Good morning from the northern annex of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg media center. I hope that those of you at the track are following COVIS protocols and are staying safe.
Today’s schedule, all times Eastern:
Practice- 10:55-12:25 NBC Gold
Qualifying 3:05-4:20 NBC Gold
8:00-9:00 (tape delay) NBCSN
I will have a spoiler alert report after qualifying. The pole winner will not be in the headline.
There were several bits of news yesterday, and I understand some more news is coming around 2 pm today.
Firestone has extended its sponsorship agreement for this race through 2023. Should St. Pete remain as the opening race of the season, this venue will be our first look at the new 2.4 liter engine with a hybrid system. the news is also encouraging in that a company in these uncertain times is willing to make a commitment for that length of time.
Last night Team Penske made it official that three time VA Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will drivea fourth entry for the team in the NTT Indycar Series in 2021. McLaughlin makes his Indycar debut this weekend. A link to the announcement can be found here:
Per Adam Stern, Chip Ganassi Racing has secured sponsorship for Jimmie Johnson to the road and street courses in 2021. An announcement is expected soon. This may be the 2 pm announcement,scheduled for today.
Last, best wishes for a speedy recovery to my friend Jake Query, who is recovering from a heart attack, and resting comfortably in Indianapolis.
Scott Mclaughlin will getto make his COVID -19 delayed Indycar debut at the season finale in St. Petersburg October 25. Mclaughlin, the two time Australian VA Supercars champion, was originally slated to drive in the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. With all racing series scrambling to adjust their schedules this year, Team Penske and Mclaughlin finally found a spot that worked for both of them. Mclaughlin leads the Supercars points with three races remaining.
Penske had brought McLaughlin to the open test in Austin, where he posted the third fastest time. before returning to Australia he took his oval test at Texas Motor Speedway. McLaughlin is expected to be a full time driver for Team Penske in Indycar next season.
“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” said McLaughlin. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my INDYCAR debut. I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop. I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”
McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was postponed from its original date in March and will now take place on Sunday, October 25. The race on the 1.8-mile street circuit will be seen live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with radio coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network and SIRIUS XM.
It will be weird seeing the number 3 car without Helio Castroneves in the cockpit. St. Pete signals the end of ties between Team Penske and Castroneves.
The field for the last race has gotten deeper with announcements this week of Sebastien Bourdais driving for A. J. Foyt and now mclaughlin in a Team Penske car. Jimmie Johnson, seven time NASCAR champion, may join the field for the first race in 2021, increasing the field’s depth even more.
We are still awaiting word on whether fans will be allowed to attend the Indycar Harvest Classic and the 8 hour sports car races at IMS the first weekend of October. A positive sign is the the Indianapolis Colts received permission to increase their home attendance to 7,500 for their home game September 27.
Editor’s Note: This is the first reader request; originally published May 9, 2017
What a fun project this turned out to be! It was fascinating seeing how much those who submitted grids both agreed and disagreed. Some drivers got just one mention, while others appeared on every ballot. There was near unanimous placement for some drivers, and some drivers were near the front on some grids and near the back on others. The driver nearly everyone agreed should be on the pole is Michael Andretti (pictured above, from 1992).
I noticed the rankings were along age lines. Older fans close to my age seemed to have near identical grids, and younger fans as a group submitted similar lineups. Many drivers from long ago in general fared better on the lists from the older group. I was surprised how well the current drivers stacked up against the racers of the past. Another interesting detail is that all 50 driver finalists had at least one mention. I didn’t expect that.
To rank the drivers, I assigned points to the drivers corresponding to their spot on each person’s grid. A driver on pole got 1 point, the last driver got 33. If a driver was listed on pole on five grids, his total was 5. The lowest total won the pole. If a driver did not appear on someone’s grid, he/she was given 34 points. To my shock, there were only two ties. I resolved placement by averaged each driver’s highest and lowest rank of all the grades, with the lowest average getting the higher spot. One of the ties was for 32nd and 33rd. It was just like qualifying for the 1963 500.
