Dixon may have just tied Al Unser for 4th place on the all-time IndyCar win list, but it would be difficult to argue that Dixon matches Unser in importance. For one thing he has the largest difference between his win total and his TNL total in IndyCar history, with 39 wins and 28 TNL indicating that he gained more wins through off-track passes than any driver in IndyCar history and was lucky. Unser meanwhile was unlucky as he had a MUCH higher 47 TNL despite his identical win total. Unser also faced deeper competition and was more dominant with a higher average percent led against that competition (although Dixon was more consistent.) Unser also had more longevity and versatility, and did not have great equipment as often as Dixon did. To be sure, Unser had some very dominant cars (early '70s Parnelli, early '80s Penske) but he also had some weaker ones in his heyday (late '70s Parnelli as the team was slipping, and Bobby Hillin's Longhorn Racing in the early '80s), while Dixon only had bad equipment in two years he was at Ganassi (2004-05, when they had the lame duck Toyota engine.) Admittedly, Dixon himself is responsible for many of the races he won but was not the TNL. His strategy in winning road course races when he does not win the pole is usually to save fuel, pit a lap or two later, and then beat the previous leader out of the pits, and few if any drivers have been better at doing this, but it does impress me much less than on-track passing does. However, at this point Dixon's surefire consistency has been so long-lasting it's impossible to ignore. He has finished in the top 3 in points every season since 2007 (nine consecutive seasons), which no other driver has ever done. With his win in Phoenix earlier this year, he became the first driver ever to win in 12 consecutive seasons. He also had the most consecutive lead lap finishes in the Indy 500 including a win from the pole in 2008 and a TNL in 2011 when he did not win (and that does understate his dominance, as he has led the most laps four times and only won once, meaning he is rather unlucky to have only won once.) Unlike his teammate Dario Franchitti, who had a brief edge over him with the IR03 chassis when they were teammates in 2003-11, Dixon seemed to be equally good with many different chassis, as he has won titles with four different chassis-engine combinations (G-Force-Toyota, Dallara IR03-Honda, Dallara DW12-Honda, Dallara DW12-Chevrolet), while Franchitti seemed to be only good with a Reynard-Honda or a Dallara IR03-Honda, and even in the championship battles where Dixon came up short to Franchitti, Dixon was a LOT better in the years he did not win the championship than Franchitti was. Franchitti was largely championship or bust (and also Indy 500 or bust) while Dixon was a reliable threat every year he had the equipment to compete. Many people will take Franchitti solely because of his greater CART results, his additional Indy 500s, and his head-to-head titles, but Franchitti won the 2007 and 2009 titles on fuel mileage! If you reverse both of those fairly lucky outcomes, suddenly the championship difference is 6-2 and this should be a no-brainer! Dixon also managed to win titles under very different circumstances (2003 had an all-oval schedule, 2008 was split 50/50, and 2013 and 2015 were predominantly road/street course schedules.) Regardless of the chassis and engine he was using and regardless of the skew of the schedule, he was reliably there more than most others. He is pretty equally balanced on all kinds of tracks unlike almost any driver of his era (except Juan Pablo Montoya) although he does slightly better on natural road courses and slightly worse on street courses. He even had most of his important success after the split ended. However, there is no denying that he feasted on a lot of relatively weak fields from 2003-07, 2008-10 weren't much better as Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti were practically the only comeptitive teams, and when the fields finally started getting more competitive again in 2011 and years following, he definitely wasn't winning as often as before (although still reliably getting championship finishes.) When you further add I think I'm most impressed with him in recent years that his TNL percentage and average percent led are fairly weak here, despite not competing against fields as deep as a lot of these other drivers, I think that explains why I'm not willing to go top five YET. I'm not even willing to do so for Rick Mears who has a lot of similar issues (as both of them dominated for the best team of the time). Still, of all drivers with 100 or more starts in IndyCar history, Dixon, Mears, and Sam Hornish are the only ones EVER to average 40 points per race, and Dixon mostly did it against better fields than what Hornish faced (although probably worse than what Mears faced), so he is too big to ignore at this point. I am actually a bit more impressed with his recent seasons as Ganassi has not really been a strong rival to Penske from top-to-bottom after Franchitti left, but Dixon still doesn't seem to have lost anything. Dixon DID prove something outside of Ganassi with a very strong rookie season in 2001 when he finished 8th in points driving for the nearly out of business PacWest Racing, where he won in his 3rd race and thoroughly trounced his experienced and talented teammate Mauricio Gugelmin.
The best IndyCar driver of the 1920s, Murphy started out as the protege of the 2nd best driver of the 1920s Tommy Milton before eventually eclipsing him. Of all the drivers who did not have great longevity in IndyCar racing, I believe Murphy was the best. Although he was lucky to start out with the Duesenberg factory team in late 1919, the year Milton made it a powerhouse with 5 wins in his 9 starts, he won in his second start (the debut of 1920) and essentially matched Milton that year in the points races (barely losing out on 2nd place in the championship to Milton, but both of them were stronger than the champion Gaston Chevrolet, who won at Indy but wasn't very competitive elsewhere.) After alienating Milton by setting an unofficial land speed record in early 1920 in a car Milton had designed for his own use, Milton left Duesenberg to take over Chevrolet's ride after his death in the 1920 season finale, making Murphy the unambiguous Duesenberg lead driver. The stage was set for Milton and Murphy to battle for the championship in 1921 but it ended up being no contest as Milton won the race while Murphy's relief driver Eddie Pullen crashed his. Although Murphy ended up winning the most races that year (4 to Milton, Roscoe Sarles, and Ralph DePalma's 3), he lost his chance to make a significant comeback when he skipped a few summer races to compete in Europe, as the Duesenberg brothers entered four cars including Murphy in that year's French Grand Prix at Le Mans, long before the advent of Formula One. Although the field only had 13 cars, it was a stellar field featuring 3 past Indy 500 winners (DePalma, Jules Goux, René Thomas) and 2 future ones (Joe Boyer and Murphy himself), not to mention two time world land speed record holder Henry Segrave. Despite the strength of that field, Murphy won by 15 minutes over DePalma with not a GREAT deal of road racing experience! Milton although he was also great did nothing quite like that. This win would be the only Grand Prix win for an American driver until Dan Gurney in 1961, and Murphy and Gurney were the only two American drivers ever to win Grand Prix races in cars of American manufacture (excluding the periods when the Indy 500 offically counted as a Grand Prix or World Championship race, but was run under vastly different rules and had little to do with what was going on in Europe at the time.) Although Murphy would only finish 4th in 1921 points, his reputation was already surpassing Milton's, and he cemented that in 1922 with a supremely dominant championship becoming the first driver ever to win seven races in a season, a record that would not be surpassed until Ted Horn in 1946 (or if you don't think the Big Car races should count, Tony Bettenhausen in 1951!) Murphy actually left the Duesenberg team in the middle of the 1922 season to become an owner-driver. He continued to use a Duesenberg chassis but switched to engines by Harry Miller (whose engines were faster than the engines Duesenberg had, and Murphy thought Milton's main advantage in 1921 were the Miller engines.) Once Murphy and Milton both had the same engine package, Murphy was clearly more dominant