IndyCar: 3 drivers who might challenge Alex Palou — and 2 who won’t

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, IndyCar
Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, IndyCar (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

IndyCar drivers who can challenge Alex Palou: No. 3 – Scott McLaughlin

Point standings: 6th – 199 (-125)
DraftKings championship odds: +2500

Scott McLaughlin was my number two pick to win this year’s championship behind Alex Palou, which should be taken with a grain of salt since I haven’t picked the champion correctly since 2017 and haven’t even had the eventual champion in my preseason top nine since 2020.

Nevertheless, with the success that Palou has had, McLaughlin’s 2023 season has been a bit of a disappointment. He has just one top five finish, that being his win at Barber Motorsports Park, and that almost didn’t happen, when you factor in the timing of the race’s lone caution.

Despite being somewhat of a mid-pack driver in recent weeks, McLaughlin still finds himself in sixth place in the championship standings heading into a stretch of races in which he was the top driver last year.

He won at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Portland International Raceway, the latter of which from pole position, and recorded podium finishes at Iowa Speedway, World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and Nashville Street Circuit. He started on pole in Nashville as well.

While known for being more of a road course driver from his days in Supercars, McLaughlin scored a podium finish within his first two starts at every oval except for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Team Penske’s strength on short ovals coupled with McLaughlin’s early success should not be overlooked with three short oval races left on the calendar.

One thing to note about McLaughlin is that in two of his four wins, he had Palou trailing close behind, but unable to make a move. He has proven he can beat him, and it was Palou’s 2021 championship-winning success on which McLaughlin tried to model his breakout 2022 season.

Now it’s a matter of beating him consistently for nine races. Easier said than done, of course, especially when the deficit is 125 points.

Let’s have a look at two other drivers who are believed to be contenders but won’t actually be able to challenge Palou.