Holland began his career during the gargantuan 1946 season, which contained a staggering 71 dirt sprint car (or in 1946 parlance, "Big Car") races and 6 Championship Car races for traditional Champ Car equipment. Holland entered only the Big Car races in 1946, qualifying for the feature in at least 40 events and winning seventeen (although many finishing data from this series are lost forever, which is why they are not used in the above statistics). This allowed him to finish fourth in the championship in his debut season despite not entering any of the Champ Car races that had much longer distances. However, these races were usually shorter than 25 miles in distance and 15 minutes in time and generally had quite small fields (1946 had the worst competitive depth of any post-WWII season except the 1996-2001 IRL seasons), so I don't weight his domination in these races THAT highly, but I do weight them somewhat (the above stats, particularly the 0 TNL, would indicate a much lower rank than this.) However, from 1947 to 1950, Holland would have one of the most dominant streaks in Indianapolis 500 history as he claimed a win and three 2nd place finishes in four starts while leading the laps twice for Lou Moore, the premier car owner of the era alongside his arguably even more legendary teammate Mauri Rose. In his first ever Champ Car start at Indianapolis in 1947 (excluding the Big Car races), Holland was running away with his debut Indy 500 until the Moore team sent him a message in the pits reading "EZY" implying he should slow down to conserve his equipment. Rose also received the team order but ignored it and eventually passed Holland on track. Holland did not seriously contest Rose's pass thinking he was a lap down, but as it turned out the pass was for the lead and Holland was furious to discover Rose was already in victory lane as Holland approached. Regardless, he stuck with the team and after another 2nd to Rose in 1948 (completely legitimate this time), he finally won in dominant and almost uncontested fashion in 1949. After his controversial Indy loss in 1947, he was fiercely motivated and won the two 100-mile races at Milwaukee and Langhorne immediately afterward. These three races would mark his only Champ Car wins as his relevant career ended with a controversial suspension from AAA, then the sanctioning body for IndyCar racing. Holland and future Indy 500 starter/NASCAR winner Bobby Johns met in an exhibition stock car race at Opa-Locka Speedway in Miami in November 1950 but the AAA was furious that Holland entered a non-sanctioned race and banned him from competition until reinstating him in 1953. Holland moved to NASCAR briefly and unsuccessfully with few other professional series in which to race, giving the fledgling sanctioning body one of its most high-profile entrants. Although he did manage to return to AAA competition in 1953-54, he was no longer the dominant force he once was and made only 3 out of 7 races with a single top ten finish. While his career was very brief and he never won a championship, his ability to win on dirt and pavement and in sprint cars and champ cars meant he was one of the most versatile drivers of his era and it is a pity he did not get started until age 38 when he likely could have dominated much of the '30s and early '40s earning a much higher position on the list had he been given a major league opportunity sooner.
Of all the international drivers to appear in the post-split period none became quite as big a folk hero as Zanardi. A Formula One washout who had only one point for the once great but at that point terrible Lotus team in 1993 and 1994, he was not in massive demand for any sort of rides in 1995, but after he tested very well for Chip Ganassi's team late in the 1995 season, Ganassi made his most visionary move in giving Zanardi a shot in the second Target car replacing Bryan Herta. The move was not popular with Zanardi's chief engineer Mo Nunn who believed Italian drivers were too aggressive and crash-prone to deliver good results, but Ganassi overruled Nunn and was rewarded with remarkable success. Although Zanardi was massively overshadowed by his veteran teammate Jimmy Vasser at the start of the 1996 season, with Vasser winning 4 out of 6 races (although Zanardi managed a couple dominant runs), he came alive in the second half of the season where he was even more dominant than Vasser had been, winning three races and scoring six podiums in the last eight events to claim a tie with Michael Andretti for 2nd in points in his rookie season, putting an exclamation point on his season with a controversial last-lap pass of Herta in the hairpin turn at Laguna Seca in the season finale, which is still to this day known as "The Pass" in American open wheel circles. Although he did not quite dominate the early portions of either the '97 or '98 season, he clearly took control of both seasons in the summer months, winning five races in '97 (including four out of five late in the season to bury Paul Tracy who had dominated the earlier portion of the season), and six out of nine races in '98 (including four in a row). He made several legendary comebacks such as driving from 22nd to win at