winning 4 of his first 5 races as an owner-driver, including a dominant Indy 500 from the pole. Despite winning the first two races of 1923, Murphy cost himself the chance at a second straight championship by skipping two of that year's eight races to compete in Europe, where he competed in the Italian Grand Prix and finished 3rd, 5 minutes behind winner Carlo Salamano, and received two German Shepherd dogs from grand marshal and prime minister-soon-to-be-dictator Benito Mussolini. In 1924, Murphy focused exclusively on US racing and took an easy points lead after a 3rd place finish at Indianapolis followed by three straight wins on board tracks. To win four in a row, he needed to win at the Syracuse Mile, the first dirt track race that counted for points since Murphy's career began. Murphy did not like dirt racing and generally skipped Syracuse when it did not count for championship points (but did finish 2nd there in 1920 regardless), but now that he was the points leader and the race counted for points, he entered it again in 1924 and was running 2nd place when a shock absorber failed, causing him to crash into a wooden guardrail, which would crush his chest, killing him instantly. Despite the fact that there were three races left on the schedule, Murphy still won the championship, becoming the first driver ever to win two official points championships and the second to win his posthumously. No driver with 50 or more starts was as dominant as Murphy, who averaged 25.57% led in his starts and had the highest winning percentage of all time among drivers with 50 or more starts as well (unless you count the 1946 Big Car races, then Ted Horn BARELY beats Murphy.) While the races on the schedule when Murphy competed were not that diverse, as the schedule was almost entirely comprised of Indianapolis and board ovals, Murphy's proto-F1 success was matched by no other Americans of the first half century of IndyCar racing and indicates that he would have easily been able to handle periods when road racing was a bigger focus. Although he hated dirt racing, he was clearly good at that as well finishing 2nd in his first non-championship appearance at Syracuse and running 2nd when he had his fatal crash (a crash that was considered to be a mechanical failure and not his fault). It's hard to think of many if any drivers from the pioneering decades who would have been able to handle every era of the sport, but Murphy is one although I place one of his contemporaries higher.
Andretti may be 3rd in all time wins with 42, and he may be tied with Al Unser for 3rd with 47 TNLs, indicating that he was rather unlucky (but actually not as unlucky as people think he was), but there are few people I think who would really rate him as high as 3rd on an all-time IndyCar list and I'm not going to be doing so either. At this level it DOES matter that he never won an Indy 500 and it DOES matter that he only won one championship (he is the only driver in this top 10 who has EITHER of these flaws, except for Ralph DePalma, whose best seasons didn't count for championship points, but was clearly the dominant driver of his era regardless.) However, I still felt his dominance is just too huge and against too good competition to leave him out of the top ten. The most impressive thing about Andretti's career is probably his head-to-head record against his teammates, which is unmatched almost by anyone else in IndyCar history. Although he had teammates every year in his IndyCar career except 1986-88, he was only beaten by a teammate once in the championship EVER. That was Dario Franchitti in 2002, his final full-time season. He had a 4-0 record against his father Mario (who was fading from his prime and was no longer the threat he once was) and a 3-0 record vs. Paul Tracy most notably, and considering Mario is the 2nd all-time winner and Tracy is in the top ten, that is definitely worth a lot. To cite another example, before Andretti was even a superstar in 1985 he beat Kevin Cogan in points for the Kraco team before Cogan moved to Patrick Racing for 1986 and beat EMERSON FITTIPALDI in points. Unlike his rival Al Unser, Jr. (who people usually rate higher solely due to his greater titles and Indy 500 wins), he was equally dominant on ovals, road courses, and street courses at just about all points in his career and he managed to remain relevant year after year against greatly shifting competition, winning every season but one from 1986-2002 (discounting 1993 when he switched to Formula One.) He also proved his skill at remaining competitive with inferior equipment especially in 1996 when he won more races than anyone else despite having Goodyear tires when the cars with Firestone tires were significantly faster, and managed to win the debut race for two different chassis (Reynard in 1994 and Swift in 1997), something I can't imagine too many other drivers have ever done. However, I still do have a few issues with his career. Many people struggle to take him seriously at this level because he seemed to focus more on pure dominance (leading every lap) rather than making sure he survived to the finish, leading to numerous mechanical failures. There's no question he wasn't clutch, and that is the reason that even though he is 3rd all time in wins and cumulative races led (and actually ahead of A.J. Foyt and his dad in average percent led) that he never won at Indianapolis and only won one title with five 2nd place points finishes. The question is does this count as being a choker or just unlucky? How much comes down to unreliable equipment and how much is actually the driver's fault? If he was competing just as hard today when there were almost no mechanical failures, would he be even more dominant as he wouldn't lose all the races he dominated but lost due to mechanical failures? Probably less because they have spec equipment now. I am more inclined to support inconsistent dominance than consistency that is somewhat less than dominant, but at this level, everybody theoretically has both consistency and dominance. Another issue I have with Andretti is how dominant his equipment was in his heyday, which I think was greater than what most other drivers have had. Obviously given his father's legend, he and Al Unser, Jr. both got into faster cars faster than some of their contemporaries did allowing them to accrue big stats. In 1986, Andretti's breakout season, he had Adrian Newey as his engineer. Newey would go on to become almost undeniably the greatest Formula One chassis designer in history, yet Andretti LOST the title to Bobby Rahal (whose team was even in a bit of a shambles after his car owner Jim Trueman died merely days after their Indy 500 win.) Andretti had a March-Cosworth in 1987, which was as good as any other package, but in 1988, when the new Chevrolet engine began a period of extreme dominance for the next four seasons, Andretti's Cosworth was no longer competitive and he failed to win, but Rahal won a race at Pocono and finished better in points with a Judd engine that was possibly even worse! Andretti joined his father at Newman-Haas from 1989-92, and to his credit he thoroughly dominated Mario, and in particularly had two of the most dominant seasons ever in 1991-92 winning 13 of 32 races and averaging about 50% led in that period, but Chevrolet had a massive advantage in speed in 1991 just as Ford did the following year in 1992 (in that year's Indy 500, the Newman-Haas Fords of the Andrettis and the Ganassi Fords of Eddie Cheever and Arie Luyendyk were clearly faster than everyone else, and this continued over the season, but Andretti was nearly washed up and Cheever was never that great an IndyCar driver, so it perhaps made Michael's dominance look a bit more impressive than it actually was, especially when he still lost the 500 to Al Unser, Jr. after a mechanical failure and the championship to Rahal AGAIN for a 3rd time, as both Chevy drivers had more reliable but less dominant equipment.) Andretti was finally at an equipment disadvantage in 1994 when Ganassi's Fords were nowhere near on par with Penske's Ilmor engines and in 1996 and years following when Ganassi's Reynard-Honda-Firestone package was WAY faster than Newman Haas's Lola or Swift-Ford-Goodyear package, and Andretti definitely impressed in those years particularly. However, Andretti can't be top five with no 500 wins and only one championship, and honestly weighing he and his contemporaries against their equipment, I end up being more impressed with Bobby Rahal than EITHER Andretti or Unser, Jr.
