Unpredictability, first-time winners make IndyCar’s 2013 one of the best in years

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Here’s how unpredictable this 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season has been:

You have had four first-time winners – James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball – emerge from the pack and take the next step in their respective careers.

You had a guy in Mike Conway who was basically left for the IndyCar scrap heap after deciding, and bravely I might add, he didn’t want to race ovals anymore. Then he came into the most heavily derided car on the grid (Dale Coyne’s second car) without so much as a test day and kicked ass in Detroit.

And you have the championship rivals of 2010 and 2011 – the champion, Dario Franchitti and the challenger, Will Power – having gone winless thus far in 2013.

What do you make of the nature of this topsy-turvy season where predictions are about as reliable as a weatherman’s in the Midwest?

Is this level of parity, and unpredictability, good for IndyCar or is it a sign where the current car allows drivers who might not be considered top-shelf, top-caliber pilots to punch above their weight?

Those questions I’ll leave for the comments section. But speaking objectively, having followed this series since I grew up following IndyCar in the 1990s and having covered it since 2006, I have to rank this season top three in the last 20 years. And we haven’t even got to the climax of the final few race weekends yet.

The nature of this field – compared to Formula One’s for example – is that you have a legitimate 15 or so contenders on any given weekend, depending on the track. Nine different drivers from seven teams have won in the 14 races. Seventeen different drivers from nine teams have scored at least one podium finish. The ones who haven’t yet have threatened the establishment at at least one race this year.

And for once, to this point at least, you don’t have the political morass or B.S. of off-track attempting to weave its way in and interrupt the on-track product. Way too often, it seems the permeating stench of politics and agendas seeps into the paddock, leaving media, competitors and fans disgruntled.

When the worst things off-track are questions over aero kits and changing the engine formula to just twin-turbos, rather than the usual leadership tumult at the top, it’s not a bad year. There remain challenges going forward, as always, but the on-track product has quieted the angst for most of the year.

I tweeted after the Indianapolis 500 that when Tony Kanaan won, on a day he was reunited with three of his best friends, Franchitti, Max Papis and the incomparable Alex Zanardi in Victory Lane, that it felt like 1998 all over again.

These are the new glory days in IndyCar. Enjoy the ride.