Cleveland in 1997 and recovering from a lap down to win at Long Beach in 1998. He popularized donuts in American racing, which became his trademark victory celebration in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Finally, his posted stats above are among the most staggering of any driver on the list (the competition he faced was so great that his adjusted points per race was the highest of any driver on the list) despite a terrible 2001 season, but that 2001 season summarizes a lot of Zanardi's flaws that have caused me to rate him much lower than a lot of people would expect. In brief, Zanardi and the Ganassi team in general had an equipment advantage that was possibly greater than any other IndyCar team ever. Usually with the powerhouse teams that dominate season after season, the drivers had some sort of major success somewhere else, but that was not the case for Ganassi in the period. Zanardi and Vasser did not have a great deal of success anywhere at any point in their career outside of a 3-year period for Ganassi from 1996-98. Ganassi had the dominant Reynard chassis, Honda engines, and Firestone tires at the time, and practically everyone who had this combination was winning (Scott Goodyear nearly won the 1995 Indy 500 as a part-time driver, career-winless Parker Johnstone won the pole at Michigan in 1995 setting an all-time track record, and Andre Ribeiro looked like one of the top oval talents as well simply because he had this dominant combination.) Invariably, drivers with the Reynard-Honda-Firestone package did not do nearly as well when they did not have it, and Zanardi and especially Vasser were rarely competitive at all without it. It is interesting that Zanardi lost the Formula 3000 championship to Christian Fittipaldi in 1991, a driver who no one rates highly (although his consistency was actually pretty great for the competition he faced), but when they competed in CART together Zanardi was dominating week after week while Fittipaldi was struggling to win (Fittipaldi was better in Formula One too.) To me this implies that the Ganassi team was SIGNIFICANTLY better than Fittipaldi's Newman-Haas team and even MORE significantly better than Penske in the late '90s and was almost winning by default. While his statistical record implies he was one of the most dominant drivers ever, the more research I do, the more I become convinced that when you negate Zanardi's equipment advantage, Michael Andretti, Gil de Ferran, and Paul Tracy were all better in his heyday, and Greg Moore was pretty much interchangeable. It's also interesting that Zanardi's wins were so unbalanced with 13 on road/street courses and 2 on ovals. The RHF package had a much stronger dominance in road course races at the time, while the Lola/Swift chassis, Ford engines, and Goodyear tires could at least compete sometimes on the ovals, which they could rarely do on road courses. On ovals, where the RHF didn't have QUITE the same advantage (although it still turned mediocre drivers like Ribeiro into oval superstars), Zanardi looked a lot more human, and was frequently actually out-dueled by drivers like Andretti and Moore in worse cars. There is little in the F3000, F1, or later CART record that would predict Zanardi's (or Vasser's for that matter) dominance in this period, and I can't ignore that. Nor can I ignore his 2001 return to CART after his 2nd F1 failure where he was hired by his one-time critic Nunn for Nunn's own team but was trounced by teammate Tony Kanaan (who at the time was perceived of as an average driver.) Despite Kanaan eventually going on to greatness in his own right, he was never a flat-out great road racer but was dominating Zanardi just as much on road courses as he was on ovals, and both of them still had the Reynard-Honda-Firestone package at the time that de Ferran was winning titles with! Yes, Zanardi was leading and probably would have won the race at the Lausitzring had he avoided spinning out leaving the pits, which would lead to the near-fatal crash where he lost his legs, and yes, his return to action to race again with artificial legs and win a few professional was amazingly inspirational, but his greatness was more fleeting and more dependent on his dominant cars as anything else, so I can't put him as high as top 20. Many people are more impressed with Zanardi than his replacement Juan Pablo Montoya in CART, but that is wrong; Montoya managed to compete in two different eras in three very different kinds of cars, managed to dominate on ovals and road courses equally (which Zanardi did not), continued to dominate even without the best chassis (when Ganassi switched to the Lola-Toyota package in 2000), dominated Vasser by a much greater degree than Zanardi did, and faced many more teams with Reynard chassis, Honda engines, and Firestone tires than Montoya did. Montoya is clearly the poster boy of the Ganassi operation in IndyCar (well, either him or Scott Dixon) and I just cannot see Zanardi as the definitive Ganassi driver. He and Vasser got fairly lucky they hit on the right package before anybody else. Here's one case I don't think either driver was really responsible for the team elevating itself to a powerhouse.
