IndyCar points analysis: 2016 vs. 2017

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The Verizon IndyCar Series has developed a taste for the unexpected. Quite literally, any team and driver could win at any given time. The unpredictable nature of the series generally makes it one of the most entertaining championships across all racing platforms for several years.

A comparison of the points standings after two races between 2016 and 2017 reveals as much. Last year, Simon Pagenaud led the way after a pair of second-place finishes to start the year. Scott Dixon trailed on the heels of his win at Phoenix Raceway. Juan Montoya was third, Ryan Hunter-Reay fourth, and Tony Kanaan fifth. In short, that made IndyCar’s three “powerhouse” teams in the top five.

Things narrowed even more after last year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Pagenaud, Dixon, and Montoya stayed 1-2-3, while Helio Castroneves took over fourth, with Kanaan holding down fifth. That meant Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing held down all positions within the top five. The highest-ranked driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi stables was Takuma Sato, who was sixth in the championship after three races for A.J. Foyt Racing.

The 2017 season is a much different story. Sebastien Bourdais leads the way for Dale Coyne Racing on the heels of a win and a second place to begin the year. James Hinchcliffe sits second for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports following his Long Beach triumph. Pagenaud ranks third, followed by Dixon in fourth and Penske newcomer Josef Newgarden in fifth. That makes four different teams represented in the top five: two from powerhouses and two from smaller underdogs punching above their weight.

What’s more: in 2016, Max Chilton was the top rookie after two races. At the time, he ranked 10th in the standings, and sat 13th after Long Beach. This year, Ed Jones, the lone rookie competitor on the grid, has been a standout, finishing in the top ten in each of the first two races to sit seventh in the championship. Currently, Jones outranks all four of the Andretti Autosport drivers, three Chip Ganassi drivers (Kanaan, Chilton, and Charlie Kimball), and one Penske driver (Will Power), among others.

In fact, the aforementioned Power sits 19th in the standings after finishes of 19th and 13th in the opening two races. It’s Power worst start since 2008, when he finished 25th and 8th for KV Racing Technology in the first two races of the newly merged Verizon IndyCar Series.

The topsy-turvy trend could continue at this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. In seven years, the event has seen five different winners (Power and Hunter-Reay are the only ones to repeat), and frontrunners like Bourdais, Hinchcliffe, Dixon, and Kanaan have yet to win on the 2.38-mile road course.

Practice for Sunday’s race begins Friday at 12:45 ET (11:45 local time).

Follow Kyle Lavigne.