2021 IndyCar season preview: Scott Dixon looks to beat a crowded field for his seventh title

Nick Bromberg
·5-min read

Could Chip Ganassi Racing end the 2021 season employing a pair of seven-time champions?

Scott Dixon won his sixth IndyCar championship in 2020 and enters 2021 as the favorite for the championship yet again. A seventh championship for Dixon would tie him with AJ Foyt for the most championships in major North American open-wheel racing. Oh yeah, it’d give Dixon as many titles as his part-time teammate Jimmie Johnson has.

Johnson is trying his hand at IndyCar for the first time this season. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is set to race the road and street courses over the next two seasons.

How competitive will Johnson be? That’s unclear. Johnson has been open about how little seat time he’s gotten compared to many of his competitors. This weekend’s season-opening event at Barber Motorsports Park is the first time he’s been in an IndyCar in race conditions. Heck, Johnson hasn’t even driven a car with one of the two tire compounds that IndyCar utilizes on road and street courses.

Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, prepares for testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Scott Dixon is going for a seventh IndyCar title. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Since Johnson is only racing part-time, he won’t be a threat to Dixon for the title. But there are plenty of other drivers who could thwart Dixon’s run towards a seventh title.

Josef Newgarden is the biggest challenger to Dixon. He won the 2019 title, tied Dixon for wins in 2020 (4) and finished just 16 points back.

Newgarden’s Team Penske teammate Will Power was the only other driver to win more than one race in 2020. But he was fifth in the standings and 141 points back of Dixon because of some pit road problems and crashes at both Iowa and St. Petersburg. Power ended up with more finishes of 20th or worse (3) than he did wins (2).

Here’s what else you need to know as the IndyCar season begins on Sunday at Barber (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

Can Alexander Rossi lead an Andretti rebound?

The 2020 season was a brutal one for Andretti Autosport. Just two of the team’s drivers finished in the top 10 of the standings. And Alexander Rossi led the pack … in ninth.

Andretti Autosport drivers failed to win a race a season ago and led just 107 laps combined. None of those laps were led by Marco Andretti either. He started on the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and was passed before the end of the first lap.

If the Andretti team is going to be faster in 2021 then Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay will be the barometers. Rossi is one of the most talented drivers in the series but had an average finish of just 12.1 in 2020 and failed to win a race in a season for the first time in his career.

An Andretti rebound is also key to keeping Rossi. Both Power and Simon Pagenaud are in contract years at Team Penske. And you can bet that Roger Penske — the man who also now owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series — would love to have Rossi in one of his IndyCars.

A loaded rookie class

Johnson is the most accomplished IndyCar newcomer. He’s also likely not to be the fastest. Three other exceptionally talented drivers are running their first seasons in 2021.

Romain Grosjean comes over to IndyCar from Formula 1 after his F1 career ended with that fiery crash at Bahrain. Grosjean will drive the No. 51 car and could be a threat to win races with good equipment. Grosjean’s car is officially branded as a Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing entry. If his car is more Coyne quality than Ware quality, he’ll be in the mix.

Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin is running the full season for Team Penske. McLaughlin, 27, should be the favorite for Rookie of the Year given his talent and equipment. Don’t be surprised if he wins a race.

Veterans returning to IndyCar

Sebastien Bourdais is back for another full season in IndyCar.

The open-wheel and sports car veteran ran just three races in 2020. He’ll compete the full schedule for AJ Foyt Racing in 2021 in the No. 14 car. Bourdais won 31 CART races from 2003-07 and has six IndyCar wins.

Ed Jones is also back to run a full season. Jones hasn’t driven in IndyCar since 2019 and will compete for Dale Coyne Racing in 2021. He has three podium finishes in 47 races.

A couple of recognizable Indy 500 winners are back too. Hello Castroneves will compete in six races for Meyer Shank Racing in 2021. He’s entered in Sunday’s race at Barber and will also race in the Indy 500.

Juan Pablo Montoya will also run the Indy 500. He’ll drive for Arrow McLaren SP.

17 races on schedule

The Indianapolis 500 will be on its normal Memorial Day weekend date in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it to August last year.

The May 30 race is one of 17 races on the schedule in 2021. The schedule includes just three other races on ovals outside of the 500. And two of those are at Texas Motor Speedway on the first weekend of May. The Aug. 21 race at Gateway is the only oval race after the Indy 500.

The Long Beach Grand Prix will also be run in September. The race was moved from its typical April date because of pandemic-related attendance restrictions. Long Beach is now set to be the final race on the IndyCar schedule on Sept. 26.

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