The front row- Michael Andretti, Rex Mays, and Ted Horn, is strong. These drivers were in the top 10 on everyone’s grid. Andretti led 431 laps, the most by any non-winning driver. he started on the front row three times and had 5 top 5 finishes. Rex Mays, in the middle of the front row is the only other driver to lead more than 200 laps and not win. Mays was on the pole four times. Ted Horn, on the outside of the front row, finished in the top five 9 times in 10 starts.
So here they are, the Greatest 33 Non-Winners of the Indianapolis 500:
it’s kind of fitting that Snider is last on the grid. his trademark was jumping into a car on Bump Day and getting into the field starting near the back. Thanks to everyone who submitted a grid. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and reasoning as to how yo put your grids together.
I will be back tomorrow with some 500 news and a report on my visit to the A. J. Foyt exhibit at the Speedway Museum. The cars were great to see, but the memorabilia was even more amazing to me. Thursday I will have my Indianapolis Grand Prix preview with my normally inaccurate winner’s prediction.
Three teams which comprise nearly half of the full time grid will battle for the NTT Indycar Series season championship. I’m going to save my predictions for next week. here’s a look at the Big Three. As in my previous two posts, the order is random and is not necessarily indicative of my thinking about their finishing order
Chip Ganassi Racing
The team has expanded by one car and now is home to the two Swedish drivers, Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson. Five time champion Scott Dixon gives the team veteran leadership. Their 2019 season wasn’t bad with Dixon ending the year fourth and Rosenqvist sixth. In addition, Rosenqvist earned Rookie of the Year. Dixon won twice, putting him just six wins behind Mario Andretti for second all time.
Still, it seemed as if Dixon was not having a good year. But it actually was just a poor three week period. A poor showing in the Indianapolis 500 was followed by a self inflicted crash at Detroit Race 1, and then he was involved in a crash at Texas. He won Race 2 at Detroit to salvage something of that three week period, but seeing him end fourth for the year was unusual.
Rosenqvist won a pole and nearly beat Dixon in a dramatic finish at Mid Ohio. A qualifying penalty cost him a potential pole at Laguna Seca, but he stormed back to finish eighth in the race. I look for Rosenqvist to have a strong second year with his first series win likely.
Ericsson comes to the team from Arrow Schmidt Peterson. The highlight of his season was a second place at Detroit. He was 17th in the final standings. Ericsson should have a better year his time around, but there may not be a huge jump in his year end ranking. I’m interested to see what he does with better equipment.
Four series titles and two Indianapolis 500 wins should make a driver from the Penske stable the odd on favorite for the championship. Josef Newgarden is at the top of his game, and Simon Pagenaud revived what may have been his sagging team standing in 2019. Will Power had what was for him a substandard season. Then there is the Scott McLaughlin factor to consider.
McLaughlin at present is entered only in the GMR Grand Prix in May, but there is talk of him driving in as many as eight races in 2020. Is he being groomed as a replacement for one of the three drivers? Or, will Penske go to four cars in 2021? Does it make financial sense to run a fourth car next year with a new chassis due to come on line in 2022?
While this seems like a lot of intra team drama, I wouldn’t worry about any effect on the racing. This team will run up front most weeks and at least one of the drivers will be in the conversation for the title in September. McLaughlin could actually help take points away from the contenders on other teams.
This team seems to grow bigger every season. For 2020 Andretti is fielding five teams with the absorption of Harding Steinbrenner Racing in addition to a technical alliance with Meyer Shank Racing. In May James Hinchcliffe joins the squad for three races. Are they spreading themselves too thin? I don’t think so. Of all the teams in the paddock, Andretti seems to work better with more work.
