Top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2022
Tuesday 13th December, 2022 - 5:00pm
Following the conclusion of the 2022 season, Speedcafe.com’s IndyCar reporter, Daniel Herrero, looks at the field and ranks his top 10 for the year
Team Penske’s Will Power became a two-time series winner despite taking victory in just one race all year, edging team-mate Josef Newgarden despite the latter being first to the chequered flag five times.
Still, points table does not lie – much – even if some drivers performed better than their position in the end-of-season standings suggests.
10th David Malukas, Dale Coyne Racing w/ HMD Motorsports (Series finish: 16th, best race result: 2nd)
David Malukas might have missed the top 10 in the points by a considerable distance, and he might not have even finished the year as top rookie – an honour which was earned by Christian Lundgaard – but bit was the Lithuanian-American who made the biggest impact of the first-timers in 2022. Dale Coyne Racing bluntly declared him the “actual Indy 500 Rookie of the Year” after seven-time NASCAR Cup Series winner Jimmie Johnson was controversially awarded that honour, and they had a very strong case: Malukas, in his very first 500 campaign, set the second- and third-quickest runs of Fast Friday (which is held for the purpose of qualifying simulations), and missed the Fast 12 only when he was pipped by team-mate Takuma Sato’s second run. Then there was the bold pass on Scott McLaughlin to nab second at Gateway, signalling Malukas is a star of the future.
9th Felix Rosenqvist, McLaren SP (Series finish: 8th, best race result: 3rd)
While team-mate O’Ward is given a higher ranking on this list than his season finishing position (see below), team-mate Felix Rosenqvist is slightly lower. The Swede ended up one position but a full 87 points behind O’Ward at season’s end and while he too suffered some bad luck along the way, Rosenqvist was simply not quite as quick as the man in Car #5 for the most part.
8th Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport (Series finish: 9th, race wins: 1)
It would not be unreasonable to say that, after scaling the heights of an Indianapolis 500 victory just six races in, the relationship between Alexander Rossi and Andretti Autosport did not deliver what either party would have hoped for. After going winless throughout 2020 and 2021, the Californian broke a 49-race drought with what would be his last victory for the team, on the Indianapolis road course in July. Luck often deserted Rossi during his seven years at Andretti but, for snagging ninth in the 2022 series standings and beating all of his team-mates (albeit edging an inconsistent Colton Herta on just a countback), he deserves to be a little higher in these rankings.
7th Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing (Series finish: 6th, race wins: 1)
Marcus Ericsson was a solid performer this year, and he did claim what is at least the biggest prize on offer outside of the championship, namely the Indianapolis 500. The double points allocation at that race helped keep the Swede in the hunt for the title longer than he otherwise might have been, but it was just one of three podiums for Car #8 for the year. Ericsson was certainly good but, more often than not, it was team-mates Alex Palou and/or Scott Dixon outdoing him, including for most of that Sunday at Indianapolis. There, the former would get caught out with an especially cruelly timed Caution period, while the latter would make his own mistake at pit entry. Both finished ahead of Ericsson in the final series standings.
6th Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske (Series finish: 4th, race wins: 3)
For someone who had never raced in wings and slicks until late-2020, Scott McLaughlin had a stellar second full season in IndyCar. He started 2022 with his first pole and first race win at St Petersburg, and very nearly made it two victories in a row at Texas Motor Speedway, where team-mate Josef Newgarden made a last-lap pass. The New Zealander would finish the campaign with three wins and three pole positions, which ensured he started the final race of the year as an outside chance for the title, although he was largely deployed that Sunday as a nuisance to Team Penske’s key rival from Chip Ganassi Racing, Scott Dixon. McLaughlin was arguably the best driver over the back half of the season but made key mistakes at Long Beach, Detroit, and in the Indianapolis 500, while the aforementioned Texas finish shows he still has/had things to learn on ovals. He should be regarded as one of the favourites for the 2023 title, but was not the best driver of 2022.
5th Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing (Series finish: 3rd, race wins: 2)
It would have taken some bravery to predict that Dixon would snare a top three in the standings at season’s end given he started the campaign with results of eighth, fifth, sixth, fifth, 10th, and 21st, then a podium (third) at Detroit, followed by a ninth and a fifth. However, the six-time champion kept himself in contention all the way until that Sunday at Laguna Seca, where he recorded just his second finish outside the top 10 all year. The ‘Iceman’ did as the Iceman does, except for one glaring error which was especially costly for his title hopes given the double points on offer, and especially costly given the prize on offer that day. Dixon was leading the Indianapolis 500 on merit when he pitted with 25 laps to go, locking up the #9 Honda at entry and getting pinged for speeding. He would finish 21st and the wait for a second victory in IndyCar’s biggest race continues.
4th Pato O’Ward, McLaren SP (Series finish: 7th, race wins: 2)
Pato O’Ward might have finished seventh in the standings but he was only 41 points behind Dixon. He could have been much higher up the table if not for some pivotal moments, and hence the Mexican’s position in these rankings. O’Ward was thrice classified outside the top 10, at Road America due to an engine problem, a race later at Mid-Ohio for the same reason (having qualified on pole position), and then at Nashville when an early concertina saw him retire with gearbox damage. He also won two races, and finished just behind Ericsson in the Indianapolis 500, leaving one to wonder what could have been if Car #5 had just a little more luck.
3rd Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing (Series finish: 5th, race wins: 1)
Alex Palou won the 2021 IndyCar Series title and, for much of the season, looked a very good chance of going back-to-back, even while he remained winless. Then, the contract mess became public. Palou went from fourth in the series at 35 points off the pace as he left Mid-Ohio, nine days before the conflicting announcements from Chip Ganassi Racing and McLaren Racing, to sixth at 66 points back with a race to go in the season, having scored just one podium and a next-best result of sixth in the seven races during that period. At Laguna Seca, he won, and was confirmed as staying at Ganassi just two days later. The Spaniard maintained a calm exterior but the formline suggests that the contract tug-of-war, which ended up in court, upended his campaign. Perhaps it is recency bias, but the victory in the last race of the year says that he was better than what transpired on-track in 2022.
2nd Josef Newgarden, Team Penske (Series finish: 2nd, race wins: 5)
Newgarden was probably the fastest driver of the year on raw pace, and scored multiple race wins more than any other driver in the field, but came up short of the title. It is easy to say that inconsistency cost the two-time champion a third series triumph this time around, but several extenuating factors played a part. Firstly, Newgarden began the season with a new engineer, which goes to his (lack of) competitiveness in Race 1 at St Petersburg (before winning the next two, at Texas and Long Beach); secondly, a number of bad results can be explained by strategy; and thirdly, most of the rest can be put down to incidents outside his control. He should have swept the Iowa double-header, for example, if not for a mechanical failure which caused a heavy crash, and the 44 points he missed that day would have been enough to overhaul Power in the standings. However, that spin in qualifying for the season finale at Laguna Seca was a seriously poor error, and Power did what he had to do when Newgarden did not.
1st Will Power, Team Penske (Series finish: 1st, race wins: 1)
The battle for the 2022 IndyCar Series title may have gone down to the final race of the season, but there should be little doubt that Power was a deserving winner. The 41-year-old was a changed man this year, exhibiting a far more mellow personality, even in the face of bad luck like that which he seems to have incurred more than his fair share of over the course of his career. It showed in his results, too; Power may have only won once all year, but finished on the podium nine times in total and a further three times in the top four in 17 races. Even that single victory at Detroit was a masterclass in itself, with a canny strategy from the #12 crew which was enabled by some measured driving from the Queenslander, who climbed from 16th on the grid to first at the chequered flag.