INDIANAPOLIS — I have to keep reminding myself that we’re still in the offseason that this news cycle will eventually end and we can get some much needed R&R before heading back to work in February. But, until then, the crazy offseason news just keeps coming.
Eventually, the schedules will all be done and the rides for those seats in each of those races around the world will be filled. Until then, the news front will stay in rough waters.
It’s almost laughable on how much news has come out in a short amount of time. It’s literally everyday. AJ Foyt Racing announced their second driver on Tuesday to join Sebastien Bourdais with the team in 2021. Conor Daly and US Air Force was announced to be returning to Ed Carpenter Racing for 2021 as well. More on both of these later.
Luckily though, the other rides are drying up enough for us to be able to put one big silly season post out now. The NASCAR Cup Series rides are pretty much done. The only thing left are the No. 38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, the No. 77 Chevrolet at Spire and whatever Rick Ware does with his cars.
Everything else is complete.
For the Xfinity Series, the only thing left now is the smaller teams and what they decide to do. The Truck Series is really down to ThorSport now with KBM now being filled.
For open wheel, F1 is now wrapped up with their driver lineup as you have Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton all but assured as well as Sergio Perez replacing Alex Albon now in the second Red Bull seat.
From there, the focus is onto the NTT IndyCar Series. Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen and Pietro Fittipaldi won’t be getting any of the F1 seats. Is INDYCAR in their cards? What about Antonio Felix da Costa?
They will have to vie for seats against Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Santino Ferrucci, Charlie Kimball, Oliver Askew, Spencer Pigot and others. But, what rides are they going for?
The open INDYCAR seats are with Andretti Autosport (No. 28 Honda, No. 88 Honda, No. 98 Honda), Dale Coyne Racing (No. 18 Honda, No. 19 Honda) and Carlin (No. 59 Chevrolet for ovals).
That’s six rides with 12 drivers hoping to land in them. But, realistically there’s only three seats open with Hunter-Reay all but assured to return to his seat at AA. So is Andretti in the No. 98 Honda. That takes two rides off that list immediately. Hinchcliffe, is said to be still in play for the No. 88 or No. 29 Honda. It’s going to take money as he’s the last missing piece for AA. I don’t think they’ll take anyone else other than Hinchcliffe now which by all accounts appears to be close to securing enough funding to run a full season. The only question next is, what will the number be? Harding/Steinbrenner needs a driver with funding but is it enough? Does Harding sit next season out while Steinbrenner already has plans to return to Indy Lights with an Andretti partnership down there again. They could just as easily hire Hinchcliffe for the 29 and close up shop on the 88.
It’s really down to Hinchcliffe for AA to finalize their plans.
At this point, it’s a very expensive game of musical chairs for the remaining seats. The ones with the deepest pockets will outlast everyone else with the constant noise of music allowing them to keep owners following them with chairs, or in this scenario, a cockpit.
Ferrucci’s status with DCR isn’t as good as it was last month as NASCAR appears to be his final destination with an Indy one off.
Coyne will obviously take a pay driver and Fittipaldi with help from Tony Kanaan would be a wise suitor. He ran select races for them a few years ago and makes a ton of sense as TK told me this past August at Indy that he’s interested in keeping a Brazilian pipeline to INDYCAR and if he could bring anyone through it would be Fittipaldi. Now that Fittipaldi was passed over for the two Haas F1 openings next year, a return to America would serve him well.
Would he pair with Ferrucci or is Ferrucci out and Fittipaldi takes over that ride and the team looks at Grosjean, Kimball or someone else? Grosjean may be reconsidering his INDYCAR plans now anyways too. Magnussen is signed on for the new Ganassi IMSA program, so he could just focus there.
The favorites here now are Fittipaldi and Kimball for Coyne.
Carlin will have Max Chilton back but needs an oval driver. Daly is the most sense to pair again. Then, does Felipe Nasr get the nod to try a second car again? Do they even bring a second car out/
That means basically most is accounted for in INDYCAR now.
NASCAR Silly Season Recap So Far
Plenty of rides swapped hands now. The top domino was what Hendrick Motorsports was going to do with the No. 48 Chevrolet. Now, we know.
Jimmie Johnson’s replacement is essentially Alex Bowman as he will shift from the 88 to the 48 and Bowman’s replacement now is Kyle Larson as they will change the 88 back to the 5.
Larson’s replacement at Chip Ganassi Racing is Ross Chastain. Chastain, joins Kurt Busch with that team. Christopher Bell leaves the closing Leavine Family Racing to unseat Erik Jones in the No. 20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones, moves to the seat left vacant by Bubba Wallace with Richard Petty Motorsports and will drive the famed No. 43 Chevrolet. Wallace, moves to the new team started up by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan and will drive a No. 23 entry for them – likely a Toyota.