This is an interesting mix of drivers with different goals for the upcoming season. Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta are probably going to contend for the championship. I’m looking forward to seeing if we have an intra team rivalry and how that might appear on the track. Both had great seasons last year. Herta was hampered a bit by rookie mistakes and mechanical gremlins, but he is a quick learner. Rossi had two dominant victories, but most of the time he was behind the drivers fighting him for the points lead.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is entering the final year of his contract. His long time sponsor, DHL, is also is up for renewal after the season. Will Hunter-Reay step down from a full time ride? He wants to finish on a high note. 2019 was a difficult year for him. His results this year may determine his future. I think Hunter-Reay can find a way to win a race this season.
Zach Veach is also entering the last year of his contract. He finished 18th last year, the lowest of the drivers on the team. Veach had a decent rookie year, but seemed to slip a bit in 2019. He needs to have a solid year in 2020.
Marco Andretti went to driving school in England to sharpen his skills. He dropped from a ninth place finish in 2018 to 16th last season. Andretti needs to improve his road course qualifying to be in a better position for good race results. He won a pole at Detroit in 2018. Andretti needs a good start to the year to set a positive tone for an improved season.
The NTT Indycar Series will change its rule concerning work done on a car during a red flag period. The new rule calls for exclusion from the race if the crew attempts to make repairs while the race is stopped. The previous rule provided for a minimum two lap penalty for unapproved work while the race is under a red flag.
The revision is likely in response to Pocono last year. After the five car accident in turn 1 of the opening lap, the cars of Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and James Hinchcliffe were repaired while the race was stopped. All three were assessed a 10 lap penalty when they rejoined the race. Rossi was in a battle for the season championship and needed every point he could get. The accident and his 18th place finish still dealt a huge blow to his title chances.
I like this rule. It takes away any possible advantage a car could gain under a red flag. Part of the need to get a car back on track is the current points system. I’ve never liked the idea of every position earning points. If a team knows they are not going to get points for a race, there is not a need to work on the car under a red flag.
Castroneves Back for May
Three time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves will again drive for Team Penske in the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500. It will be his 20th time in the race. Castroneves will also drive in the GMR Grand Prix on the Speedway’s road course on May 9.
Castroneves has been driving full time in IMSA for Penske’s Acura DPi team since 2018. It is believed he had a three year agreement with Penske to drive at Indianapolis. 2020 is the third year of this agreement
The 44 year old Brazilian has finished 11th or better 15 times in his 19 previous races. He finished 27th in 2018 and 18th last year. He has a great career at IMS. In addition to his three wins, Castroneves has finished second twice and has a third place and a fourth place finish.
I’ll be back later today with a preview of the Roar Before the 24.
“Team Penske and XPEL, Inc. (NASDAQ: XPEL) a leading provider of automotive paint protective film and window tint, today announced a multi-year partnership. XPEL will be the primary sponsor of the No. 1 Dallara/Chevrolet driven by reigning and two-time NTT IndyCar Series Champion Josef Newgarden for two races in 2020. XPEL will also serve as the “Official Protective Film Partner of Team Penske.
The partnership with Team Penske – the most successful team in motorsports history – represents the first racing sponsorship for the San Antonio, Texas-based company. Newgarden will race the No. 1 XPEL Dallara/Chevrolet in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 9 and in the Texas Indy 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) on June 6. XPEL will build on the partnership and become a primary sponsor for a third IndyCar Series race with Team Penske in 2021 and beyond.”
This is a nice looking car with hints of a Shell livery from a few years ago.
It’s always good to see another sponsor in Indycar. I am also glad to see the Newgarden will carry the No. 1 on his car. I think the series should require the champion to do so every year.
McLaughlin Will Test Indycar at Sebring
Photo: Team Penske
Back to back Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will drive a Team Penske Indycar at a January 13 test at Sebring. McLaughlin drives for DJR Team Penske in Virgin Australia Supercars. He won a record 18 races this year. Since joining the team in 2017, McLaughlin has won 35 times to go along with 44 poles in taking series title in 2018 and 2019.
