INDIANAPOLIS — We talk about the fight for the championship but the battle for the final leader circle spot is equally as important to everyone else. See, we’re in a pandemic and money is tight for everyone. Teams are counting on that bonus money from the leaders circle program more than any other year in 2020. The thing is though, we have 23 full time teams and only 22 of them will get that money.
Someone is going to be in the red.
Entering this weekend, Marco Andretti’s ride, the 14 car at Foyt and the 20 car at ECR were all separated by just two points for that last spot. That’s why putting Bourdais in that 14 car early was smart by Foyt. It’s also why Hinchcliffe going into the 26 car who’s one spot ahead of Andretti entering the weekend and Casroneves filling in for rookie Oliver Askew was so underrated.
“Honestly we just go for points,” Daly said of this weekend now with that situation facing them. “I talked to Ed (Carpenter) about that this week. He was like if we have a chance to win on a strategy swing, we might just stay where we are because we need the points. I respect that.
“I’m here to be a team man. We’ve had a lot of points that was taken away from us in a weird situations. I think we can do it. Obviously, we want to have a good solid weekend in the top 10. If we can do that, than we’ll accomplish our goal.”
Following Race 1, Andretti slides out now. He started fifth and had a top 10 car but his engine blew on Lap 79. He’d finish last and went from +2 to -3.
“We were pretty optimistic going into the race,” Andretti said. The AutoNation car came out of qualifying well, and we had a good start. I think had we not had to come in for the fire and the resulting damage we would have come home 11th, maybe even inside the top 10.
“2020 has been a tough one on us, and we’re ready to get past it, but for now we’ll look ahead to Race 2. The guys have some repairs to do tonight, and we’re hoping to come back strong tomorrow.”
Bourdais only finished 21st though and is only three points to the good as a result of a tough day.
“It was a non-race, really, tried to do whatever I could,” said the Frenchman who was making his first start of the season. “At the start, it was a tough spot because basically I ended up being right behind Dixie (Scott Dixon) and didn’t feel like I wanted to be there and take any chances and because of that I just lost a bunch of positions. Started to go left, right, and that was a bit of a shame.
“Then we kind of hung in there for a while, but tire degradation for us was quite high. Just not using the tires right. We don’t have the balance — we’re really struggling. The whole race was a bit of a struggle. It didn’t get any better or worse; it just kind of stayed where it was, and I never found anything that seemed to dig us out of there. And it was tough because we didn’t have any push-to-pass, so defending was impossible.
“The second half of the race, we were a lap down and trying to get out of the way of the guys on the lead lap fighting for positions. Our pace wasn’t good enough to challenge for anything. Unfortunately, we’ve got some work to do, and we’ve to try to find something to give us a direction for next time we come back around.”
Conor Daly was the biggest jumper for the 20 team in going from -1 to +11 in finishing 12th. Hinchcliffe put the 26 entry +24 while Charlie Kimball’s quietly strong 13th place finish gave them more of a cushion at +29.
“We had a great start, but sadly got driven off by two other competitors in the second half of Lap 1,” Daly said of his day. “The 59 car (Max Chilton) and the 18 car (Santino Ferrucci) decided they didn’t want to leave a lane for me, even though I gave them plenty of room. Being sent off the track twice was a shame and really put us behind, but we had a great car and great pace. We started passing cars as soon as we got back going, which was nice. We tried to strategize our way forward. Our pace was really good on reds there at the end. We definitely have improved our car since the last time we were here. We just need to be able to get a fair qualifying session in tomorrow and try to start up front like our teammate – then go for it.”