IndyCar driver has a chance to end a two-decade run

Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, IndyCar (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, IndyCar (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images) /

Pato O’Ward has solidified himself as a championship contender, and if he wins the 2022 IndyCar title, he would end a massive drought.

Two decades ago, Sam Hornish Jr. won his second straight IndyCar (Indy Racing League) championship behind the wheel of his #4 Chevrolet for Panther Racing, sealing the deal with back-to-back victories at Chicagoland Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

Pato O’Ward was three years old.

Since then, no team other than Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske, or Andretti Autosport, commonly referred to as the “big three”, has managed to win an IndyCar championship.

Scott Dixon has accounted for six of those 19 titles on his own, winning the championships in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015, 2018 and 2020 for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Chip Ganassi Racing also won the title in 2009, 2010 and 2011 with Dario Franchitti, and they won it last year with Alex Palou.

As of late, it has been more of a “big two” than a “big three”, as Andretti Autosport haven’t won a championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay won the title in 2012.

But prior to the current nine-year run of Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske winning titles, Andretti Autosport had won four titles in nine years, winning in 2004 with Tony Kanaan, 2005 with Dan Wheldon, 2007 with Franchitti, and then in 2012 with Hunter-Reay.

As for Team Penske, Hornish delivered them a championship in 2006. It took until 2014 for them to win again with Will Power. After that, Simon Pagenaud won in 2016 and Josef Newgarden won in 2017 and 2019.

But one driver is well-positioned to end this 19-year run of the “big three” this year, and that driver is Pato O’Ward.

The 23-year-old Mexican is in his third full season with Arrow McLaren SP behind the wheel of the #5 Chevrolet, and he has had great success thus far.

He finished in fourth place in the championship standings in 2020, behind one driver from each of Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske, and Andretti Autosport, and last year, he finished in third, which put him ahead of all of Andretti Autosport.

As of late, there is even an argument that can be made for Arrow McLaren SP as part of the “big three” as opposed to Andretti Autosport.

In fact, when Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who finished in second and third place in the standings in 2018 and 2019, respectively, announced that he had signed with Arrow McLaren SP for 2023, he stated that he felt there were three teams capable of winning the title, and he asserted that Andretti Autosport hadn’t been a part of that group for quite some time.

Through eight of 17 races on this year’s schedule, O’Ward sits in fourth place in the point standings, 45 points back of points leader Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing. Power and Newgarden sit in second and third, respectively.

O’Ward got off to a slow start with finishes of 12th place on the streets of St. Petersburg and 15th at Texas Motor Speedway, but it was no secret that his focus was on contract talks, and he was willing to admit that.

Since then, he has just two finishes outside of the top five, winning at Barber Motorsports Park and finishing in second in the double points-paying Indy 500. He is the only driver outside of the “big three” currently inside the top seven in the standings.

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Can O’Ward pull it off and be crowned 2022 IndyCar champion, or will the 2022 season be the 20th straight season to produce a champion from Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske, or Andretti Autosport (or, more specifically, the 10th straight season to produce a champion from Chip Ganassi Racing or Team Penske)?