I don’t expect an Indycar ride to happen from this test. Right now It is a reward for achievement in Supercars, but with of Penske’s current NTT Indycar Series drivers approaching retirement, maybe he’ll be in the series in a few years.
Photo: Josef Newgarden on his way to clinching the championship at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca. Photo by Kyle McInnes
In some ways 2019 was an unusual season for the NTT Indycar Series. In other ways, it was a typical season.
Some unusual items:
All three of the championship contenders heading to the final race had at least one finish of 15th or worse.
The seven race winners each won multiple times. I can’t recall that ever happening before. Seven winners seems like the lowest total in a few years as well.
None of the three contenders won a race after July 20.
Alexander Rossi did not lead a lap after his dominating win at Road America on June 23.
Typically, Team Penske drivers led more than 900 laps and won nine races. The team also enjoyed a 1-2 finish in the final standings.
Josef Newgarden combined consistency and some great pit strategy by Tim Cindric to jump to an early points lead which he held most of the season. Rossi climbed to within 16 points after Mid Ohio, but the lead expanded in the following race after Rossi’s involvement in the first lap incident at Pocono. Simon Pagenaud saved his job with his two brilliant victories in May. He had a 4.8 finishing average over the last six races and came up just 25 points short of his second title.
Rossi was dominating at Long Beach and Road America. He finished second in the Indianapolis 500. The rest of the time he was good, but not great. I thought Rossi was more consistent in 2018. Since his Road America win, Rossi had an average finish of 7.7
Dixon’s Title Defense Stalls
Scott Dixon’s season was typical of his title defense years. He never got going. 2019 was just the second time he has finished outside the top three in the standings.
Dixon finished second three times and third once in the first five races. A 17th place in the Indianapolis 500 followed by a crash and 22nd place in the first Belle Isle race put Dixon in a hole he could not climb out of. He did bounce back to win the second race at Belle Isle and also won at Mid Ohio. Dixon now has 46 career wins, just six short of Mario Andretti for second place all time.
Rookies Have Outstanding Year
The four rookies- Colton Herta, Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson, and Santino Ferrucci- collectively had a season that any rookie group would be thrilled with. The class earned 2 wins, 4 poles, and 6 podiums. Ferrucci had an average finish on ovals of 6.2. Rosenqvist’s street/road course average was a respectable 7.1. Herta took most of the headlines with his three poles and two victories, but mechanical issues and accidents suppressed his averages and kept him behind in the points standings.
Rosenqvist won the Rookie of the Year title with a fierce drive at Laguna Seca from 14th to fifth to edge Herta by five points. He served notice at St. Petersburg that the rookies meant business when he passed Will Power on a restart. With Rosenqvist staying at Ganassi and Herta moving to the main Andretti team, I see a future rivalry between these two in a couple years.
Surprises and Disappointments
The biggest surprise of the year was Takuma Sato winning two races and earning two pole positions. Sato had a big slump beginning at Texas and was blamed for the early accident at Pocono. It would be nice to see him put a full season together.
Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank racing deserve consideration for driver and team of the year. Harvey earned the team’s first podium at the Indycar Grand Prix. In just 10 races, Harvey had four top ten finishes, got into the Fast Six twice, and finished on the lead lap in seven races. They seemed to struggle after their long break following Road America. If their plan to be full time in 2020 works out, they should be even better.
Zach Veach was probably the most disappointing driver. After finishing 2018 strongly, I thought he would have a great year. He lingered in the back half of the field most weekends and finished 18th in points, ahead of only Matheus Leist and Ed Jones among the drivers who drove all 17 races.
The Best and Not So Best
Not every race can be great, and like most years a few races stood out.
For me, the best races were the Indycar Grand Prix, Mid Ohio, Iowa, and Gateway.
The worst races in my opinion were Pocono, Detroit 1, Toronto, and Portland.