves for sixth all-time. 

For perspective on the rise Power made this season, he entered 2022 with 85 career podium finishes, still good for tenth all-time. But with his fourth podium result of the season at Mid-Ohio, he passed Bobby Rahal and Al Unser, Jr. for eighth. When Power finished second at Portland, he moved ahead of Dario Franchitti for seventh. The third in Laguna Seca leveled him with Castroneves.

Next up is Al Unser, who has 98 career podium results. Power had had five podium finishes in six of the last seven seasons and in ten of the last 13 seasons. Only once since 2010 has Power had fewer than four podium results in a season. Expect more movement in this area of the record book shortly.

Will Power: 123 Top Five Finishes
What does it mean: Podium finishes are in turn top five finishes and Power also had three finishes of fourth in 2022. His 12 top five finishes were his most in a single season in his IndyCar career. It also left him with a nice number sequence in the record book. 

But those 123 top five finishes are more than just a pretty number, they are enough for ninth all-time. Power entered tied for 12th with Rick Mears on the equally nice 111 top five finishes. It only took two races for Power to move into 11th and ahead of Bobby Unser. His runner-up finish in the second Iowa race moved Power into ninth and passing Bobby Rahal and Dario Franchitti in the process. 

Josef Newgarden: 25th Victory
What does it mean: It doesn't sound like many victories considering the all-time record is 67 victories, but a quarter-century mark is quite significant in IndyCar circles. Newgarden reaching it means he is just the 17th driver to reach 25 career victories. 

It is more victories than 61 Indianapolis 500 winners. Among active drivers, Newgarden is ranked fourth. It only took him 11 seasons to reach this mark, but when you consider he didn't win a race in his first three seasons in IndyCar, Newgarden hit 25 victories in eight seasons. 

Since the start of the 2015 season, which coincided with the introduction of manufacture-specific aero kits, Newgarden is ranked first on victories. The next closest in the last eight seasons is Dixon on 18 victories. Power has won 17 times and the only other driver in double-figures is Simon Pagenaud on 11. The only other driver to average at least a victory per season during that timeframe is Alexander Rossi, who has only won eight times, only competed in seven of those eight seasons, and had two winless seasons in-between. 

The next mark to look out for is 32 victories because 32 victories would put Newgarden into sole possession of tenth all-time.  

Josef Newgarden: 3,381 Laps Led
What does it mean: Not only did Newgarden win five races in 2022, but he led 527 laps, the fourth time in the last five seasons and fifth time in the last eight seasons, Newgarden has led the most laps in an IndyCar season. 

He ended the year with 3,381 laps led, but in the process became the 17th driver to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone. During this season, he passed Tony Bettenhausen, Dan Wheldon, Rodger Ward, Bobby Rahal and Gordon Johncock in laps led and Newgarden is now ranked 15th all-time with a few drivers within touching distance.

Josef Newgarden: Fifth Season with Most Laps Led
What does it mean: As mentioned above, this was the fifth time Newgarden has led the most laps in the season.

How many drivers have led a season in laps led at least five times? 

The answer is seven!

A.J. Foyt - 6
Bobby Unser - 6
Mario Andretti - 6
Rodger Ward - 5
Michael Andretti - 5
Scott Dixon - 5
Josef Newgarden - 5

How about that list? 

These drivers combined for 24 championships and 300 victories. Included are the top three in championships and the top four all-time in victories. Everyone of these drivers have won at least 25 races in their career.

Dario Franchitti and Will Power only led a season in laps led three times, as did Alex Zanardi, Paul Tracy and Sébastien Bourdais. Sam Hornish, Jr. only did it twice. Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr., Johnny Rutherford and Rick Mears all only did it once. Hélio Castroneves has never led the most laps in a season. 

Hélio Castroneves: 374 Starts
What does it mean: Castroneves didn't win his fifth Indianapolis 500. He didn't get a 32nd victory to move him into sole possession of tenth all-time in victories, but by starting all 17 races, Castroneves hit 374 starts. 

The significance of that number? 

He is now third all-time in starts. His 370th start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in August moved him ahead of A.J. Foyt. 

Think of all those races Castroneves didn't run form 2018 through 2021 when he was focused on sports car racing. He didn't start 51 races during that period. If he had run all of those races, he would have passed Mario Andretti for most starts in IndyCar history at Long Beach this year!

Instead, Castroneves is 33 starts behind Andretti about two seasons short of the record and with maybe only one more full season in him. 

Colton Herta: 764 Laps Led
What does it mean: This is an odd number, I know. I am unsure where 764 laps led rank in the actual IndyCar record book, perhaps sometime during this winter I will figure it out. Maybe I won't. It sounds like a lot of work and a lot of work requires time and time is something I do not control. 

But what is the significance of 764 laps led? It means Herta is the all-time leader in IndyCar laps led among drivers with the last name Herta. 

That's right! Colton Herta, at 22 years old, has led more laps than his father Bryan. Age aside, Herta has led 764 laps in 65 starts. His father Bryan led 758 laps in 179 starts. 

To be specific, Colton Herta's 759th lap led came on lap 36 of the August IMS road course race, his 61st start. Bryan Herta's 758th and final lap led came in his 177th start on Sunday August 13, 2006 at Kentucky Speedway. It was lap 138 of 200.

