Our top three stories to watch in IndyCar in 2014

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on March 24, 2014 9:47 am
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There’s a great deal that promises to be fascinating about the coming Verizon IndyCar Series season! Our writers have taken stock of all the information and excitement swirling around and distilled it down to the three top stories that each of us are following as the Series launches its 2014 season this weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Each of us selected our lists independently without consulting each other. See how our top picks compare, and feel free to add your own in the comments section below!

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STEPH’S TOP THREE:

Juan Montoya’s return to open-wheel racing. If this isn’t the top story for all four of us, I’ll be surprised. On the heels of Dario Franchitti’s retirement comes a story that could play out very similarly – or will it? Franchitti, of course, won an Indianapolis 500 and a championship, had a brief and unsuccessful foray into NASCAR, and then returned to IndyCar and dominated the sport for the next three seasons. Could we see Montoya follow a similar pattern? Very possibly – with Team Penske in his corner, he’s got the right platform in place. The wrench in the works could be that Montoya has been gone for a lot longer than Franchitti was – from open-wheel since his last year of Formula 1 with McLaren in 2006, and from IndyCars since the year he won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in 2000. He’s been posting strong showings in pre-season testing, which only fuels the fire of intrigue. All eyes will unquestionably be on Montoya until we start to see what he can do.

The Ganassi/Andretti engine swap. Who will be the fastest to adapt? On paper, early signs point to Ganassi: Tony Kanaan’s move to the 10 car gave them a veteran with two years of experience racing the previous iteration of Chevrolet’s engine, and the new specs are far less different for Chevrolet than they are for Honda. Andretti has no such similar resource, Honda’s made a bigger change, and the recent and surprising departure of HPD Technical Director Roger Griffiths has a number of people up in arms. The two powerplants seemed similarly competitive at spring training at Barber Motorsports Park two weeks ago, but no one is really going to know where this story stands until tires hit pavement in St. Petersburg – and even then it may swing back and forth somewhat, especially in the pre-Indy stretch of the season. Fascinating stuff.

The star-studded field at the Indianapolis 500. Will adding the likes of Jacques Villeneuve, Kurt Busch, and possibly (as strongly rumored) Paul Tracy to the grid for the Indianapolis 500 make a difference beyond the Brickyard? Yes, the 500 needs some attention and some cachet, but the rest of the Series needs it even more. Can INDYCAR and its partners – most notably new title sponsor Verizon – finally find a way to capitalize on a key opportunity and use this Month of May to keep people engaged into June? Fortunately, the season is about to get under way and we’ll soon find out!

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JOHN’S TOP THREE:

Can Marco Andretti break down the door to Victory Lane in 2014?  Marco Andretti took an introspective look at his own driving style last year, and the result was an altered approach that allowed Marco to show much more pace on road and street circuits, which had been a bit of an Achilles’ heel the past few years. Marco showed his usual strong pace on the ovals, but mistakes and circumstances denied him a trip to victory lane for a second consecutive year. I’m looking forward to seeing if Marco can make similar leaps this year in regards to his driving style, and also as to whether that finally translates into some more victories for the talented third-generation driver.

How quickly does Juan Pablo Montoya adapt? As I said in an earlier article on JPM, I think it’s unwise to expect too much out of Montoya right out of the gate. The differences between driving in NASCAR and the IndyCar series are too numerous to mention, and JPM may struggle a bit to start the season. That said, his pace in preseason testing has piqued my interest. Can Juan actually be one of the first drivers to come back to the IndyCar series after leaving and make an immediate impact?

Is this the year that Will Power finally claims that elusive championship? Will has been agonizingly close to the promised land of an IndyCar Series title on numerous occasions, coming second in the final standings for three years running, and he was expected to at the very least contend for the crown in 2013. A slow start put Power well down in the rankings after first few events, but three late wins showed us the Power of old and vaulted him to a fourth-place points tally. Can Power continue that strong form and finally claim the championship that has eluded him?

Next page: Paul and Bash provide their top-three lists

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