Clint Bowyer joins Johnson on the sidelines as he’s retiring too while Chase Briscoe moves up as his replacement.
Daniel Suarez leaves the Gaunt Brothers to join Trackhouse Entertainment Group with an alliance from Richard Petty Motorsports.
Matt DiBenedetto knows he’s back with the Wood Brothers but only for a year because Austin Cindric will drive the No. 21 Ford in 2022. Brad Keselowski is back with Team Penske but also only for 2021 so far. It’s likely either he or DiBenedetto for the No. 2 Ford in 2022.
That pretty well takes care of the big teams. So, what’s left?
JTG Daugherty Racing looks to be sticking with Ryan Preece. Ty Dillon is still looking for work but everything else appears to be drying up.
John Hunter Nemechek announced last week that he’d leaving Front Row Motorsports and has already secured something else which ended up being with Kyle Busch Motorsports. That leaves the No. 38 Ford open.
A few Friday’s ago, Go Fas Racing’s charter was purchased and turned into Live Fast Racing. BJ McLeod will drive the newly branded No. 78 Ford. Then you have LaJoie to Spire.
The only thing left other than that is the one seat at Spire and what Premium Motorsports/Rick Ware Racing does. One of those seats will be announced on Wednesday.
We did see three teams close up shop in Germain Racing, Leavine Family Racing and Go Fas Racing but new teams added in Trackhouse Racing team taking over for Germain essentially with taking their RCR alliance, 23XI taking over LFR’s Toyota alliance and now Live Fast Racing taking Go Fas’ SHR alliance.
Front Row Motorsports – No. 38 Ford
Spire – No. 77 Chevrolet
Premium Motorsports – No. 15 Chevrolet
Free Agents (Notable Drivers From Feeder Series’)
Hendrick Motorsports (4) – Chase Elliott is back through the 2022 season. William Byron and Alex Bowman each reached new deals with Byron through 2022 and Bowman through next season. Kyle Larson becomes the fourth driver.
Chip Ganassi Racing (2) – Kurt Busch is back in part of his multi-year deal with a new teammate in Ross Chastain.
JTG Daugherty Racing (2) – Both drivers (Ricky Stenhouse Jr./Ryan Preece) are back in 2021.
Richard Childress Racing (2) – Tyler Reddick has already indicated that he’ll be back in 2021 with Austin Dillon as the teammate. There’s no reason to expand to a third car with their alliance with Trackhouse Entertainment Group and RPM still.
Spire (2) – The 77 will be back but they also purchased the assets to Leavine Family Racing too. LaJoie is in the newly branded the No. 7 Chevrolet entry with the 77 car to be announced soon.
Richard Petty Motorsports (1) – Erik Jones will drive this car in a new multi year deal.
Trackhouse Entertainment Group (1) – Daniel Suarez is the driver of the No. 99 Chevrolet.
StarCom Racing (1) – Quin Houff signed a two-year deal and will be back in 2021.
Premium Motorsports (1) – Ride is open.
Stewart-Haas Racing (4) – Three of their four drivers are back. Kevin Harvick has a deal through 2023, Aric Almirola has a one year extension while Cole Custer is back and I don’t see him leaving soon with who his dad is and his role with that team. Briscoe was announced as their driver in the 14.
Team Penske (3) – All three drivers are back in 2021. Logano and Blaney have multi year deals with Keselowski reportedly working on a one year extension.
Roush Fenway Racing (2) – Both Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher are expected back.
Front Row Motorsports (2) – Michael McDowell is back with John Hunter Nemechek shockingly announcing that he’s leaving the team.
Wood Brothers (1) – Matt DiBenedetto is back for 2021 before moving way to Austin Cindric for 2022.
Live Fast Motorsports (1) – BJ McLeod will drive the car for this new team. They’ll keep the alliance with SHR that Go Fas Racing did.
Joe Gibbs Racing (4) – Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are all back for 2021. Christopher Bell slides in to replace Erik Jones in the No. 20 Toyota.
Gaunt Brothers (1) – Ride is open
Leavine Family Racing
There’s been a lot of movement here lately. Ryan Sieg will be back in the No. 39 Chevrolet. Same for family teams of Jeremy Clements (No. 51 Chevrolet) and Brandon Brown (No. 68 Chevrolet). Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Noah Gragson have all signed extensions to remain with JR Motorsports full time. The No. 8 Chevrolet, the “all star car” will have Sam Mayer for 18 races, Josh Berry for 12 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one. That leaves two races available for the taking.
Daniel Hemric shifts from JRM to the No. 18 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing. He will replace Riley Herbst who by all accounts appears to be heading to Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Chase Briscoe. Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones will be back with JGR for a three car full time line up.
