Not much in the way of IndyCar news to report lately, but any partner news can be considered good news this time of year.
Team Penske already made a splash earlier Wednesday with the news Rusty Wallace would be testing the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Preseason Thunder on Thursday. Its IndyCar program now has a bit of news, with confirmation Hitachi will continue with Helio Castroneves as a primary sponsor for eight races.
In 2014, the Hitachi primary sponsorship for the No. 3 Chevrolet will be for races in St. Petersburg, Fla; Detroit; Newton, Iowa; Long Pond, Pa.; Lexington, Ohio; Milwaukee and Sonoma, Calif. Detroit is the lone doubleheader weekend on that schedule.
In addition, Hitachi will serve as an associate sponsor for the No. 2 and No. 12 entries driven by Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power, respectively. Montoya’s car’s primary sponsorship has not been announced yet, while Power will run his fifth full season in Verizon Team Penske colors.
“One of our goals at Penske Racing is to create true, integrated global partners for our race teams,” Roger Penske said in a release. “Hitachi Automotive Systems and the Hitachi Group have certainly represented this type of partnership with Team Penske. Working closely with Chevrolet on the fuel injection systems on our IndyCars, Hitachi has been instrumental in many of our race wins, but our relationship extends far beyond what you see on the racetrack.”
The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.
Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..
Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):
- Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
- Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
- Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
- Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
- Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
- Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
- Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
- Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
- Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
- Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.
Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)
PAST NBC SPORTS INDYCAR POWER RANKINGS
PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship
RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete
RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas
RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top
RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory
RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500