Much like Bruno Junqueira, da Matta is overlooked because he began to break out in a major way when CART was losing its talent and media attention in the same period. However, da Matta's 2002 was one of the dominant seasons in recent open wheel history and he did face all the major drivers of the era except for Sam Hornish and the two Penske drivers Gil de Ferran and Hélio Castroneves who had just switched to the IRL that season. da Matta was also overlooked because he spent most of his career in very weak cars, but unlike others I have rated similarly like Alex Zanardi, he actually won in them. After finishing a close 3rd behind Tony Kanaan and Castroneves in the 1997 Indy Lights season, probably the deepest field in Indy Lights history, he won the championship in 1998 after both Castroneves and Kanaan moved up to CART and da Matta moved up to CART himself the following season. However, da Matta was overshadowed by rookie champion Juan Pablo Montoya because Montoya was with the dominant Ganassi team while da Matta was stuck with Arciero-Wells, the Toyota factory team, in an era when Toyota had far slower engines than the other three engine manufacturers. da Matta's 18th place rookie points finish may look mediocre, but it was actually the best points finish for any Toyota driver to that date in CART, and he beat his veteran teammate Scott Pruett (who was coming off 4 straight top ten points finishes) by one position in points. When Toyota managed to lure the Ganassi team away from Honda in 2000, this instantly improved all the Toyota teams, but while da Matta was still no match for Montoya, he was a lot more consistent and was within a race's worth of points behind both Ganassi Toyotas. da Matta even claimed his first win at the Chicago Motor Speedway. By this point, the bigger teams were impressed and da Matta moved to Newman-Haas to replace Michael Andretti in 2001, where he finished 5th in points after winning the opening race of the season at Monterey and the last two at Laguna Seca and Fontana, the latter of which was very impressive as he outdueled Max Papis's faster car in an era when the Rahal cars dominated all the Handford device races at Michigan and Fontana, not to mention that that race had the most lead changes of any race in history to that time. This certainly proved his versatility as not every road course star was also a great superspeedway duelist. In 2001, da Matta DOUBLED his winless teammate Christian Fittipaldi in points. After the Penske drivers left CART after 2001, the 2002 season was no contest as da Matta went on to win 7 races, 7 poles, and score 11 podiums in a 19-race season, and even won four races in a row including two road course races, a street course race, and an oval, continuing to show his versatility; despite da Matta's dominance and the weaker fields than 2001, Fittipaldi still failed to win and again da Matta nearly doubled Fittipaldi in points. Afterward, da Matta moved to Formula One with the Toyota team in 2003-04 where da Matta slightly outperformed Olivier Panis but was nonetheless fired late in the 2004 season. da Matta returned to Champ Car in 2005 and won again with the fledgling PKV team (now KVSH Racing) and won his fourth race back at Portland, but did little else (still when you consider that KV has only won 6 races in its 13 year history and only with champion drivers, it is impressive that he won for this team regardless.) He would never get a chance to race in the merged series unlike most of his contemporaries because he was nearly fatally injured in a testing accident in mid-2006 at Road America where he ran into a deer on the track who ran into da Matta in the cockpit, leaving his career incomplete, but at least he survived. His ability to win on ovals, road courses, and street courses, thoroughly dominate his teammates, and overachieve in weak cars was matched by few others, but due to his frequent poor equipment and only having good cars when the IRL was drawing more attention, he never gets the respect he deserves. Even Alex Zanardi didn't do this much in weaker cars, and I actually rank da Matta higher as a result despite Zanardi's more eye-popping numbers.
