IndyCar Power Rankings: Josef Newgarden starts 2023 at top of Penske-Ganassi pyramid


For as much hype as there is about the highly competitive NTT IndyCar Series, determining the preseason power rankings essentially boils down to two teams — just like every championship for the past decade.

Since Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 2012 championship for Andretti Autosport, the past 10 titles have been won by either Chip Ganassi Racing or team Penske drivers. Between Ganassi’s Scott Dixon (2013, ’15, ’18, ’20) and Penske’s Will Power (2022, ’14) and Josef Newgarden (2017, ’19), three drivers have combined for eight championships.

Ganassi and Penske drivers naturally occupy six of the seven top spots in NBC Sports’ preseason IndyCar power rankings, but there are signs that a new team finally could break the stranglehold.

ST. PETE PRIMER: Schedules, start times and how to watch the 2023 IndyCar season opener

It starts with Arrow McLaren, which has added 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to its 1-2 combo of Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist. Andretti is expecting to bounce back with Colton Herta, and 2022 Rookie of the Year Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing seems destined to be the next first-time winner.

Here’s the first edition of NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers in IndyCar entering Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener:

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Josef Newgarden (second in 2022 points standings)  – The runner-up in the championship the past three years led the circuit in victories last season, and he’s motivated to win a third title and his first Indy 500 this year.

2. Will Power (first in 2022) – He turns 42 this week, and the Team Penske driver just seems to keep getting better, especially after he won his second championship with a new level of consistency.

3. Scott Dixon (third in 2022) – You never can count IndyCar’s Six-Time out, but the Chip Ganassi Racing superstar and No. 9 team will need to solve their qualifying woes to get a seventh championship.

4. Alex Palou (tied fourth in 2022) – With last year’s contract mess behind him, the 2021 champion should head into his likely final season at Chip Ganassi Racing with a clear mind and fast car.

5. Pato O’Ward (seventh in 2022) – This will be a critical season for the Arrow McLaren star as his team adds a third car and tries to rediscover the magic of the 2021 season.

6. Scott McLaughlin (tied fourth in 2022) – He had a major breakthrough with three wins in his second IndyCar season, but he still is competing internally against two tough Penske teammates.

7. Marcus Ericsson (sixth in 2022) – The 2022 Indy 500 winner was in the championship hunt through last year’s finale as he leveled up on ovals. The studious Swede still has gains to make this year.

8. Colton Herta (10th in 2022) – Burned by some brutal mistakes and an off-year for Andretti Autosport, Herta wants to prove that he remains one of the fastest drivers in IndyCar.

9. Christian Lundgaard (14th in 2022) – He made huge strides as last year’s rookie of the year and consistently was among the fastest in preseason spring testing. A win is coming soon for Rahal Letterman Lanigan.

10. Alexander Rossi (eighth in 2022) – The most intriguing new driver-team combination, Rossi starts a new chapter with Arrow McLaren after ending a three-year winless skid last year.

Just missed: Felix Rosenqvist (still winless since 2020 but did well to finish ninth last year and will be driving for his future — again — this year); Graham Rahal (already has said he feels much better entering this season than 2022, which started with dismal results); Rinus VeeKay (let a win slip away at Barber Motorsports Park and seems motivated after a disappointing season).

Eli Tomac wins Seattle Supercross, ties Cooper Webb in championship points


In the past two weeks, Eli Tomac lost his momentum and with it the Monster Energy Supercross red plate to Cooper Webb, but a gutsy performance in Seattle gave him a sixth win of the season as he and the series heads into an off week tied. Tomac is currently tied in the points with Webb.

With this win, Tomac also ties James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list at 50 with six rounds remaining in 2023.

“I needed that bounce back,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “It was almost like I was in a little bit of a slump in the past couple of weeks; just a little bit off. I’m feeling much better now. That track raced really cool. There were a lot of different lines out there.

“It was obviously very dicey early on. I got passed and then had to make those passes back.”

