Why the move from the 88 to 26 for Herta and how these last few years got us to where we are today

INDIANAPOLIS — Colton Herta was confirmed to be returning to Andretti Autosport in 2021. That’s not earth shattering news. We all knew that Herta would be coming back as Andretti doesn’t let a driver of Herta’s caliber walk away. A new multi year deal was confirmed on Tuesday morning.

But, where the confusion from some comes is, Herta is moving from the No. 88 Honda to the No. 26 Honda. Some may wonder, why?

Well, that answer is simple – it’s all about funding and winning.

Herta, will now fully move under the Andretti umbrella once further. He has sort of raced for Andretti since Indy Lights, but has always had the Steinbrenner backing. When moving up to INDYCAR, he gained the Harding backing too. As a rookie, he was Steinbrenner/Harding with an Andretti alliance. They never had a ton of money but made it work. The following year, that whole operation moved inhouse to Andretti as a fifth car. Now, Herta’s shed both Steinbrenner and Harding to move fully as an Andretti only driver.

Why? Why move away from the ones who brought you here? Well, let me explain.

First off, Andretti plans to keep the partnership with Steinbrenner and Harding going on the No. 88 entry and will have plans for that ride to be announced at a later date. We also know that Alexander Rossi will be back in the No. 27 Honda as the two sides with NAPA and other sponsors signed off on a multi year deal in the summer of 2019.

That left the 26 ride which was hoping to be funded by Gainbridge and the 28 and 98 seats open too.

I doubt Marco Andretti fires himself. He is coming off of a pole for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 as well. He should be back in the No. 98 entry. He’s a part owner of that ride and has earned the right to keep his seat.

The 28 ride appears to be staying with Ryan Hunter-Reay now too. So, why then the swap from Herta to the 26 from the 88 you may be wondering? Wouldn’t it be easier to find a driver to not have to bring funding to the 26 and keep Herta in the 88?

Well, that’s why I teased earlier that it’s all about money and winning races.

On the surface, some may say it looks dirty that Andretti cut ties with Zach Veach but kept his sponsor after the fact. Let’s go down memory lane here to explain this situation.

See, Veach brought Gainbridge to Andretti. Veach, was down and out and looking like his open wheel career may be over. Then, a phone call with his Pastor changed his future outlook as his Pastor said Veach should talk to another member of their church who happens to own a company that may be looking to help out.

Veach, called up his Pastor at Traders Point Christian Church in Zionsville, Indiana for some guidance. See, in racing these days, you have to have talent, but you also have to have money to go with that talent. If you don’t have any money, you’re out of the industry.

Imagine spending 20+ years of your life growing up trying to make it somewhere. All your dreams. All of your hopes. Everything you’ve ever accomplished and you’re 24 hours away from all of it going up in smoke.

Veach, well he has the talent, but he lacked the money. The Ohio native, now living in the Hoosier state trying to accomplish his goals of becoming an IndyCar driver, had one day left in his deadline with AJ Foyt Racing to find the right amount of funding to drive their third car in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Veach estimates, he made 200 emails and another 100 or so phone calls trying to find someone to put their business on his car. Someone to take a chance on him.

He was desperate and out of options. He thought, ‘maybe my Pastor knows of someone.’

That thought and that chat with Pastor Aaron Brockett changed his life forever. It doesn’t happen without Pastor Brockett giving Veach a name in their conversation who could possibly help. It doesn’t happen without a “Hail Mary” email.

The name?

Dan Towriss, President and CEO, Group 1001, parent company of Gainbridge. Towriss, is also a member of the church but wasn’t necessarily a big race fan at the time.

It was a last ditch effort for Veach. He thought, why not?

An email led to a phone call which led to where we are today.

“It was the last resort,” Veach said to me smiling on a cold Thursday afternoon inside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center a couple of years ago. “It was my Hail Mary. I was a day away from my deadline with Foyt and I called everybody in my contacts. I had a feeling that Aaron Brockett from Traders Point Christian Church up in Zionsville, I just had a feeling that I needed to call him. He’s been a big part of my life with some tough things that I had before. I asked if he thought that he had anybody that I could possibly talk to. He gave me Dan’s email and an email turned into a phone call and a phone call turned into a contract. Two in-a-half to three years later, here we are.”

Veach’s email on that Friday in 2017 went noticed. Towriss, promised Veach he’d work on something through the weekend. By Sunday, a deal was in place. By Monday, a contract signed.

Veach’s dream of being an Indy Car racer was coming true. He in fact made the race in 2017 with one of Towriss’ business on his car. Veach, started 32nd and finished 26th.

Now that Towriss saw how big the race was, he and Veach wanted more. A week after the ‘500 was completed in 2017, he had a deal in place with Andretti Autosport. Veach, was now going to be a full time IndyCar driver in 2018 with one of the premiere teams in the series.

Towriss, put Group 1001 on his No. 26 Honda and away Veach went. Now, Veach is gone but Gainbridge, another one of his companies, is still on the 26 car.

But, this comes down to winning, right?

Lets move forward now to where we are in present day.

“Colton (Herta) has quickly shown in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES that talent and drive produce winning results. Gainbridge is proud to align with Colton and Andretti Autosport to represent our brand and values,” said Dan Towriss, CEO and President, Group1001 and the Gainbridge brand via a team release on Tuesday morning. “Winning demands consistency and the confidence and consistency demonstrated by Colton makes him a great fit to represent Group1001 and Gainbridge. Additionally, we look forward to remaining part of the Andretti Autosport family where we can accelerate the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda program.”

Notice a common word in that statement? “Winning” was used a lot.

Veach, in a top car, didn’t deliver as one should with Andretti. He had no podiums with a best finish of fourth. He had three top fives in 45 starts in that ride. He also only had nine top 10’s as well. Veach, did have five top 10’s in his first season at the helm in 2018 but that slipped to three in 2019. He had just one in 2020, the season opener at that.

Gainbridge’s contract with Veach and Andretti was up at the end of the 2020 season. Andretti, didn’t want to lose the funding and Gainbridge sounded like they wanted to be more of a contender. Veach, reluctantly stepped out of the ride early to allow the 26 seat to stay in the leaders circle money and to help both sponsor and team find the right driver for that ride.

This story goes to the maturity of Veach. The one who could be pissed that he brought a sponsor to a team and they take the sponsor for an extension but didn’t want him. Instead, he kept his head high and let both sides find a winning combination.

That’s where Herta comes in.

Herta could propel further forward with a car that’s fully funded. It’s one that he doesn’t have to worry about sponsorship dollars or resources anymore. It’s one that will give him everything that he needs and a secured future. It’s one that can put him on an even playing field with Alexander Rossi.

It’s a move that now shores up the future of AA for a while. Rossi and his sponsors in the 27, Herta and Gainbridge in the 26. The 88 now can search for a driver with funding too and help get that car even further secured with proper funding.

James Hinchcliffe would make the absolute most sense now for that seat so long as he can bring the right amount of funding.

It’s a win-win all around and one that doesn’t make the team, the sponsor or anyone else for that matter look bad. It’s a business and Andretti has to make money. They can’t stay in the black without sponsorship funding. They can’t keep funding with mid pack on back finishes. The sponsor can’t make money on an ROI with similar results.

Veach handled this as good as anyone ever could have asked. He’s the silent MVP here to helping this seamlessly work.

Now, the eyes are on what they can do with the 88.

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