Rutherford had an amazing run there from 1973-81...one of the longest runs of extended dominance in American open wheel history, including three Indy 500 wins, 24 of his 27 career wins, and a string of nine consecutive top five points finishes; at one point he had won on every track on which the USAC Champ Cars competed. However, there are several problems that cause me to rate him a lot lower than all that implies. First off, Rutherford had a very, very, VERY long period of mediocrity prior to that unlike seen from any other driver on this list. From his debut in 1962 to his second win in 1973, he had only one win in his first 129 starts, and these were not all for bad teams. He had full seasons or partial seasons with car owners like Racing Associates, Bob Wilke, Pat Patrick, and Don Gerhardt who had won races for other drivers, and he rarely factored at all. Prior to his 1973 breakthrough season, he only had four races in which he led ten or more laps at all. I acknowledge those particular teams may not have been exactly at their peak when he drove for them, but considering what some of the drivers I have rated lower have done for some of those teams and what Rutherford would do later, you would simply expect more. Once Rutherford landed the factory McLaren ride in 1973, the only premier Formula One team that ever tried to race in IndyCar full-time, he suddenly started dominating. The McLaren chassis were so dominant that lots of drivers who had previously been okay but rather uncompetitive were elevated to success, most notably Roger McCluskey in 1973, but Rutherford, who was driving a usually single-car entry suddenly started dominating after years of nothing. Gary Bettenhausen, who drove a McLaren chassis for Penske at about this time claimed that if Mike Mosley (who had gone on to much greater success for weak teams than Rutherford ever would) ever got a McLaren, everyone else would be competing for second place, and indeed, Bettenhausen and Rutherford showed nothing resembling the kind of dominance they would at their peak until arriving in a McLaren chassis. While most of the teams that had long extended runs of dominance usually had multiple cars entered at least at Indianapolis (Leader Card, Lou Moore, Parnelli, Penske, Ganassi, etc...) Rutherford didn't as he had the best car in the field by himself almost never with any teammates for a seven-year period (1973-79). Basically, he is the career-length Alex Zanardi, except for the fact that Rutherford was nowhere near as balanced as Zanardi in terms of versatility (1 win in 47 road course starts, 0 podiums in 27 dirt starts) and Zanardi actually won the championships while Rutherford despite his Indy 500 wins counting for more points never won a championship for the McLaren team when McCluskey did up against Rutherford as a McLaren customer team. Rutherford did move on to more success and his most dominant season ever in 1980, claiming the second CART championship with five wins and an amazing ten top fives in twelve starts for Jim Hall's Chaparral team, but once again he had the best equipment on track, as Hall had mastered Formula One-style ground effects better than any other car owner at the time, and once again Rutherford would not have any intra-team competition so even though McLaren had given up on IndyCar racing, Rutherford continued to dominate in uncontested best cars, but when he stopped having the best cars in later seasons, he faded rapidly. Rutherford did manage two wins for Alex Morales's weak and underfunded Vermont American team at Sanair in 1985 and Michigan in 1986. He was dominant enough for a long enough period that he certainly has to have a fairly high position on the list, but he is nowhere near A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, or even Gordon Johncock, even though he is frequently thought of in those terms. All those drivers had much longer careers of relevance, were much more diverse at winning on all sorts of tracks, were more likely to have teammates posing a stiff challenge, and did not need the best team, chassis, or engine to win. None of this applies to Rutherford who was clearly one of the luckiest drivers in history. Still great, but not as great as he is often hyped. If you think he is underrated in this position, his low RVC of 5 (below any other driver in the top 50 except for Joe Leonard), his rather weak average percent led (6.92%), and his even weaker points per race (only Ryan Hunter-Reay also has both adjusted and unadjusted points per race below 30) seem to point otherwise. A strong case may be made that he should have been in the next tier down, but ultimately I felt his win total and Indy 500 win total were a bit too much for that, and I do think he was better than the three-time winners I placed lower (Hélio Castroneves and Louis Meyer.)
The fastest road racer of recent years until he was eclipsed by his teammate Simon Pagenaud this season, Power is also one of the easiest to predict. While probably no one had a faster raw pace than him in the first half of the 2010s (even counting ovals as well as road courses), there is more to being a great driver than that and that is what Power failed to master. Sometimes I wonder if Power would have been a better F1 driver than an IndyCar driver. No one more consistently set blisteringly fast qualifying laps in IndyCar in his prime than did Power, and for all his reputation of not being clutch due to crashing in three straight oval finales from 2010-12, he actually is in general as his TNL is high enough to offset the fact that his wins are slightly lower than his CRL. If Power wins the pole and there are no crapshoot cautions to reset the field, he will very reliably bring you the win, but he never to this day seems to have truly mastered racing in heavy traffic. He can be good passing one car at a time but in a pack he is pretty lost, leading to his relatively lackluster Indianapolis record aside from his 2nd in 2015. This explains why Power has only won 3 of his 25 races on ovals despite driving for Penske, the fastest team, since oval racing is more close-quarters, and it also explains why Power suddenly became much more competitive on ovals when IndyCar made steps to distance itself from IRL-era pack racing after Dan Wheldon's death, since he now no longer had to race people as closely. In F1, where the field spreads out much more to the greatly differential non-spec equipment leading to fewer cautions, a driver like Power could set qualifying lap after qualifying lap in a race and be faster than everyone (albeit against much stronger road racing fields, so then he still wouldn't be most likely), but with the chaos of many IndyCar closed pit races, he frequently finds himself stuck in traffic and never gets himself out of it