Rahal does not seem to get the respect he deserves and I don't really understand it. Most people will laugh if you attempt to suggest Rahal as one of the all-time IndyCar greats, with most people considering him a second-tier legend in the same vein as drivers like Danny Sullivan, Tom Sneva, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Sure, most people will argue he was good but sneer at the argument he was a legend, even though I think considering what he did in the equipment he had and at the age he drove, he clearly outshines Al Unser, Jr. and somewhat clearly outshines Michael Andretti. This has never made any sense to me. No, I wouldn't have him top ten on an Indy 500-only list, but that is not what this list is. His Indy 500 record was still quite good with top 7 finishes in half his starts including a win in 1986 where he passed Kevin Cogan on track with 2 laps remaining to win; his contemporaries Unser and Andretti even when they had stronger cars never took the lead on track to win a 500. However, that is not my main argument for Rahal. The main argument is the surefire consistency he had and the cars in which he did it. Of all the drivers who made 100 or more starts in IndyCar racing, Rahal is 4th all time in unadjusted points per race behind only Rick Mears, Scott Dixon, and Sam Hornish. Yes, he's even ahead of A.J. Foyt and EVERY Unser and Andretti according to this metric. Mentioning Hornish in this context is ridiculous because he competed against weak split fields and did not have the track-to-track balance that Mears, Rahal, or Dixon did, so throw him out. Now let's compare Rahal to Mears and Dixon. Mears spent almost his entire career with Penske when they were almost always dominant or among the most dominant. Dixon spent almost his entire career with Ganassi when they were almost always dominant or among the most dominant. Does Rahal really have anything comparable to that? Really? When you take a look at the car owners that won championships in the competitive CART period from 1979-2002 (Penske, Chaparral, Newman-Haas, Truesports, Patrick, Galles, Rahal, Green, and Ganassi) the teams that seem infinitely weaker from a historical perspective (and the teams that seemed to have less of an advantage relative to their competition at the time compared to the others) are Truesports, Galles, and Rahal. Notice anything? Those are the three teams that Rahal spent essentially his entire career with. He did not have the absurd advantage in speed that Penske, Newman-Haas, or Ganassi drivers would usually have and still had a fairly comparable-looking career. He had the 3rd best rookie season in CART history when he finished 2nd in points and won two races in 1982. He failed to win the championship unlike Nigel Mansell in 1993 and Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999 but Mansell was taking over the Newman-Haas car from Michael Andretti who thoroughly dominated the 1991-1992 seasons, and Montoya was taking over the Ganassi car from Alex Zanardi who had thoroughly dominated the 1997-1998 seasons. Rahal did what he did with a BRAND NEW TEAM, so it's just as impressive in my mind. Rahal started his career with an extraordinary seven straight top five points finishes and six straight multi-win seasons, culminating in back-to-back championships in 1986 and 1987 for TrueSports. He was equally good on ovals and road courses from the very start of his career, as he won on an oval and a road course his rookie season (Michigan and Cleveland, respectively), and almost alternated between oval and road course wins in his TrueSports period. Even more impressively, he managed to survive the death of his car owner Jim Trueman a mere 11 days after his Indy 500 win and still went on to win a dominant championship in 1986 and defended his title in 1987 despite the change in management with Steve Horne taking over day-to-day operations of the team. His 1986 championship is even more impressive when you consider that Michael Andretti had future multi-time F1-championship winning engineer Adrian Newey as his chief engineer and Rahal did not yet Rahal still beat him despite the death of his car owner mid-season. The next few years, Rahal was perhaps even more impressive as his team stuck with Cosworth engines while the premier teams (Patrick, Penske, and Newman-Haas) had switched to Chevrolet engines which would constantly dominate from 1988-91. Rahal's Cosworth was still competitive in 1987 but no longer in 1988 so TrueSports decided to gamble to the more reliable but much slower Judd engine and although Rahal was not competitive for the championship, he still won a race at Pocono and finished 3rd, which would be the ONLY race the Chevy engines would not win that year (even Andretti went winless with his Cosworth engine.) 1989 was more of the same as Rahal replaced Andretti at the faltering Kraco team when Andretti joined his father at Newman-Haas. Rahal managed to win with a Cosworth (an engine manufacturer that went winless in 1988), and scored one of only two race wins for an engine manufacturer other than Chevrolet in 1989. Rahal finally got his Chevy in 1990, and it is here that he finally had a significant career blemish. With Unser, Jr.'s Galles team and Rahal's Kraco team merging, both drivers would have Chevrolets and Rahal would have a teammate for the first time, but Unser went on to win 6 races and the championship while Rahal went winless. However, the following year, even though Unser out-won Rahal, Rahal finished slightly higher in points and even led the much more dominant Andretti in points for much of the season. After the 1991 season ended, Rahal decided to become an owner-driver for 1992 and purchased the remains of the Patrick Racing team, but this was hardly the Patrick team that dominated the 1989 season with Emerson Fittipaldi (that team got sold to Chip Ganassi prior to 1990), but rather the pretty weak Alfa Romeo team Patrick started for 1990 after selling his previous team to Ganassi. No matter. Rahal got himself a once-dominant Chevrolet engine for 1992 but now of course the Chevy dominance was about to end as the new Ford XB engine and Michael Andretti in particular were so much faster than the competition it was nothing like 1988-91 when Chevy won everything, but Rahal's engines were more reliable and once again Rahal won the title, ultimately tying Mears with three championships, more than anyone else in the competitive CART period. Rahal even became the only driver after the formation of CART to lead every lap of an oval race against an unsplit field at Phoenix in 1992, although it was obviously made easier for him when polesitter Andretti was unable to make the start due to a mechanical problem; Rahal became and remains the last driver to win a championship as an owner-driver, and in the nearly 25 years since only Kenny Bräck in 2001, Buddy Rice in 2004, and his son Graham last year came close to contending for a championship in his cars. Rahal would subsequently make quite a few bad decisions as a car owner that would prevent him from winning a race until his 1998 retirement (especially purchasing his old team TrueSports which never won a race without him and attempting to build their own chassis based on the TrueSports chassis and becoming the Honda factory team in 1994 before abandoning that effort shortly before they would begin dominating at Indianapolis in 1995 the following year.) Despite his questionable decisions as an owner, he still never truly had an AWFUL season, with only one finish outside the top ten in points, and despite being in his late 40s at his retirement he was only barely beaten in points by his protege Bryan Herta. That's another thing: Rahal started when he was 29, much older than Andretti (21) and Unser (20) were when they got their first full-time IndyCar rides (presumably because of their father's success.) If you compare Andretti and Unser's results from age 29, Rahal easily comes up on top even though he has fewer wins overall, not to mention that he got more championships than both of them in probably worse equipment. What's to debate here, really? Rahal's 1990 season is bad and some of his late owner-driver seasons were mediocre but I can't think of anything else to criticize.