SHR will stay with one car for Herbst.
Austin Cindric is back with Team Penske on this level for one more year. Brett Moffitt will move up to Our Motorsports’ No. 02 Chevrolet full time.
Kaulig Racing announced that Justin Haley will be back in the No. 11 Chevrolet while Jeb Burton will replace Chastain in the No. 10 Chevrolet. AJ Allmendinger will make this a three car full time effort in the No. 16 Chevrolet.
Myatt Snider will drive the return of the full time car for RCR. It will be the No. 2 Chevrolet.
There’s plenty of other smaller teams like JD Motorsports and others still working out their 2021 plans.
Hattori Racing Enterprises is expecting to be back with Austin Hill in limited capacities in their No. 61 Toyota.
Notable Full Time Teams
Team Penske – Austin Cindric (No. 22 Chevrolet)
Stewart-Haas Racing – Riley Herbst (No. 98 Ford)
Joe Gibbs Racing – Daniel Hemric (No. 18 Toyota), Brandon Jones (No. 19 Toyota), Harrison Burton (No. 20 Toyota)
JR Motorsports – Michael Annett (No. 1 Chevrolet), Justin Allgaier No. 7 Chevrolet), Noah Gragson (No. 9 Chevrolet)
Kaulig Racing – Jeb Burton (No. 10 Chevrolet), Justin Haley (No. 11 Chevrolet), AJ Allmendinger (No. 16 Chevrolet
Richard Childress Racing – Myatt Snider (No. 2 Chevrolet)
Our Motorsports – Brett Moffitt (No. 02 Chevrolet)
RSS – Ryan Sieg (No. 39 Chevrolet)
Brandonbilt – Brandon Brown (No. 68 Chevrolet)
Jeremy Clements Racing – Jeremy Clements (No. 51 Chevrolet)
Martins Motorsport – Tommy Joe Martins (No. 44 Chevrolet)
DGM Racing – Josh Williams (No. 92 Chevrolet)
This series has seen a lot of seats get taken lately. We know Austin Hill is back with HRE for a third season. GMS will have Sheldon Creed, Tyler Ankrum and Zane Smith back with Chase Purdy moving up to replace the departing Moffitt. They also added Raphael Lessard for 12 races on a part time gig for now. John Hunter Nemechek will replace Lessard with KBM in the No. 4 Ford while Chandler Smith will move into Christian Eckes’ seat.
DGR Crosley will see Hailie Deegan take over one of their trucks. Niece will see Carson Hocevar drive the No. 40 Chevrolet, Ryan Truex in one and Brett Moffitt in the the No. 45 Chevrolet. Young’s Motorsports announced that Spencer Boyd will return to the No. 20 Chevrolet in 2021 too.
But, the rest remains open.
ThorSport had Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger in 2020. I can see at least 75-percent of them coming back in 2021.
DGR/Front Row would likely bring Todd Gilliland back themselves in the other truck and Tanner Gray could be a strong play to remain a Ford development driver with the second truck or him moving to ThorSport. He had a solid rookie season and I don’t see Ford giving up on him. He and Deegan are their future they feel.
Stewart Friesen should be back full time in the No. 52 Toyota but nothing has been announced. Kyle Busch Motorsports has one ride open now. Does Christian Eckes get it or do they find room for Chandler Smith? I don’t see KBM expanding to three full time trucks and I don’t see Smith leaving either.
Derek Kraus should be back in his No. 19 Toyota too.
ThorSport and KBM hold the keys to this domino in the Truck Series.
INDYCAR Silly Season Recap So Far
Dalton Kellett is now signed to drive the No. 4 Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing in 2021. He joins Sebastien Bourdais with the team. Conor Daly will be back with ECR for a second go around. Before we find out what’s left, let’s go through what’s already been done.
Team Penske will expand to four full time cars with Scott McLaughlin joining Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud with the team.
Chip Ganassi Racing expands to a fourth car with the shared Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan entry. Marcus Ericsson is back. As is defending champion Scott Dixon. While Felix Rosenqvist departs to Arrow McLaren SP, Alex Palou replaces him in the No. 10 Honda.
Rosenqvist, in turns joins Pato O’Ward with Arrow McLaren SP as Oliver Askew wasn’t retained.
Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato are back with RLL. Meyer Shank Racing will expand to a second car for six races and have Helio Castroneves in it.
Rinus VeeKay will be back with ECR too.
Colton Herta shifts from the 88 to the 26 with AA having three seats open still.
