The holiday season brings with it the unofficial midway point of the IndyCar off-season. With Chip Ganassi Racing at last completing its driver roster over the weekend, adding Ryan Briscoe, most of the premiere seats in the league have been filled.
So with that in mind, we can begin to set a casual eye on the 2014 season and select five drivers that really need to rise above the glass ceiling next season and transition to the next level. Those drivers have been detailed below.
Juan Pablo Montoya
After seven largely disappointing seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Juan Pablo Montoya just wanted to go someplace where he could win on a regular basis.
It could be argued that Montoya just wasn't given the equipment in the second half of his NASCAR career to make a serious run at contention but he also let some wins, especially on ovals, get away during that span too.
With Team Penske, there is no doubt that Montoya will have all the resources available to get him to Victory Lane in the IndyCar Series. With a vast majority of the schedule contested on road and street courses, the former Formula 1 championship contender may even be a title favorite heading into next season, assuming that he can wrap his talent around the radical IR-12 chassis.
Montoya has the most to prove because he has lost so many possible winning seasons to his stock car career, meaning that his legacy may depend on his returning to relevancy and becoming a world champion once again before his storied career comes to an end.
Following a disastrous first season at his father's team, Graham Rahal has only one direction to go from here -- up.
He scored just one podium finish in 19 starts this past season and his fortunes have the potential to change with the addition of Bill Pappas as his engineer. Rahal has driven for Newman-Haas and Ganassi Racing over the course of his career and at 25-years-old, he's starting to run out of concessions and his prospect status/
The deck appears stacked in his favor for next season but Rahal must capitalize on his resources next season or risk falling out of sight and out of mind.
A lot like Rahal above, Marco Andretti has a similar need to finally meet the expectations of his equipment and heritage and become a true championship contender next season.
He took a step in that direction during the course of the 2013 season, overcoming his struggles on road and street courses, having only four finishes outside of the top-10 all year. He likely would have been a championship player heading into the final weeks of the season if he just could have turned a few of his six top-10s into victories.
That will be the goal next season as long as the Andretti Autosport switch from Chevrolet to Honda doesn't come to the detriment of their efforts.
Once upon a time, Sebastien Bourdais was considered one of the top open-wheel race car drivers in the world. His four straight Champ Car World Series championships from 2004-2007 set a mark of excellence now reserved for names like Johnson, Schumacher, Franchitti and Vettel.
And then came the open-wheel merger.
Bourdais has since repaid his dues with Dale Coyne Racing and Dragon Racing and suddenly reclaimed his contender status in the second half of the season when Dragon paired him with engineer Tom Brown. Bourdais translated the success into a two-year deal with KV Racing where he hopes to be the catalyst to turn the reigning Indianapolis 500 champions into an IndyCar title contender.
Thus the pressure is on for Bourdais to remind the IndyCar community who in the heck he is after several years out of the spotlight.
In the first 14 races of the season, Will Power was largely an afterthought, struggling to finish races, posting an average finish of just 12.5 and remaining outside the top-10 in the championship standings for much of that span.
Much of that seems to be attributed to his inability to score the pole with the frequency he had in years prior and Power appeared overmatched (or unfamiliar) with life in the middle of the pack.
But three victories and a 6.6 average finish late in the season was a return to relevancy for Power, seeing him surge from 11th to fourth in the standings over the course of five races. He also won his first true oval races (without the aid of a qualifying draw) at Auto Club Speedway and may have declared himself the early championship favorite for next season.
After three runner-up title finishes from 2010-12, the time is now for Power to grab the brass ring and become the champion that was expected of him ever since he signed with Team Penske.
Who makes your list? Tell us in the comments section below.