While Mark Donohue may have gotten Roger Penske his first success as a car owner in almost every series including the team's first Indy 500 win in 1972, and while Tom Sneva may have gotten the team's first two championship titles in IndyCar racing in the last two years prior to Penske's switch from USAC to the new CART championship in 1979, it was Mears who put it all together and turned the team into the enduring powerhouse it would eventually become. Mears got his big break in 1978 when he was hired to drive Penske's 2nd car when Mario Andretti was unavailable due to his Formula One commitments. While Sneva, the full-time driver, did win the championship, it was through consistency rather than raw speed (with six 2nd place finishes and no wins that year.) By contrast, Al Unser, Danny Ongais, and Mears did most of the dominating in 1978, with Mears in particular winning 3 of his 11 starts, doing much better than Andretti as well, who only won 1 of his 8 starts. Despite winning the championship, Sneva was shockingly fired because he wasn't winning enough and Penske went on to make Mears his lead driver in 1979, the first CART season, with Bobby Unser replacing Sneva and Andretti remaining part-time. Mears and Unser both had incredible consistency with only one DNF between them in 1979, and Unser won 6 races to Mears's 3, but Mears's first win in the Indy 500 was worth so many points that it was enough to carry him to a title in his first full-time season. While his 1980 was surprisingly mediocre for that era of Penske as he only won one race at the Mexico City road course and finished 4th in points, his 1981-82 were truly impeccable. In 1981, despite missing Milwaukee due to a minor injury at Indianapolis (which counted for USAC, not CART points that season), Mears finished all ten of his starts, finished 4th or better in nine of them, and won SIX of them sweeping a double-header at Atlanta, winning at Michigan, and sweeping all three road course races at Riverside, Watkins Glen, and Mexico City, while teammate Unser went winless in CART in his final season (but did win that year's eternally-controversial Indy 500.) 1982 was more of the same as he added four wins on very different tracks (Phoenix, Atlanta, Pocono, and Riverside) en route to a third title in four years, but he would never win a championship again. After a maddeningly inconsistent 1983 when his new teammate Al Unser won the championship while Mears was 6th (each with only 1 win apiece), he claimed his second Indianapolis win in 1984 winning by two laps over Roberto Guerrero, but it was his only win of the season (though he remained consistent) entering that year's race at the Sanair short track in Quebec. In practice for that event, he suffered a severe injury in a crash where his legs were badly crushed, forcing him to miss the remainder of the 1984 season and most of 1985 as well. He returned to full-time competition in 1986 and suffered his first winless season at Penske, only finishing 8th in points despite being full-time, and 1987 wasn't much better with only win at Pocono. Mears got very lucky that Penske's Chevrolet engines became so dominant that all other teams without Chevrolet were rendered essentially uncompetitive, and that largely contributed to his stronger results from 1988-91 as he managed to win 2 races a year in those years along with 2 Indy 500s, but he wasn't that versatile only winning at Indy twice, Phoenix twice, Milwaukee twice, Michigan once, and Laguna Seca once. The fact that he did manage to win a dominant road course race at Laguna Seca in 1989 after his injury was impressive, but the results weren't THAT huge (especially in terms of versatility) when considering the speed of the Penske-Chevrolets in that era (enough that even Danny Sullivan could win a title for them in this era), and I think this portion of Mears's career is overrated a bit due to his Indy 500 wins. After breaking a wrist in Indy 500 practice in 1992 and crashing again in the race, he made his final starts mid-season and retired at the end of the year. Overall, there is no question what a dominant force Mears was from 1978-82 as he was able to dominate on any track of the schedule: superspeedways, short tracks, and road courses alike. However, he seemed to be slipping even before his Sanair crash as Al Unser beat him to the 1983 championship and Mears was not really close. While it's amazing Mears survived a horrific crash that crushed his feet and returned to race again, the actual results don't impress me that much. I'm sort of reminded of Jeff Gordon in NASCAR. Mears arrived at Penske when it was a very good team but not a great one, improved it to a powerhouse, and seriously dominated for four years but late in his career he faded and was matched or overshadowed by teammates but still got several wins because the team was much stronger than it was when Mears originally arrived there. That applies to Mears and Gordon. Gordon however dominated his team for a longer period than Mears did, although Mears admittedly had his career interrupted by an injury more severe than any Gordon ever faced. Many people cite Mears as the greatest Indy 500 driver ever because he won six poles and four races, but it's hard to really argue that when his teammates won nearly as many 500s as he did (3 to his 4) and his teammates won nearly as many championships as he did (2 to his 3, not counting 1985 when Mears was part-time and his teammate Unser won the title.) While he did generally outperform his team at both, he was outperformed by teammates a lot more than you would expect from most top 20 drivers; of course, because Penske was usually the strongest team he also had higher-quality teammates. I think his pre-injury career was like Jimmy Bryan's or Jimmy Murphy's with a level of absurd dominance over four years, and his career after his injury was more like Johnny Rutherford's: still great on ovals but merely pretty good elsewhere and looking a little better than he really was because he had a significant equipment advantage (a Chevy from 1988-91 when only Chevies were competitive). I don't think that quite adds up to top five, but it is close. On an Indy 500 list alone, he probably would be top five though.
