Chip Ganassi Racing has multiple drivers in hunt to win another IndyCar championship

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — Chip Ganassi has the dominant IndyCar team, and it’s only getting better as the season moves on to the second half following this weekend’s doubleheader on Belle Isle.

Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske have been rivals for decades, trading the series championship the last four years and each organization owning four titles in the last eight.

Marcus Ericsson is one of three Chip Ganassi drivers to earn victories so far this season in the IndyCar Series.

This season, CGR drivers have three wins in the first eight races with 30-year-old Swede Marcus Ericsson winning Race No. 1 on Saturday on Belle Isle, while Team Penske is still in search of its first win of the year.

It’s not that CGR is running away with the series championship. The title chase is up for grabs with multiple drivers in contention.

In fact, 22-year-old Mexican Pato O’Ward took over the series points lead from CGR driver Alex Palou with his win in Race No. 2 Sunday in the No. 5 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren and team owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. O’Ward is the series’ first two-time winner this season and owns a 299-298 lead over the 24-year-old Palou.

CGR actually has multiple drivers in the hunt for the series championship, with three of the team’s drivers — Palou, Scott Dixon and Ericsson — owning wins through the first eight races of the season.

Palou won the season opener at Alabama in his first season with CGR, finishing on the third Sunday after a 15th-place showing Saturday while competing on Belle Isle’s bumpy, tight course for the first time.

Dixon, 40, is a six-time series champion, including titles in 2018 and 2020. He is third in points, trailing O’Ward by 36 points, finishing eighth Saturday and seventh Sunday.

Ericsson finally reached Victory Lane on Saturday, earning his first career IndyCar win in his second season with CGR, his third in the series.

“I think we have a great team this year,” said Ericsson, who finished ninth in Race No. 2. “We have Scott obviously who is one of the best ever in IndyCar, so I think all of us other drivers can learn a lot and are learning a lot from Scott, just the way he drives, works, everything.

“And, then Alex has come in this year and been super fast. He’s been a great addition to the team, obviously winning the first race out, which is impressive, and after that has been very, very strong. And, then Jimmie (Johnson) and Tony (Kanaan) have been very important to the team.'

Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has found out just how different NASCAR and the IndyCar series are, struggling in his debut on Belle Isle, as he has all season despite being on a powerhouse team. He finished 24th in Race No. 1 and 21st Sunday.

More: From NASCAR great to IndyCar rookie, Jimmie Johnson rides 'vertical' learning curve into Detroit

Ericsson felt bad for Team Penske driver Will Powers’ misfortune when Saturday’s race was red flagged with six laps left due to Romain Grosjean’s crash. Power led at the stoppage with Ericsson right behind, but Power’s No. 12 Chevrolet would not restart when action resumed while Ericsson’s No. 8 Honda did.

“Obviously you don’t want to see someone have a problem like that, especially someone leading the race,” said Ericsson, who sits seventh in the points chase. “I was really fired up to try and get him with that last restart because I’ve been saying that this year I want that first IndyCar win. It was high on my list, so I was fired up when the red flag came out because I knew I was going to get a chance to try and get by him.

“You never want to see someone have a problem, but I’ll take it. We’ve had some bad luck. I’ve had some bad luck the last couple of years when we were looking good. It’s a huge relief. When I came over here (from Formula One), one of my big goals coming over here was to win races. It means a lot, and I think the confidence you get from it is going to help me a lot going forward in this championship."

Ericsson was the fourth driver to earn his first career win this season, joining Palou, O’Ward and 20-year-old Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing.

O’Ward did get past a lot of drivers Sunday, moving from fifth on the final restart with seven laps remaining to win, including Palou with seven laps left, then overtaking pole sitter Josef Newgarden of Team Penske with three laps remaining.

“I knew they were really good on restarts and he just got it," Palou said of O'Ward's impressive finish. "The last restart the tire temperature was really low and we couldn't really run aggressively so that was really tough for us.

"We're still there (points chase). We've been working really hard and the team has been giving me race cars to win every weekend, so coming into a new weekend and knowing that you're going to be able to fight for a win is amazing. It's amazing what the 10 car did from yesterday to day and we're going to keep growing."

Kirkwood completes Indy Lights sweep

Kyle Kirkwood had a weekend to remember on Belle Isle, winning the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Detroit for the second straight day in his No. 28 car for Andretti Autosport.

Kirkwood won from the pole Saturday, then topped the field from his third starting position Sunday morning to pull within four points of points leader Linus Lundqvist, who finished second.

David Malukas, who entered the day as the points leader, finished third, falling a single point behind Lundqvist.

“It was an awesome race,” Kirkwood said. “I couldn’t be happier. It helps us so much with the points, just a great weekend. I wish we got that pole, but I’ll take it from third. That’s even sweeter because there hasn’t been many passes this year so I’m really happy with it.”

Kirkwood had to have a strong restart for the final lap after Danial Frost caused the final caution when he went into the tire barrier with four laps left of the 30-lap race.

“I was just looking in my mirrors, he had an awesome run on me going into (Turn) 1,” Kirkwood said of Lundqvist on the last restart. “I had to defend a little bit, but I knew if I defended too much then he’d have an epic run on me going into 3, so it’s a little bit of risk vs. reward there. I think it’s the same for him, so fortunately it worked out really well. The Andretti Autosport 28 car has been absolutely unreal.”

Pistons’ Bey enjoys day as grand marshal

Pistons rookie Saddiq Bey was on hand Sunday at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in his role as Race No. 2 grand marshal.

Bey made his way through the pits, talking to drivers and getting a close-up look at the cars.

“It’s my first race that I’ve ever been to, but I love cars and grew up loving cars, even back home I go to the little burn-out sessions, where people have fast cars and race or spin their cars,” said the 6-foot-7 Bey, who was picked No. 19 overall by the Pistons, then averaged 12.2 points and 4.5 rebounds while making 175 3-pointers, third most made by a rookie in NBA history.

“It’s just a blessing to be here. I didn’t know how detail-oriented it was, down to the nitty gritty, down to every part and every inch, just crazy to see. That’s why they are professionals and it’s great to see. Everybody is a professional for a reason so it’s great to see what they have to go through and what training they do to be able to be at their best as well, so just having that different lens is awesome.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com