Midseason Inside Line: Driver To Watch?

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Pato O'Ward

Note: The panel will take a look back at the first half of the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in this four-part, special Midseason Inside Line from June 25-28.

Today’s question: Who is the driver to watch in the second half of the season?

Curt Cavin: Josef Newgarden is the one that comes to mind given the six oval races left in the season, but I’ll go with Will Power. Six of his past 11 race wins have come on oval tracks, and I believe he has done the most laps in hybrid testing since the technology was introduced. I’m not sure Power can swipe the series lead from Alex Palou, but I think he’ll give him the best run for his money. One more to watch: Kyle Kirkwood. He might not have a race win yet, but he is quietly having a terrific season and could be a legitimate title contender if Andretti Global can back to winning oval races.

Eric Smith: Pato O’Ward. He is heating up in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet with four consecutive top-10 finishes this season. The schedule also lines up nicely for him ahead. With six of the final nine races on ovals, O’Ward has two wins, six runner-up finishes and 16 top-five results in 21 oval starts. The first oval is the Iowa Speedway doubleheader (July 13-14), and O’Ward has three podium-finishes in his last four Iowa Speedway starts, including a victory in the second race of the 2022 weekend. In five World Wide Technology Raceway starts, the worst O’Ward has finished was fourth. He has three runner-up finishes in his last four starts on the St. Louis-area oval. He was fifth fastest in the Open Test at the Milwaukee Mile and recently tested at Nashville Superspeedway. With championship front-runners points racing, I expect O’Ward to be aggressive and win multiple times.

Paul Kelly: Kyle Kirkwood is having a sneaky-good season filled with consistency, much like Will Power’s title campaign in 2022. If Andretti Global standout Kirkwood could stay steady and grab a win or two in the second half, he could emerge as the strongest challenger to points leader Palou. But the guy I’m watching in the second half is Scott Dixon. It seems like nobody is talking about him at this point in the title chase, so let me remind you: The six-time series champion, one of the greatest INDYCAR SERIES drivers ever, is third in the standings, only 32 points behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou. If there’s anyone who can overhaul that margin, it’s The Iceman. He already has won twice this season, and his fuel-sipping victory at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in April showed once again that no one pulls wins from thin air like Dixon. Plus, he has won at every remaining track on the schedule except for Iowa Speedway and Portland International Raceway. Anyone who counts out Dixon for a record-tying seventh championship this season needs to polish some grime from their crystal ball.