Although many would instead argue that Bill Vukovich or A.J. Foyt or Rick Mears or Ralph DePalma had the greatest record in Indy 500 history, I think you have to give it to Unser. Three drivers (Foyt, Unser, and Mears) won the race four times. Three drivers (DePalma, Vukovich, and Unser) were the TNL four times, but Unser is the only driver to appear on both lists and also has the most laps led in Indianapolis history. However, when it comes to the schedule in general, I believe I am actually more impressed with his brother Bobby, which is something I did not expect when I began this analysis, considering that Al had four more wins overall, one more Indy 500 win (and Bobby's 1981 win was disputed), and one more championship. Like his brother Bobby, Al got his start at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. However, Bobby was much more impressive there winning 13 times to Al's 2 (and nine times when it was sanctioned by AAA or USAC...from 1947-55 and 1965-69, the race counted for championship points and if it did in the years in between, Bobby would have 7 more points wins and Al would have 1, which would give Bobby more career wins than Al.) Much like his brother got an early major opportunity with Bob Wilke's Leader Card Racing team, so did Al with John Mecom's team that won the 1966 Indy 500 with 2 time F1 champion Graham Hill. However, the Mecom team had a major advantage that Bobby would never have, as Al had George Bignotti, the greatest engineer in IndyCar history with the Mecom team, which eventually became Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing, and Bignotti was responsible for a sizable portion of Unser's success, just as he was for A.J. Foyt (as he was Foyt's chief mechanic for Foyt's entire power run from 1960-64.) After a staggering nine second place finishes before finally getting his first non-Pikes Peak win, Unser exploded into dominance in 1968 winning five races in a row winning at the Nazareth dirt oval, sweeping a doubleheader at the IRP road course, then sweeping a doubleheader at the recently paved Langhorne in a 15-day period. Those would be his only wins of the season, but he added five more in 1969 all at different tracks (including dirt ovals, paved ovals, and a road course). In 1970, Unser won 10 races including one of the most dominant Indy 500s ever where he led 190 of 200 laps, which matched Foyt's career season win record of 10 in 1964 (excluding the Big Car wins of 1946.) 1971 initially looked to be more of the same as he won five of his first six races including a second straight win at Indianapolis but a string of 6 straight DNFs to end the season handed the championship to his teammate Joe Leonard. In 1972, Leonard this time thoroughly dominated teammates Unser and Mario Andretti and Unser failed to seriously contend for a race in 1972 as Bignotti moved on to Patrick Racing where he would be responsible for most of Gordon Johncock's early success. As the Parnelli team in general was falling apart, he still managed a single win in 1973 and 1974, before earning his first multi-win season in a long time in 1976, soon to be followed by his Triple Crown sweep for Jim Hall's Chaparral Racing team in 1978, where he won all three 500-mile races at Indianapolis, Pocono, and Ontario, but despite how many points those races were worth, he was too inconsistent in the other races and lost the title to Penske driver Tom Sneva. After disagreements with Hall, he made the questionable decision to leave the team and sign with Bobby Hillin's weak Longhorn Racing operation, for whom he would be winless the next three seasons, while Hall would master IndyCar ground effects the following season and dominate the series with Johnny Rutherford. In 1983, he joined Roger Penske's operation and did go on to win the 1983 and 1985 championships for Penske and his last race at the 1987 Indy 500 after Mario Andretti had a mechanical failure and Roberto Guerrero stalled in the pits, but that was nowhere near as dominant as what Bobby did for the Penske team a few years earlier at a similar age. While Bobby managed to win as often as Rick Mears when they were teammates and Mears was at his absolute peak while Bobby was in his mid-40s, Al wasn't really able to distinguish himself from injury-era Mears and Danny Sullivan when they were teammates. He was a little more consistent, but Bobby won more races than Mears at his peak while Al won fewer races than Mears at the same age while Mears had declined from his peak. Although I was originally going to take Al 3rd, as I thought about it more, I have to take Bobby higher. He managed to win for weak teams (Bob Fletcher and Ralph Wilke) and Al only really won for powerhouses, he was more successful at an older age (and Al likely got an earlier faster start because Bobby had already paved the way for his success by winning his first Pikes Peak and regular season races first), Bobby did not have George Bignotti and Al did (and he really didn't have a lot of multiple win seasons without him), and Bobby's Penske record from around the same time and same era in their career was greatly superior. If the numerous Pikes Peak Hill Climbs that Bobby won counted for points, he would also have more wins, and Bobby is ahead in poles, winning percentage, TNL percentage, average percent led, and unadjusted points per race (Al is slightly ahead in adjusted points per race), even though I don't think his cars were as strong on average. It leads me going in a different direction than I expected (even an hour ago I was going to put Al higher, but I don't think I can actually justify it.) Al is the greatest driver in Indy 500 history, but his brother was more impressive over the general schedule. About the only thing Al has that Bobby really doesn't is a dirt track win and greater longevity in points races (although Bobby has much greater longevity when considering the non-points events), but the dirt wins aren't enough to get me to change my mind.