because he is not particularly fast in heavy race traffic at all or on restarts unless he is in the lead. He has shown the ability to make impressive steady comebacks on occasion (Long Beach and Edmonton in 2012), but they really are just occasions. While he was the fastest driver of his time in general in a vacuum and was driving for the fastest team, I think this explains why he only has one title more than his championship 'choking' which I do find slightly unfair. In 2010, I feel Dario Franchitti won the mental game by winning the pole before the Homestead race even started and Power, who knew he was not as good on ovals as Franchitti, did crack under the pressure, but in 2011, he had come back from a large deficit after getting wrecked by Franchitti at Toronto and come back to take the points lead before being wrecked while leading in the pits, which is just pure dumb luck, and in 2012, he ran over a seam in the track at Fontana, which is also pure dumb luck. I don't even really think he's bad on ovals per se, but he is still pretty weak at heavy race traffic, which happens to occur much more often on ovals, but in single-file affairs, he's just as dominant on ovals as everyone else. So what do I do with a driver who has been the fastest driver of recent years (clearly) with this one major flaw that makes him not quite as good as Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon? I think this is about right. I've got to say though now that Power has seemed to lose his qualifying dominance this season, he is going to be in a world of trouble unless he can improve his passing on restarts. To be fair, he did just have a bad inner ear infection that caused him to miss the St. Petersburg race and may still be affected from that.
Mulford is yet another driver whose lack of an Indy 500 win and participation in the 1910s in which most races did not count for points has caused him to be too forgotten. Oddly, Mulford won every year from 1910-1919 inclusive earning a grand total of 19 wins making him one of the most dominant winners of the decade (including winning two bogus after-the-fact championships in 1911 in 1918), but failed to win in the 1916 season, which was the only one that actually counted for points. Hence, Mulford is officially listed as having zero wins but despite that he is without question the greatest driver to never win a points-paying IndyCar race. While he never won at Indianapolis (although a popular theory long after the fact argues that he *really* won the first Indy 500 in 1911 instead of Ray Harroun but one of his laps was not counted because an accident occurred near the timing and scoring stand on that lap), he was a prolific winner on every other type of track surface, sweeping a three-race stretch on a beach course at Galveston in 1914, winning nine times on board ovals mostly late in the decade, winning once on a concrete oval in Providence in 1917, and winning three times on road courses (like most of the elite drivers back then, the road races he won were longer than any of today's road races, with the shortest race in time in this period lasting for 3 hours and 21 minutes), and also three times on dirt tracks. Mulford was dominant everywhere and even his Indy record was good with six top tens in his 12 races including the 2nd in the inaugural and a 3rd in the shortened 1916 event. However, he wasn't exactly a dominant force at Indy as the ten laps he led there in 1911 were the only laps he led ever. Regardless, with a career average percent led of 12.78% he was obviously dominating at a LOT of other tracks (particularly considering there were numerous races in that period where lap leader data were not available.) His relative lack of performance in the high-prestige races such as Indianapolis compared to his dominance everywhere else against smaller fields does cause him to take a hit in terms of adjusted wins and adjusted points per race (neither of which apply to the contemporary Dario Resta I have listed immediately above him), but Mulford's career will naturally be ignored by people who just look at the Indy 500 win list, the official championship list, and the official win list, but his dominance is too important to be overlooked even if none of the races he won endured or officially counted for points.
Which is lower, the probability that two drivers named Dario would both be Indy 500 winners or the probability that no driver with the last name of Smith would ever have qualified for the race at this point? Whichever, before Dario Franchitti, there was Dario Resta, a two-year wonder who was probably even more dominant in his peak than Franchitti was but didn't match Franchitti's longevity. Resta looks better than many of his contemporaries historically especially because his championship season of 1916 was the only season in that decade that actually counted for championship points. The Brit by way of Italy may have only won ten races, but he specialized in the biggest ones with the deepest fields and the largest points paydays. Resta won at Indianapolis in 1916 and thoroughly dominated the race, although the race was unusually scheduled for only 300 miles in advance because the officials thought a shorter race might draw greater fan support; nonetheless this is considered part of Indy 500 continuity even though the race was never supposed to be 500 miles. Resta however DID win the first 500-mile race not at Indianapolis at a board oval in Chicago in 1915 along with three very important road course wins. He won the American Grand Prize, a seven-hour race in San Francisco on his debut in 1915, and followed it up with a Vanderbilt Cup win at the same venue in the next race. He then repeated his Vanderbilt Cup win the following season as well. With six wins on board ovals, three wins on road courses, and a win at Indianapolis, he showed staggering versatility for such a short career, and even in his later years, though he failed to win he continued to impress, scoring three 2nd place finishes and three 3rd place finishes in his six 1918 starts, all on board tracks. In his late career he changed his nationality once more to become a naturalized American, but would not win again. Sadly, he was killed in a crash at the Brooklands road course in England while attempting to set a speed record, much like Frank Lockhart and Marshall Teague. Regardless, although he would only be a major threat in two seasons, he was one of the most dominant drivers of the 1910s and the fact that his average points per race is greater than his points per race for that period is simply astonishing since the 1910s had below-average competitive depth; this means he was specializing in the bigger races that did have above-average strength while most other dominant drivers of his period were not.
