Inside Line: Strongest 2024 Start?

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Felix Rosenqvist

Today’s question: Which driver or team is off to the strongest start in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in the 2024 season?

Curt Cavin: Very difficult to say, but I’ll take Alex Palou by a smidge over Josef Newgarden. Obviously, Newgarden looked unbeatable in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, leading 92 of the 100 laps and driving away from the field. However, Palou was positioned to finish that race on the podium, which would have been five positions better than he finished in last year’s historically strong season. Palou is a master of saving tires and fuel – think he might have learned something from Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon? – and he likely would have used the overcut to jump several others in the first segment had there not been a caution just a couple of laps before he executed it. At The Thermal Club, Palou was as dominant as Newgarden was in St. Pete. So, from a standings perspective, Newgarden is out to a 26-point lead over the driver most likely to challenge him for the series championship, and Newgarden certainly will have an advantage in the second half of the season with all of those oval races. But I like where Palou is at this point. So does he, I’m sure.

Eric Smith: Scott McLaughlin sticks out to me. He told me during January’s Content Days that finding a house in the United States during the offseason was the final piece of the comfort puzzle. His life of a three-time Supercars champion living in Australia transitioning to living the American Dream with an NTT INDYCAR SERIES seat was complete. He’s relishing that. On track, McLaughlin charged from ninth to finish third in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. Then the Kiwi finished runner-up in The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge. While The Thermal Club event offered zero points, if it did, McLaughlin’s pair of podium finishes in as many races would have him leading the 28 drivers who’ve competed this season for points. Bigger picture, McLaughlin has 13 consecutive top-nine finishes dating to last June, including four runner-up finishes in his last nine starts. He’s on a championship pursuit in 2024.

Paul Kelly: Nobody has impressed me more in the first two events of 2024 than Felix Rosenqvist. Sure, Josef Newgarden, Alex Palou and Scott McLaughlin have been mighty, but they drive for Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, the two kingpins of the sport. Didn’t we expect them to be this strong? But Rosenqvist and Meyer Shank Racing seemingly have come from one of the lower floors to look to rent space near the series’ penthouse apartments early this season. FRO and MSR have enough similarities to where maybe the initial success of this pairing was destiny. Rosenqvist entered the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2019 with Chip Ganassi Racing with plenty of gloss from his performances in FIA Formula E, and there were whispers of his championship potential. But a title run never materialized during his two seasons at CGR, and he never finished better than eighth in the standings in three seasons with Arrow McLaren from 2021-23. MSR also looked poised for a breakthrough after Helio Castroneves earned his record-tying fourth Indy 500 win with the team in 2021. But MSR never jumped toward the series elite, with last season being especially brutal with a best finish of 10th by Castroneves at Texas. This season, Rosenqvist already has topped that by finishing seventh at St. Petersburg and third last Sunday in the non-points event at The Thermal Club. It’s still surprising that FRO has just one career win, in 2020 at Road America. You can almost say the same about MSR and its sole win with Helio in 2021 at Indy. I think both will add to their win totals in 2024. It’s a matter of when, not if, Rosenqvist wins this season if he continues with this strong form.