Unser remains sixth all-time on the IndyCar win list and he is third all time in career wins behind only A.J. Foyt and his brother Al among drivers who have won the Indy 500 multiple times. What is even more impressive with Unser is that his full-time IndyCar career started at a much older age than all the other major winners. Prior to Bobby and Al Unser crossing over to run the entire season schedule in the mid-'60s the family was primarily known for its domination in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Pikes Peak frequently counted for the IndyCar championship, counting as a points race in the years 1947-55 and 1965-69. Although Unser won the race only twice when it counted as a points race, he won it seven times in the nine years in between when it did not count as a points race, and if the race had counted for points in those years as well, he would be tied for third with Michael Andretti in all-time wins and ahead of his brother. In the mid-'60s, the Unsers started competing in the regular races as well and after winning his first points race at Pikes Peak in 1966, Unser claimed his first regular schedule wins in a doubleheader at the Mosport road course the following year for Bob Wilke's powerhouse Leader Card team. The following year in 1968, he exploded into even greater dominance by winning the second through fifth races of the season inclusive, those races taking place at a road course in Las Vegas, two short ovals at Phoenix and Trenton, and his first Indianapolis 500 win. In only seven wins, he had shown almost perfect versatility. However, Mario Andretti made a furious charge to lose the championship by only 11 points. That championship may have come down to the Pikes Peak race in 1968, where Unser entered and won collecting 30 points, while Andretti did not enter the race. However, in subsequent years the Leader Card team declined rapidly particularly after Bob Wilke's death when the team passed to his brother Ralph in 1970 and Unser only won once both seasons at Langhorne. From 1971-75 he raced for Dan Gurney's All American Racers team and gave that team its greatest success as an owner. In his earlier years, he had an absurd level of dominance, winning 15 of 20 poles for the team including 8 consecutively and at his peak leading 17 consecutive races, but the equipment was very unreliable in 1971-73 and he recorded 20 DNFs in 33 starts, although won slightly more than half the time when he finished. In 1974-75, the team finally worked out its consistency, and Unser claimed his second championship in 1974 with 4 wins, 5 2nd place finishes, and only 1 DNF...he did not quite have the blinding speed he did a few years prior, but had developed a smooth consistency more associated with his family in this period. He claimed a second Indy 500 in his last year for Gurney, winning a rain-shortened race after a late-race pass of Johnny Rutherford, who won the race the year before, although it's unlikely either would have won had Wally Dallenbach not had a piston failure. Subsequently, Unser moved to Robert Fletcher's team and gave it the only two wins in the team's history in 1976, but went winless the following year, snapping his streak of 11 consecutive winning seasons (which would remain a record until broken by Scott Dixon this year.) A reunion with Gurney did not recapture the magic as he only led a single lap in the 1978 season and only finished two races, but he got a major opportunity to sign with Penske to close out his career. In those remaining seasons, he had his first reliable equipment since 1974-75 with Gurney and managed 11 wins in his final three seasons, actually winning one more win than Rick Mears in his absolute heyday. In 1979, Unser was more dominant than Mears with 6 race wins to Mears's 3, but Mears won the title because he won at Indianapolis in one of the last seasons it counted for significantly more points (until the recent double-points races). In 1980, Unser was no less dominant than Rutherford and much more so than Mears, but he failed to match Rutherford's consistency in a year when Rutherford's ground effects Chaparral chassis was faster than Penske's, but his final season in 1981 was not very impressive as Mears won 6 CART races but Unser was winless in CART, even though they actually even then tied for the same number of laps led. Unser did however claim the big prize in a controversial win at the Indy 500 in 1981. Mario Andretti was declared the winner because Unser was penalized for blending improperly after leaving the pits and passing several cars under a caution period, but the win was restored months later after it became clear that Andretti had committed the same infraction (though not so severely.) Unser was so disgusted that he retired on the spot but he would remain active in the racing community appearing in the ABC booth for both IndyCar and NASCAR races for many years. If you count his early Pikes Peak wins (which I know do not technically count except as non-championship races) Unser had a 25-year gap between his first and last wins in 1956 and 1981, second only to Mario Andretti. If you only count races starting at age 33 when Unser won his first championship points race, he has more wins than anyone.
DePalma was easily the greatest of the 1910s drivers at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and he was at least the equal of Earl Cooper on the general schedule at large. Although he did manage to win the race once in 1915, he was still one of the most unlucky drivers in Indy 500 history. He is one of the three drivers who was the TNL at Indy four times along with Al Unser and Bill Vukovich, but he only managed to win it once while Unser matched his TNL total with 4 wins and Vukovich won twice. This dominance was also reflected in his Indy 500 lap led total of 612 (marking over three entire races), a record that would never be surpassed until Al Unser in 1988 and is still in second place. DePalma even managed to set this record despite not starting three races in 1914, 1916, and 1924. It took 23 starts for Unser to surpass a record DePalma achieved in 7 starts! In 1912, DePalma took the lead on lap 3 and held it all the way until the next to last lap when a connecting rod broke, handing the lead and the win to Joe Dawson. DePalma and his riding mechanic decided to attempt to push the car across the finish line to the cheers of the crowd, but this was eventually ruled illegal. In 1915, he got his even-then-overdue win before more troubles struck him in 1919 when he was forced to make a lengthy pit stop and in 1920 when after winning the pole and leading the race by two laps with less than 15 laps remaining their car stalled and his nephew/riding mechanic/future 500 winner Pete DePaolo thought he had run out of fuel and went to get more, but lost the lead to Gaston Chevrolet in the process. In 1921, he won the pole again and another rod failure took him out mid-race while he held a 2 lap lead. Although he only managed one Indianapolis 500 win, he was much more successful on board tracks (where he won 12 times, including a ridiculous 6-0 record in a set of two triple-headers in the 1918 season at Chicago and Sheepshead Bay) and on road courses (where he claimed 10 wins in his 25 appearances, nearly as dominant a record as Dan Gurney's, except that DePalma proved himself able to win on ovals as well.) Much like Cooper won five road courses in a row in his 1913 pseudo-championship season, DePalma had a very similar record the previous year in 1912 when he claimed wins in all four road course races he finished. Five of his road course wins took longer than four hours to run, and all of them were longer than most of today's. He became the second driver to win the Vanderbilt Cup road race twice in 1912 and 1914 and the first to do so at two different tracks, one in Milwaukee and one in Santa Monica (he and Mark Donohue remain the only drivers to win both a Vanderbilt Cup race and a 500-mile race at Indianapolis, as Dario Resta's Indy win was in a scheduled 300 miler, and Donohue's win is not usually regarded as important when compared to the Vanderbilt Cup races of the AAA period.) After finally making his oval breakthrough at Indianapolis, most of DePalma's successful wins came on ovals. He won on wooden, concrete, and dirt surfaces, although only once on concrete and once on dirt. DePalma's dirt track record is better than it looks however. Even though he only won one points race on dirt at Kalamazoo, he also won at Kansas City, Rockingham, and three times at Syracuse. DePalma became the first driver to win ten consecutive seasons (1912-21) a record that would not be surpassed until Bobby Unser managed to win 11 straight seasons in 1966-76. However, if you count his non-championship races, he had a gap of 17 years between his first win in 1909 and 1926, which easily outstrips the other drivers of his generation (although Earl Cooper slightly beats him in terms of longevity in points races alone.) DePalma is credited by some as having 2000 overall wins, but it would be pretty impossible to prove this, particularly when it comes to races not sanctioned by AAA. Additionally, DePalma won the first Champ Car race ever at the Milwaukee Mile, but it is no longer listed in the record books as a non-championship race for that season. He is credited with two unofficial championships in 1912 and 1914. The 1914 season was particularly impressive as he did it without starting Indianapolis and after being fired by the Mercer factory team in favor of the great showman but overrated driver Barney Oldfield, who would never win in the Mercer. He also crossed over to Europe, where he finished 2nd to Jimmy Murphy in the 1921 French Grand Prix, and later even won a Canadian auto racing championship in 1929. Although born in Italy, DePalma became a naturalized American citizen in 1920 but is listed as an Italian winner in Indy 500 records, as the vast majority of his success came before he became an official US citizen. If IndyCar racing is defined by versatility, few showed it ever as much as him. The only criticism I have is how frequently he competed against short fields (his 25 wins convert to 14.49 adjusted wins, and a lot of people have higher adjusted winning percentages than that, but admittedly few of them have his longevity or versatility.) Although he faced short fields, his dominance relative to them was staggering. I have the Unser brothers 4th and 5th and they did not even lead in rank vs. contemporaries (Al Unser had 2 wins fewer than Mario Andretti in the races he started, and Bobby Unser had 2 wins fewer than A.J. Foyt.) DePalma by contrast does not merely lead in RVC, he leads by a higher ratio than any driver in history except Billy Winn (Winn had 4 wins while no other drivers he competed against had more than 1, but DePalma's ratio of 25 wins to the next highest contemporary, Murphy, who had 7 wins, is the largest such ratio of any driver who had a long career.) Yes, the Unsers had more longevity, more Indy wins, and had rally wins in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb which DePalma didn't, and they faced stronger competition. However, DePalma is still very close to Unser in all time laps led at Indianapolis in a lot fewer starts. I do think Al Unser is more important at Indianapolis, but I think DePalma is more important with regard to the general schedule than either Unser.