Tracy put up really big numbers in a very long career including against some of the best fields in history and is in the top ten in all-time wins, but is he really a top ten driver? I would say no. Tracy, the 1990 Indy Lights champion and at the time the most dominant driver in Indy Lights history until Greg Moore broke those records in 1995, had big shoes to fill when he was named as Rick Mears's full-time replacement in the middle of the 1992 season at Penske, a team that very rarely hires IndyCar drivers with fewer than two full years of IndyCar experience ever. He exploded into dominance in 1993 when he won five races and led the series in average percent led but was not even close to Nigel Mansell in terms of consistency and finished behind his teammate Emerson Fittipaldi in the points as well. The definitive moment of Tracy's career would likely be the Phoenix race in 1993 when he dominated from start until crashing with a two lap lead with barely ten laps remaining. He practically could have coasted but he continued to drive so hard to lap cars he had already lapped that he lost it and crashed, eventually handing the 53-year-old Mario Andretti his last win. While he would show the ability to dominate everywhere until 2005 (except high-speed ovals, which were his big weakness), he could also drive so hard even when nowhere in contention that he could do something stupid everywhere as well. Few drivers were more polarizing in their results or in their fan reactions. Tracy's chief mechanic Neil Micklewright famously quipped "one weekend, Paul would be Jimmy Clark. The next weekend, he'd be Jimmy Spencer." Despite being drastically underpaid by Penske and still frequently winning in his early seasons, he was constantly on a hot leash as he would be almost fired then win then almost be fired again then win again and so on. In 1993-94, Tracy was clearly more dominant than the aging Fittipaldi but Fittipaldi was a lot more smooth and a lot more consistent, and still got the points (even though the CART points system rewarded winning sufficiently, which some others do not.) However, when Al Unser, Jr. came in and instantly won 8 out of 16 races including the Indy 500 in 1994, while Tracy, who wasn't much less dominant, only won 3, and still finished behind Fittipaldi in points, Penske chose to let Tracy go after 1994 when Marlboro refused to sponsor more than two cars in subsequent seasons. He wanted Tracy to move to an inferior satellite operation in Hogan Racing but Tracy refused and instead signed a big-money deal with Newman-Haas Racing, where he won one more race than teammate Michael Andretti but finished slightly behind him in points, which given Andretti's recent dominance for Newman-Haas, was seen as showing even more potential for Tracy. Now with more bargaining clout, he returned to Penske, who had instead disposed of Fittipaldi, for 1996 and demanded and got Unser's salary. However Penske's Penske-Mercedes-Goodyear package was nowhere near as competitive as the Reynard-Honda-Firestone package and the team as a whole struggled for the rest of the decade. Tracy did amazingly despite the inferior package win three consecutive races and dominate the first half of the 1997 season, but a typical long string of DNFs to end the season and Tracy trying to demand Penske change to the superior package (which he eventually would do a mere two years later) led to a surprisingly quiet firing from Penske. Tracy moved on to Team KOOL Green for 1998 where he was expected to be the dominant driver but was vastly outperformed by his until-then career-winless teammate Dario Franchitti, who beat him four out of five seasons in points, with Tracy only beating him in 2000 when Franchitti had a pre-season concussion. The driver once seen as the next big superstar seemingly became more famous for his on-track incidents than his domination in this period, particularly when he nearly took out Franchitti but instead wrecked himself at Houston in 1998 while they battled for the lead, which led an irate Barry Green to say "You deserved that!" on the radio. After a string of other bizarre incidents, including wrecking Al Unser, Jr. in the pits for no reason, he was suspended from the season-opening CART race at Homestead in 1999, but went on to his best two seasons for the team, winning 3 races in both 1999 and 2000 and cleaning up his act somewhat before he faded again in 2001-02. He crossed over to compete in the Indy 500, where he had never led or even finished before that, along with most of the other CART stars in 2002 and came back from a very poor starting