IndyCar: Top 10 first-time champion candidates (2 favorites, then everyone else)

Just four active full-time IndyCar drivers have won a championship, and all of those drivers have won at least two. Can another new champion emerge in 2024?

Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren, IndyCar
Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren, IndyCar / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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Just four drivers are set to enter the 2024 IndyCar season as former series champions, and following Alex Palou's historic 2023 championship-winning season, all four of those drivers have won multiple titles.

All of them have won at least one title since 2019, with the Chip Ganassi Racing driver being the only two-time champion -- and the only first-time champion, having also won in 2021 -- during that five-year stretch.

Palou and Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Will Power have all won two championships each, and Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon continues his role as IndyCar's Tom Brady, having won as many as all of them combined (six).

It was not surprising to see Palou and Newgarden listed at the top of FanDuel Sportsbook's opening odds for the IndyCar championship, with the two drivers who accounted for wins in more than half of the races on the 2023 schedule listed at +300 and +450, respectively.

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Former champions Dixon and Power are listed at +800 and +1600, respectively.

Who are the favorites to emerge as the next first-time IndyCar champion?

Team Penske's Scott McLaughlin, who actually beat out Newgarden in last year's standings to finish as Chevrolet's top driver, despite winning only one race, is listed with the shortest odds among drivers not yet crowned IndyCar champions.

He is listed at +650, though his active 13-race win drought is his longest since becoming a race winner in 2022.

In all of his IndyCar starts, going back to his series debut in the 2020 season finale, he has been the only one of Roger Penske's drivers without a championship. That list includes Simon Pagenaud, who left after the 2021 season. He will undoubtedly be looking to change that as soon as possible.

Just behind him is Arrow McLaren's Pato O'Ward. O'Ward, listed at +700, will need to buck a trend that goes back to just a few years after he was born if he wants a shot at the Astor Cup.

No driver from a team other than Penske, Ganassi, or Andretti has won a championship since Sam Hornish Jr. won in 2001 and 2002 for the now defunct Panther Racing. O'Ward was held winless in 2023 but still managed a fourth place finish in the championship standings, beating Indy 500 winner Newgarden in the process.

Here's a list of the top 10 contenders to become first-time IndyCar champions in 2024.

Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske: +650
Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren: +700
Marcus Ericsson, Andretti Global: +1000
Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Global: +1100
Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren: +1400
Colton Herta, Andretti Global: +1600
Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: +2000
David Malukas, Arrow McLaren: +2400
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: +4000
Santino Ferrucci, A.J. Foyt Enterprises: +4000

Rossi leads all drivers on this list with eight career wins; the top three drivers listed all have four. Herta has seven, Rahal has six, and Kirkwood has two. Lundgaard also has one, while Malukas, who will miss the season opener, and Ferrucci are still seeking their first.

It may be worth noting that IndyCar's most recent first-time champion, Palou, entered his first championship-winning season with zero career wins. Newgarden (2017) entered his with three.

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NBC is set to provide live coverage of the 2024 IndyCar season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida beginning at 12:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 10. Start a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss it!

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