Tomac suffered with a stiff neck in Indianapolis two weeks ago when he lost the red plate to Webb for the first time in 2023. In that race, he scored his worst finish of the season in eighth. He lost more points in Detroit after finishing a distant third behind Chase Sexton and Webb. This is the fifth time this season that Tomac and Webb finished 1-2 in a race. Tomac has won them all, but Webb has been more consistent.

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Seattle

Webb was disappointed to lose the ground to Tomac, but he will enter the Glendale, Arizona race with a red plate and a share of the points’ lead.

“It was overall a great night to get up front and get a second was great,” Webb said after the race. “Those few spots where I would get close to Eli and then make a mistake.

“The track was gnarly. It was no joke. It was cat and mouse as to who could ride the cleanest race and pick the line. I got off to a decent start, but Chase and Eli were ahead of me and I had some catchup to play and got into a good position.”

Early in the race, Sexton was indeed ahead of Webb and the remainder of the field. Another costly mistake sent Sexton to the ground. He battled back to finish fifth but is now 22 points out of the lead and in jeopardy of dropping out of championship contention unless Tomac and Webb have problems.

Rounding out the podium was Justin Barcia, who scored the third-place finish on his birthday

“Awesome ride,” Barcia said. “It was a lot of fun. I’m sure we kept the fans on their feet tonight. The track was gnarly. […] We’re searching; we’re so close to having that speed. We want it so badly. We’ll keep pushing hard and going for that win.”

Sexton’s mistake kept the three top points’ earners of 2023 from sharing the podium for the sixth time in 11 rounds, but the trio finished 1-2-3 in Heat 2 with Webb first, Sexton second and Tomac third.

The 250 West contenders were back in action after giving the last four rounds over to the East riders and Jett Lawrence picked up where he left off in Oakland: In Victory Lane. Lawrence scored his fourth win in five 250 West rounds. Last week his brother Hunter Lawrence tied Jett with 10 wins, but everyone knew it would not take long for Jett to regain the advantage.

Between them, the Lawrence brothers have won all but one race each in their respective divisions.

Lawrence rode a patient race in the Main. He settled in behind Stylez Robertson and concentrated on navigating the ruts mistake-free. He could not afford to be patient any longer when Cameron McAdoo caught up to the leaders. Lawrence found a second gear and gapped the battle for second.

An incident in their main made the battle between Lawrence and McAdoo more dramatic. While racing for second, the pair of riders ran out of room in the rhythm section. Both crashed but had a large enough lead over fourth to maintain their positions.

“It was a very eventful day,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’s Daniel Blair, answering a question about the earlier contact. “[…] It’s good to be back racing. It’s been a while. I feel like I’ve had another offseason. Glad to get out in one piece tonight.”

Lawrence now has a 23-point advantage over the field with four rounds remaining.

Click here for full 250 Main Results

RJ Hampshire finished second in his race and is second in the points after a seesaw affair that produced the final pass for position just before the white flag was displayed.

“I felt like I had a pretty good pace going for a little bit,” Hampshire said. “I closed the gap and then had a couple of big mistakes that almost put me on my head. I backed it off a little bit.

“Cam actually gapped me a little more than I would have wanted. I knew I could get a push there at the end. I thought that was the last lap, which is why my pass was a little more aggressive than it should have been, but I’m stoked to be able to close the gap a little bit.”

McAdoo took the final spot on the podium. This is the fourth time in 2023 these three riders have shared the box and if not for a sixth-place finish in Anaheim 2, he would be mounting a much more formidable challenge for the points’ lead.

“The track was really demanding tonight,” McAdoo said. “It did change a lot and the key thing was to get off the rhythms every time. We were swapping back and forth.”

Enzo Lopes in fourth and Max Vohland rounded out the top five.

Robertson had the early lead but when he lost the top spot to Jett he cross rutted on the next lap, crashed hard and failed to finish.

2023 Race Recaps

Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

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