Unlike NASCAR, which competes 36 times and primarily on high-banked ovals, the IndyCar Series tests a variety of different disciplines - street course, road course, short oval, superspeedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Ganassi Team Target veteran Scott Dixon believes that factor makes it even harder to size up the competition until much later in the season and not at this point in the season, following one open test and a single street course race.
"I think once we get through the first couple (of races), obviously it's a little bit easier to determine where people are headed on the road and street courses," Dixon said during Wednesday's IndyCar conference call. "But it still comes down to the bigger teams and that they have a little more depth. It's a little quicker for them to react if they have a bad weekend to try and turn things around."
Complicating attempts to decide a hierarchy this early in the season is that Barber Motorsports Park, the site of Sunday's Grand Prix of Alabama, is radically different than the Streets of St. Petersburg. The faster Firestone red tires fell off much quicker than anticipated in the first race, something Dixon attributes to the abrasive street surface in South Florida.
Barber's surface is less worn and could provide the difference of grip - and therefor strategy - that teams had hoped to employ during the season-opening race.
"There's still a bit of a split between the reds and the blacks," Dixon said. "I think at St. Pete it almost seemed like the gaps were a lot less. I know they're normally quite conservative at the start of the year, Firestone, to make sure we have a durable tire, but hopefully... the reds fall off quickly and you have to maintain a smart pace and setup and manage the car well throughout the racing stint."