There is a popular poem out there that talks about a fork in the road, and which path should be taken. Many everyday people find themselves in this situation a lot, and the drivers and teams in the IZOD INDYCAR Series are no different. One particular team will be faced with a new challenge this year, that can either take them on the path to destruction, or on the road to victory —literally.
All four teams within Andretti Autosport will be presented with an opportunity to do something that they haven't been able to do yet in their careers —become the leader for this team. For the past seven years, that leader has been veteran driver Tony Kanaan. With TK now gone to race with KV Racing, the chance to break out and fill his long-time role as leader of this team is up for grabs. The question remains who, if anyone, will be ready to step up and take that role?
Luckily for Andretti Autosport, they have four very worthy and capable drivers in their stable. The only thing that they lack is a winning mentality, which is understandable with such a young team. Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway don't have the years under their belt that guys like Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon or Dario Franchitti have. What they do have is talent, and cars that are capable of winning races in this series.
The spotlight will continue to shine on Danica this season, as her future in racing will likely be questioned at every single event. Would she be able to finally break out and become the leader of this team? Doing so would require her to run up front more consistently, but that is something she has proven she can do. Last season, she had some top five five finishes, and some quality top ten finishes.
I think most people are thinking that Ryan Hunter-Reay is going to become the new leader of this team. He has had some really good finishes, but like Danica, hasn't shown the consistency to become a major threat to win a championship yet. I think he will have a much better season this year than what we saw from him last year, so the prediction of him taking over this role isn't a bad one.
He no longer has to worry about the sponsorship troubles that plagued him last year. He is going to race the full season, and not only will he be relieved of that, but I strongly believe that he will be motivated to prove to everyone that he is the real deal.
The sentimental pick for this team has to be young Marco Andretti. It's always tough being the child of someone that is famous, let alone a having a grandfather that is even more famous. Then trying to walk in their same shoes is next to impossible, because people are always going to compare him to Michael and Mario.
Despite still being very young, we have seen dramatic improvement from Marco in the last couple of years. His confidence is up, and he is racing smarter, which we saw at many of the road/street races last season. He might be another year or two away, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Marco lead the charge for this team even this year.
The fourth, and newest member of the drivers for Andretti is young Mike Conway. Most people outside of the sport only know his name because of the horrible accident at the end of last year's Indianapolis 500. What they don't know is that this kid has as much talent as anyone out there. Coming over this season from Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Conway is looking to get settled into his new ride. He hasn't raced since that crash in Indy last season, but his road to recovery is almost complete.
His main focus this season should be to get comfortable, and get some solid top-10 finishes. Anything more than that would come as a surprise to me. It's not that I don't think he has the talent, it would just surprise me that he would be that far ahead with his new team. I think Mike has a lot of talent that will be seen this year, and long into the future.
If I had to rank them in order right now, I honestly don't know if I could do it and feel completely at ease with my list. I think the spot is wide open among all four drivers, which is what lead me to write this piece. Obviously it is going to take some time before we get an idea of who will eventually succeed Tony Kanaan as the leader. We won't really know anything more after this weekend's season-opening race at St. Petersburg, but we could be provided with some clues.
When we compare the drivers on the ovals and road or street courses, the picture isn't as clear as it may seem. Although Danica is clearly more comfortable on the ovals, she has come a long way on the road courses since she came into the series. When you look at Marco and Ryan, they seem to be similar in that they can both run up front at either type of track, but how long can they stay there?
Ryan is probably a little better on the road courses, but Marco looked really god on a few of them last year. He has definitely improved there, and the best part is he still has room for improvement.
Conway doesn't appear to be particular to one or the other, but he can give you the same result no matter what venue you are racing. That type of reliability is something the team has that some others may not.
For example, Justin Wilson is going to be a contender on most, if not all road or street courses. That being said, how confident are you as a team owner when you head to one of the oval tracks? Michael can rest easy knowing that all four of his drivers are capable of winning on any type of track. They may not be at the level of Penske and Ganassi yet, but they are nipping at their heels.
We should have a good idea of who is going to become the next leader for this team by the time the "500" rolls around. Those working closely with the series should be able to get a feel for who it is. Most of the knowledgeable fans should be able to pick up on it as well by that time. It will be interesting to see how these drivers will work together on the track, and how they will share information off of it.
Last year at Indianapolis, Tony Kanaan took all four Andretti Autosport cars out for practice runs in a single day. I don't know that any of these drivers are going to be able to do that, but they should all be able to help each other in different ways.
Team Penske will have three drivers gunning for the championship in Helio, Briscoe and Power. Chip Ganassi will now have three legitimate championship contenders of his own with Franchitti, Dixon and now Graham Rahal. I think the same can be said for Andretti's team. While they might not have the odds that those other six may have, they are still four very good drivers in this series that are capable of winning and being up front in the end.
The theory in football is if you have two quarterbacks, you really don't even have one. That philosophy does not apply here though, as any one of these four drivers is capable of stringing together some wins, and ultimately, a championship for Andretti Autosport.