position to challenge for the lead late, but he passed Hélio Castroneves a few seconds after a crash with two laps remaining, and the IRL ruled that the pass occurred just after instead of just before the caution. Tracy was such an outspoken opponent arguing he had been robbed of the win that he refused to compete in the IRL until Champ Car and IndyCar reunited, called the IRL cars 'crapwagons' which endeared him to the dwindling number of Champ Car fans who remained loyal, but led to him generally competing against weaker and weaker competition. He moved to Champ Car hardliner Gerry Forsythe's team from 2003-07 and dominated the 2003 season as he was the only driver with any kind of great recent experience, but 2003 ROTY Sébastien Bourdais easily dominated the remaining seasons with Tracy slowly getting less and less competitive, and Tracy's overdue but only championship came against a pretty weak split field. To some degree Tracy feels like a career compiler because there are few seasons you can point at and say he was the best. He drove for Penske and Newman-Haas when they won a lot of races but was outperformed by Unser, Fittipaldi, and Andretti there (even if he was admittedly right with Fittipaldi and Andretti), got regularly beaten by Franchitti, and then got thoroughly beaten by A.J. Allmendinger in 2006 who won 5 races to Tracy's 0 (and I didn't even list Allmendinger.) Combining his very diverse record (but still not as diverse as some contemporaries as he only managed one win on an oval of 1.5 miles or greater) with the fact that almost every season featured a mixture of greatness and stupidity, he's not a top ten driver but he is a great one.
Aitken is the winningest driver in Indianapolis Motor Speedway by far with fifteen wins but doesn't quite have the legacy he should because none of them came in the Indy 500. In a very short career, Aitken actually only started the race twice (in 1911, when he started 4th due to filing of ihs entry blank, not speed, but took the lead on the very first lap in race history, and 1916, when he won the pole but failed to finish.) However, in the short races of 5-15 miles he was almost unmatched, and he swept a set of three 1916 races on the Indy oval called the Harvest Auto Racing Classic; these were the last IndyCar races held on the oval besides the Indy 500. However, unlike some of the other dominant drivers of the early years at IMS like Ray Harroun and Joe Dawson, Aitken had a substantial and diverse career outside Indianapolis as well. He went on to win three times on board ovals, once on a concrete oval where he relieved Earl Cooper (in an era when relief drivers shared an equal claim to the win), and he also won a dirt track race and a road course event as well. His road course win was the final race in which he appeared, and he relieved future Indy 500 winner Howdy Wilcox to win the American Grand Prize at the road course in Santa Monica, California, where he ran over half the laps for Wilcox after breaking a piston early in the event, and has the rare and probably historic distinction of being credited with finishing first and last in a race. Unlike Ralph Mulford, a lot of Aitken's success is official as he won five races in 1916 (the season that counted) and finished 2nd in points to the previously mentioned Dario Resta, but I will take Aitken over Resta because his Indianapolis record is amazing, and even though he never finished an Indy 500, the numerous other races he won at Indianapolis (including the 100-miler) indicate he probably would have won one if he had gotten more opportunities to do so. Sadly, he shortly thereafter fell ill of natural causes, did not compete in a race after 1916, and died of broncopneumonia in 1918 at the mere age of 33. Aitken is one of the ultimate what could have been drivers since he did not even die of a crash. Two of his eight wins being shared may not be the most impressive thing, but despite that he actually has more terminal natural leads than wins (although going back into his time period this becomes more and more vague as fewer and fewer articles have any kind of proper race summaries for the early years.) Regardless, his winning percentage, average percent led, points per race, and even adjusted points per race are extremely high by any standard, and most of his Indy sprint wins don't count here. I was wrong to criticize Indy-centrism, since I am really criticizing Indianapolis 500-centrism. Aitken is one of the best drivers in IMS history but just because he never had a chance to make a serious run at the finish of the 500 he is now forgotten.