It took Colton Herta 116 fewer races to reach his father in the record book in terms of laps led. But as is the case with many things involving the Hertas, Colton likely got there much quicker than his father. It only took him 34 races to match his father in victories. The two will start the 2023 season level on pole positions, each with nine, but Colton's ninth was in his 58th start, 101 starts earlier than Bryan's ninth. 

One of the few areas where Bryan still has breathing room over Colton is podium finishes, but that could vanish rapidly. Bryan has 17. Colton has 11. Bryan's final podium finish came in the same race as his last pole position, and it also turned out to be his fourth and final victory at Michigan on July 31, 2005. 

Scott McLaughlin: 438 Laps Led
What does it mean: Again, I don't know where 438 laps led actually ranks in the IndyCar record book, but I thought he needed some barometer for what McLaughlin did in 2022. The New Zealander won three times in his sophomore season. While significant, it doesn't quite speak out enough. 

Winning is cool, but many drivers have won IndyCar races. For example, Buddy Rice has three career victories, as does Tony Stewart, Max Papis, Mark Blundell and Mark Donohue. Matching those guys doesn't sound that impressive. 

But how about something compared to his contemporaries? 

McLaughlin has made 34 career starts. Since the introduction of the DW12 chassis, there have been 54 drivers to have competed in the IndyCar and made at least 34 starts. Where does McLaughlin rank among those drivers in laps led at the 34th start in their careers? 

Here are the top ten drivers:

Juan Pablo Montoya - 1,656 laps led
Sébastien Bourdais - 814
McLaughlin - 438
Colton Herta - 351
Jacques Villeneuve - 302
Patricio O'Ward - 293
Dario Franchitti - 290
Ryan Hunter-Reay - 265
A.J. Allmendinger - 256
Will Power - 248

Third! And only behind Montoya and Bourdais, two drivers who competed at a very different time. Of these 54 drivers, the only others to lead at least 200 laps through their first 34 starts are Justin Wilson (223), Marco Andretti (201) and Ryan Briscoe (201).

Compared to drivers that started during a unified IndyCar era, McLaughlin is well clear of most of those drivers. Herta and O'Ward keep it close, but Álex Palou had led only 198 laps through 34 starts, only 45.2% of McLaughlin's total. Rinus VeeKay had led 161 laps. Felix Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi each led 127 laps in their first 34 races. James Hinchcliffe only led 91 laps at that point in his career, just ahead of Simon Pagenaud's 82 laps led and Scott Dixon's 74 laps led. Dixon only had two more laps led through 34 starts than J.R. Hildebrand. Josef Newgarden had led only one lap in his first 34 starts. 

And these aren't drivers that are only about a dozen or 30 laps behind McLaughlin. McLaughlin has led 300 laps more than these drivers at the same point in their careers! Yes, McLaughlin is driving for Team Penske, but he also only had a single season of Formula Ford racing run over a decade before his first IndyCar start as his only single-seater experience. He spent his career in touring cars, came to IndyCar and immediately adapted with pace to boot. 

If this is only the first 34 starts of McLaughlin's career, what will he accomplish should he compete for the next decade?

Marco Andretti: 250 Career Starts
What does it mean: It is rare Marco Andretti gets any chance to be celebrated. This is a minor reason as his start in this year's Indianapolis 500 was his 250th. He is the 17th driver to reach 250 IndyCar starts. 

It is a statistic of longevity and one that is exacerbated when a career starts at 19 years old. He is 35 years old and reached this mark. It also came two years after becoming an Indianapolis 500-only driver. He also joins his grandfather Mario and father Michael in reaching this milestone. The only other father-son pairing to each start at least 250 IndyCar races are Al and Al Unser, Jr.

No one is acting like it is the greatest career in the world, but Andretti had dedicated his life to competing in IndyCar. He was a regular top ten championship driver, far from the worst driver to ever walk the planet. It is ok to give appreciation to those who continue to be around and compete. 

Takuma Sato: 200 Career Starts
What does it mean: Sato became the 26th driver to reach the second century mark in IndyCar starts when he started the Texas race this March. By ending the season on 215 starts, Sato is now 21st in this category.

Sato is the tenth international driver to reach 200 starts and the first from Asia to reach that mark. 

Japan has had a fair number of driver race in IndyCar thanks to the participation of Honda and Toyota throughout the 1990s and into the 2020s. Sato is the first Japanese driver to start over 200 races. The only other Japanese drivers with at least 100 starts is Hiro Matsushita, who started 117 races.

Alexander Rossi: 100 Career Starts
What does it mean: It means Rossi has been around for longer than we realize. Rossi's 100th start came at Long Beach and he ended the season on 114 starts. He is only the fourth driver to compete in 100 races for Andretti Autosport joining the likes of Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan. 

Seven seasons go fast. Those days in the unsponsored black and white Dallara are a distant memory. Rossi built an identity as the driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Honda, blue and yellow, something most drivers struggle to attain in IndyCar as sponsors constantly change and few stick around. 

This is also the end to one chapter in the book. The Andretti Autosport days are over. He won an Indianapolis 500 and came close to a championship but didn't close out on one. Now at Arrow McLaren SP, Rossi hopes to achieve greater heights. 

We have almost put finished packing up the 2022 season. Soon, we will look ahead to 2023 and what could be accomplished in the new season. The history book is always writing another story, and there are many who will have a chance to leave a lasting impression on IndyCar.