To finish, I'm just going to group them together. Andretti and Foyt. Foyt and Andretti. On the surface, there doesn't seem to be a debate here. Foyt has 67 wins to Andretti's 52, he has 7 championships to Andretti's 4, and he has 4 Indy 500 wins to Andretti's 1. Foyt also spent a lot of his career as an owner-driver with a steadily declining team much like Richard Petty in NASCAR, while Andretti had top-tier rides a lot longer. However, there are numerous arguments in Andretti's favor as well that are not as obvious that also need to be considered. First off, Foyt's win and championship totals are realistically inflated. In 1979, CART and USAC split and all the major drivers and car owners with the exception of Foyt aligned with CART, as Foyt was a staunch Tony Hulman and USAC loyalist. While Foyt would never win a CART race, he went on to win 6 USAC races in that period against minimal competition (besides Foyt, the best driver to choose to align with USAC over CART was either Gary Bettenhausen and Roger McCluskey, neither of whom made my list, although Bettenhausen narrowly missed.) From my calculations, those USAC fields were very similar to the early IRL fields, so it should be no surprise that Foyt won 5 of the 6 USAC races in which the CART teams didn't participate. He also won the 1981 Pocono 500, which was USAC-sanctioned and attracted only one major CART crossover (Tom Sneva), which wasn't much stronger. So 6 of Foyt's 67 wins and one of his seven championships weren't exactly competitive. Second, remember what I said about my decision to rank Bobby Unser over Al because Al had George Bignotti for so much of his success? That applies for A.J. double. I realize they made each other (Foyt never won a race before he had Bignotti as his chief mechanic and Bignotti only won one race before he was matched with Foyt), but isn't Foyt's 10-win season in 1964 a lot less special when you realize Bignotti repeated with Al Unser in 1970 later? Andretti would never have Bignotti as a chief mechanic and that is a major point in his favor. Andretti did admittedly have Jim McGee, Bignotti's chief rival as a chief mechanic in his earliest seasons, and McGee would eventually go on to more IndyCar wins, but I think Bignotti is definitely more important than McGee. Bignotti dominated the series with Foyt from 1960-64 (winning 10 races in 1964 including 7 in a row), then again with Al Unser and the Parnelli team in 1970-71 (where Unser matched Foyt's 10 win record in 1970), then when McGee replaced Bignotti at Parnelli, the team went on to have substantially less success. Bignotti won 7 Indy 500s to McGee's 3, which is another large difference...McGee ended up accumulating more wins because he remained relevant into the 2000s while Bignotti's heyday largely ended in the mid-'80s, but when it comes to massive win totals in a single season, Bignotti produced them somewhat more often than McGee. There is a parallel here for sure as Foyt won 4 out of 5 titles from 1960-64 with Bignotti (and he and Foyt made each other) and Andretti won 3 out of 5 titles from 1965-69 with McGee (and he and Andretti made each other.) Thirdly, Foyt's heyday of 1960-64 just wasn't that strong in terms of competition compared to what followed over the next couple decades. Rodger Ward was a major threat to Foyt and Parnelli Jones was at Indianapolis but not so much over the regular schedule. Eddie Sachs was somewhat of a threat, but beyond that there was almost no one to challenge Foyt's dominance. In the 1965 season alone, Al Unser, Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Joe Leonard, and Gordon Johncock ALL won their first races, and they were joined by Bobby Unser the following year, and Foyt was still relevant, not to mention Jones, the F1 interlopers at Indianapolis, Dan Gurney on the road courses and so on. No offense to Foyt, Ward, Jones, or Sachs, but does anybody REALLY think the 1960-64 period was deeper than the 1965-69 period? Yes, Foyt won 4 titles in his half-decade and Andretti won 3 in his half-decade, but Andretti's 2nd place points finishes to Foyt and Bobby Unser respectively in 1967 and 1968 were narrower defeats than Foyt's loss to Ward in 1962. In 1962, Foyt lost to Ward 2460-1950. In 1967, Andretti lost to Foyt 3440-3360. In 1968, Andretti lost to Bobby Unser 4330-4319 (Unser's win at Pikes Peak which was worth 30 points, a race that Andretti did not enter, was enough to make the difference there.) Most importantly, Andretti had his success when Foyt was there and in his prime while most of Foyt's early '60s power run happened before Andretti was active. To Foyt's credit, his 10 win season in 1964 WAS Andretti's rookie season and Andretti was a non-factor that season while Foyt won seven of those races. Foyt managed to bridge the divide between the front-engine roadster era and the rear-engine formula car era, and that is one of the major things to his credit. Andretti cannot claim that, as he only won in rear-engine formula cars. However, that still means that Andretti was not entered in 20 of Foyt's 1960-64 wins, which means from the start of Andretti's career in 1964 he has more wins than anybody else, including Foyt. In the races both of them competed, it is largely dead even, as Andretti has a 29-28 win record in the races both of them started. Foyt has a larger advantage in terms of rank vs. contemporaries (67-29 over Andretti) than Andretti does (52-32 over Al Unser) but remember that a lot of Foyt's 1960-64 wins were not as competitive as the rear-engine era wins of succeeding years. For the 1960s, I take Andretti, because the half decade he dominated just had stronger competition than the half decade Foyt dominated, and I simply do not think McGee is on the same level as Bignotti either. While Foyt leads most statistics in terms of actual wins, it is interesting that Andretti leads the statistics regarding dominance more often. He has 59 TNL to Foyt's 57, so that means Andretti put himself into position more than any other driver, but Foyt actually got the wins more, which comes down to what some consider the defining nature of their careers: Foyt was much more clutch with a clutch statistic of 1.08 and Andretti's was 0.90. This naturally brings up the question of how much Andretti himself was responsible for his poor reliability and how much is the team's fault. I find questions like that hard to answer because things like that are always some combination. People like to say 'to finish first one must first finish' but that's a little pat (I mean Andretti's mechanical problem that cost him the 1987 Indy 500 came because he decided to actually play it safe...I'm not sure in this era the driver had much effect on finishing results - look at Bobby Unser's early years with Gurney when he had endless strings of DNFs and then ended up with an extremely consistent 1974 championship - did anything change in Unser's driving style significantly that late in his career? Probably not.) I am usually inclined to give the