de Ferran was much better than anybody thinks he was. In fact, I think he was the second best driver of the CART/IRL split period. Not the second best of all drivers to compete in this period, as Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Bobby Rahal, and Emerson Fittipaldi obviously had most of their significant success prior to the split, and Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti afterward, but when considering only the races between 1996-2007, I really think only Juan Pablo Montoya was better than him. For starters, he and Montoya were the only drivers to win a CART title and an Indy 500 in the period, and that's worth a lot, indicating that they could easily win against both sides. de Ferran is one of three drivers to win multiple titles in this period alongside Alex Zanardi, Sam Hornish, and Sébastien Bourdais but Hornish and Bourdais faced weaker average fields and Zanardi could not win outside the best cars, while de Ferran was able to win when he did not have the best equipment and faced the best fields in history (his 2001 championship came against the deepest IndyCar field in history.) That's not even going into de Ferran setting the all-time qualifying record in racing history when he won the pole for the 2000 Fontana season finale averaging 241.428 mph, which was a big risk for him to take considering he had not yet clinched the title. His stats don't look as good as they should (winning percentage < 10%, rank vs. contemporaries of 2, and so on) because in his earlier years he was in good, but not great cars, and in his later years he had great cars during extremely deep seasons when he couldn't rattle off seven win-style Alex Zanardi/Cristiano da Matta seasons because there were too many good drivers in good equipment. He is also overshadowed because he had a rather mild and quiet personality compared to many of his more boisterous contemporaries like Zanardi and Paul Tracy. However, he consistently got the job done even when others did not expect him to. A Formula 3000 veteran who had consistent points finishes but minimal interest from F1 teams, de Ferran quietly signed with legendary car owner Jim Hall's team for the 1995 CART season. In an era when the soon-to-be-IRL fans were whining tremendously about the onslaught of ride-buyers, de Ferran was the exact opposite. His sponsor Pennzoil wanted an already-famous American driver until they were suitably impressed by de Ferran's testing speeds to allow Hall to overrule them. de Ferran would reward the team with a win in the final race of 1995 at Laguna Seca (the last race before the split), which would propel him to a come from behind Rookie of the Year victory. He continued to improve to 6th in 1996 and 2nd in 1997 despite driving Goodyear tires, which were getting slower and slower from year to year (indeed Andretti, Tracy, and de Ferran were the ONLY CART drivers to win with Goodyear tires after the split began, and de Ferran seemed to continue to improve for a while.) Although de Ferran went winless for Walker Racing in 1997, 2nd in points was a massive improvement over Robby Gordon who had struggled to finish in the top 20 in points the previous year after infamously dissing his slow equipment at Road America in 1996 (the first of many burnt bridges for Gordon.) Even as more and more teams switched to Firestone, de Ferran STILL managed a win with Goodyear tires as late as 1999 (Goodyear's final season in the sport) at Portland. Once he finally got the dominant Reynard-Honda-Firestone combination with Penske in 2000-2001, he cruised to both titles despite not really dominating on a race-to-race basis, and just as with Walker in 1997, he hugely improved the team as Unser, Jr. had failed to finish in the top 20 in points the year before de Ferran's title (and I give de Ferran much more of the credit that teammate Hélio Castroneves because Castroneves was a last-minute replacement for Greg Moore, while de Ferran had been planning the move to Penske for months.) Other drivers would be more dominant in individual races, but he would be quietly consistent from race-to-race, and despite only 4 wins, he managed to win on an oval and a road course both years, which no other driver did in both 2000 and 2001. de Ferran's last lap pass of Kenny Bräck on the last lap at Rockingham in 2001 was brilliantly executed and finally gained him a major reputation as an oval driver as well en route to Penske's departure to the IRL from 2002. Even there, he came closer than anyone else (except Montoya and Franchitti) to win titles in both CART and IRL, as de Ferran was leading entering the penultimate 2002 IRL points race at Chicagoland until he was injured in a crash, which ended his season, and he lost the 2003 IRL title by a mere 18 points to Scott Dixon but missed one race due to injury in that season as well (had he finished a mere 12th or better in that race, which he probably would have, he would have won that title also.) He became an expert at winning the last of things like few other drivers, as he won the last race before the CART/IRL split, the last two titles before the major talents started defecting CART and the last Indy 500 and his last race overall at Texas before a perhaps-premature retirement in 2003. While Castroneves's flashier personality and greater number of Indy 500 wins caused him to probably be more hyped, I've got to point out that in both of Castroneves's 2001-02 wins he did not take the lead on track, while de Ferran passed Castroneves on track to win in 2003, which again favors him. His early retirement and numerous contenders for wins in his Penske years (along with a lot of bad luck on street courses where he would dominate races before really bizarre stuff happened near the end) makes his career look much worse than it really was.