A former Formula One driver with a decade-long tenure, a seven-time NASCAR champion, and a three-time Australian Supercars champion walk into a room. This isn’t the setup to a joke. These are the new drivers battling for IndyCar’s Rookie of the Year honors.
While the full IndyCar grid hasn’t been announced yet (we’re still missing two Dale Coyne Racing drivers), the current average age of 2021's rookie class is 35—a mite higher than what most folks would expect when uttering the word “rookie.”
I’m normally very critical about drivers that milk their racing careers beyond the point of recognition (I’m looking at you, Kimi Raikkonen), but I’ll give Grosjean, Johnson, and McLaughlin a pass here since these are all drivers still capable of winning races. The hierarchical nature of, say, F1 doesn’t exactly lend itself to a Romain Grosjean win unless he magically ascends to a Mercedes ride, but still. He’s not exactly on the downswing yet. Something about racing in a different series seems to give even the most okay-est of drivers a second wind.
All joking aside, things haven’t looked so good for IndyCar in quite a while. I know some folks will argue that the series is the natural endpoint for a washed-up F1 driver that can’t get a ride anywhere else, but I’m going to say that, in this case, it just doesn’t matter. McLaughlin, for example, could very easily have continued dominating in Supercars. He could have tried his hand at endurance sportscar racing and kicked ass. Instead, he’s moving to IndyCar.
It’s similar to Johnson. Here’s a man who could very easily nab a top ride in any series he enters, and he’s opted for IndyCar. He might not be taking on every race, but I love seeing racers poke around outside their comfort zones.
I love IndyCar, but it hasn’t exactly been the most desirable series to race in for a while. But the fact that we’ve got such big names coming to take on the challenge—outside of the Indy 500—bodes pretty damn well for its longevity, at least in the near future. Drivers are interested in racing in the series, which means new fans might start popping up to watch the races. And if IndyCar needs anything right now, it’s more fans.
I’m just disappointed that this whole COVID-19 situation is going to make attending races in person this year a pain in the ass, because everyone should be hitting up their closest tracks to watch these legends race.