driver the benefit of the doubt when it comes to reliability, but if you're not I could understand picking Foyt. I haven't even mentioned their difference in versatility yet, but Andretti and Foyt all won multiple times on dirt and paved ovals and road courses, but while Foyt was certainly the better oval driver, with 24 dirt wins to Andretti's 5 and 40 pavement wins to Andretti's 24, Andretti was just as certainly a greatly superior road racer, with 17 road course wins to Foyt's 3, and 5 street course wins to Foyt's 0 (admittedly, Foyt had stopped winning by the time street courses were added to the schedule.) Andretti also did claim a Pikes Peak Hill Climb win himself in 1969 (probably entering after his failure to enter in 1968 helped cause him to lose that championship.) Andretti's wins on street courses and at Pikes Peak do make up for his failure to win at Indianapolis a second time in terms of his versatility score, which is 12 for Andretti and 11 for Foyt. The briefly-named Foyt and Andretti Trophies of the Randy Bernard era for the top oval driver and the top road racer respectively were certainly correctly named. I personally think Andretti had a larger advantage over Foyt on road courses than Foyt had over Andretti on ovals. This is hotly debatable to be sure especially because Foyt had some significant sports car wins (winning the 24 Hours of Daytona and 24 Hours of Le Mans, which Andretti never did overall...I don't think his 6 Hour win in 1972 with Jacky Ickx should count), but Andretti's Formula One success in my opinion and greater IndyCar road course success is enough to erase Foyt's slightly greater sports car record, especially since open wheel cars are single-seaters with only one driver and sports cars are shared (how much of Foyt's Le Mans win is Gurney responsible for? How can you even judge this?) Admittedly, Andretti's road course advantage is inflated by his '80s years in CART, when Foyt was no longer competitive, so it might be worth looking at Foyt and Andretti's road course winning records from 1965-78 alone when both of them were relevant. In that period, Andretti had a 10-3 advantage on road courses, which is a greater ratio than Foyt's 64 oval wins to Andretti's 29, and bear in mind here in the former case I'm only counting the years both were relevant, while in the latter case I'm counting entire careers (including the years Andretti was not active.) I do not think either oval racing or road racing is intrinsically superior to the other, so my instinct is to go for the more balanced record, which I think is Andretti's. Andretti also has higher points per race and significantly higher adjusted points per race, not to mention he has the longest gap between his first and last wins (1965-93) in history, and I think Andretti bridging the USAC/CART divide is as significant as Foyt bridging the front-engine/rear-engine divide. Foyt and Andretti even started out with the exact same team - Al Dean's Dean Van Lines team, and Foyt replaced Jimmy Bryan who had won 3 out of 4 titles and went winless in 1958-59, while Andretti replaced the winless Chuck Hulse at the Dean team and went on to win back-to-back championships in 1965-66. So yes, Andretti does in fact have a major case here, and I prefer it. However, to be fair, I must acknowledge some things Foyt has in his favor besides the objective stats. After Foyt lost Bignotti, he was never quite as dominant again and Andretti's stats from that point on were certainly superior and against deeper fields, but Foyt also did what he did as an owner-driver with Coyote chassis largely of his own construction, while Andretti by contrast drove for one powerhouse team after another after another (taking stints at Parnelli, Patrick, Penske, and Newman-Haas.) It's hard to compare Foyt to anyone on a teammate vs. teammate level because in his heyday he rarely had teammates except for George Snider who usually only drove for him at Indianapolis, and Snider wasn't very good at all. Andretti frequently had numerous top of the line teammates (Rick Mears, Sneva, both Unsers, Leonard, Johncock, his son), and he finished behind them in points fairly often. While Andretti remained competitive into the '80s, his '70s were quite bad and he spent most of them driving for Parnelli and Penske. While Foyt was completely uncompetitive in the '80s, he wasn't driving for top of the line teams. He was driving for himself as his team steadily got worse and worse until his retirement. However, I think Andretti's '70s would be much better and he would probably lead Foyt in wins and championships now if he had decided to never compete in Formula One. Andretti attempted to compete in F1 and IndyCar racing simultaneously for much of the '70s, and F1 was the main focus, so I think that best explains why his late '70s era (particularly his Penske years) look so lackluster compared to everything else. By the time he was no longer dabbling in F1, he was turning the brand new Newman-Haas team into champions in his second season with them. Given that this is an IndyCar list and I'm not supposed to be considering F1 here, do I dock him for this or not? I think a lot depends on whether I think Foyt would have been able to keep up with Andretti in the '80s if he had had top of the line equipment (which at that point his team was certainly not.) My answer is no. Road and street course racing was becoming a bigger and bigger focus in IndyCar racing from the mid-'80s forward and Andretti did not seem to miss a beat until he started to age. Judging by Andretti's much greater success than Foyt on IndyCar road courses from the late '60s to the late '70s with 10 wins to his 3, I suspect the same trend would have continued in the '80s had they had equal equipment then (making it a little more complicated, Foyt did win two of his three road course races in 1977 and 1978, so he was obviously improving on them by then.) Since I don't think Foyt would have kept up with Andretti in the '80s, and since I think Andretti certainly would have kept up with Foyt in the '70s had he been completely focused on IndyCar racing in that decade, I choose Andretti as the better overall driver. If you are oval-centric or Indy-centric, I obviously understand making the other decision. I have to say though that IndyCar racing as it was originally defined in the 1910s was a mix of the best American and international drivers competing on a variety of circuits including ovals of various surfaces, road courses, and an occasional rally. That seems to sound more like CART to me than USAC. I believe Eddie Rickenbacker hijacked the original IndyCar tradition when he shut out European driving and engineering talent in the junk formula period (on a schedule that soon became just Indy and dirt ovals), and Foyt is the best descendant of this tradition, but it wasn't the original tradition. Andretti seems to be more of the direct follower of the pioneering greats like Ralph DePalma and Earl Cooper, but...your mileage may vary.