Team Penske (4) – Josef Newgarden (No. 2), Scott McLaughlin (No. 3), Will Power No. 12), Simon Pagenaud (No. 22)
Arrow McLaren SP (2) – Pato O’Ward (No. 5), Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7)
Ed Carpenter Racing (2) – Ed Carpenter ovals only, Conor Daly road coures only (No. 20), Rinus VeeKay (No. 21), Daly in the 3rd Indy 500 car
AJ Foyt Racing (2) – Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14), Dalton Kellett (No. 4)
Carlin (1) – Max Chilton road/street courses only (No. 59) the oval seat is open
Andretti Autosport (5) – Colton Herta (No. 26), Alexander Rossi (No. 27), No. 28 (open), No. 88 (open) No. 98 (open)
Chip Ganassi Racing (4) – Marcus Ericsson (No. 8), Scott Dixon (No. 9), Alex Palou (No. 10), Jimmie Johnson road/street courses only, Tony Kanaan ovals only (No. 48)
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (2) – Graham Rahal (No. 15), Takuma Sato (No. 30)
Dale Coyne Racing (2) – No. 18 (open), No. 19 (open)
Meyer Shank Racing (2) Jack Harvey (No. 60), Helio Castroneves – PT (No. 06 Honda)
Part Time (4)
No. 29 Honda – Andretti Autosport
No. 24 Chevrolet – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
RLL (3rd car)
AJ Foyt Racing (3rd car)
One could have wondered what the future held of Indy Lights this past summer. The top step of the Road to Indy platform saw their 2020 season scrapped due to the pandemic. The other two steps of the ladder below them in the USF 2000 and Indy Pro 2000 categories each raced this year though.
So, with no Indy Lights and a dwindling car count, what was their future?
Roger Penske had made it a goal to improve the series. While the racing series was well run and had some of the best competition of each race weekend, they just struggled to gain any traction in recruiting new teams. That was the biggest reason to why they were shelved this past year.
There was likely going to be no more than 10 full time cars for the season with a more realistic number being 7-8. How many of those cars would have actually shown up to race during COVID?
So, everyone thought it was best to just sit this past season out and plan for a larger turn out in 2021.
By all accounts, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Kyle Kirkwood will be back with Andretti Autosport next season. The youngster was supposed to race for them in 2020 but with a pandemic and the series stopping racing, he had to look for other work. But, the two sides made it viable to return with a deal for next season.
Kirkwood, has 21 wins, 24 podiums and 11 poles in two years in the RTI program. He won the championship in both USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 on his way to an Indy Lights ride for this past year. That will transfer over to 2021 now. He will join Danial Frost and Devlin DeFrancesco with the organization in 2021. That’s three cars.
Also, HMD Motorsports has partnered with Global Racing Group to go from two cars to four for 2021. The week prior to Christmas, they announced that Benjamin Pedersen will drive one entry. No other drivers were announced yet, but they’ll operate out of the Brownsburg shop of HMD.
Then you get Carlin coming back with a two car venture and that’s nine cars already. Alex Peroni will be one of the two drivers.
Yes, Belardi won’t be on the grid in 2021, but all signs are teams are interested in their fleet.
Then, you have what Juncos or Exclusive Autosport do as well plus what Sting Ray Robb and Rasmus Lindh do with their scholarships to the series for 2021 either. I’m also hearing some more new teams could be coming to the mix to push this full time field north of 10 and well into the double digit category.
Penske, wants to make this a viable series for other NTT IndyCar Series owners to start programs in. He’s on his way to eventually making this happen for potentially 2022.
They’ve got 20 races among 10 race weekend’s on tap for next season beginning with the season opener on the streets of St. Pete on March 6 and 7. They’ll do a doubleheader on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next on May 14/15.
For the first time since 2012, the series will return to The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Mich., for a double-header round, and will cap off the year with a West Coast swing at Portland International Raceway in Portland, Ore., and the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., the following weekend.
Indy Lights will return to NBC Sports Gold with all races airing live and on demand in the U.S. Internationally, all practice, qualifying and race events will be live streamed on the Road to Indy TV App and at RoadToIndy.TV and indylights.com, as well as dedicated broadcast channels on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One. Additional coverage of all on-track sessions can also be found on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network.
Next season will see an increased champion’s scholarship award to $1,289,425 for entry into at least three NTT INDYCAR SERIES events for 2022 including the Indianapolis 500, and the addition of an Indy car test at the conclusion of the season for each of the top-three finishers in the championship.
The Cooper tire-shod Dallara IL-15 with a 450-horsepower AER powerplant will see the addition of a Dallara-designed and installed Titanium Halo in 2021 for increased safety. The package has produced incredible competition with a strong parity across the board showcasing racecraft. With similarities to an Indy car, the equipment package provides the appropriate training for drivers to take the next step including a six-speed, paddle-shift transmission, a 50-horsepower “push-to-pass” feature, “drive-by-wire” throttle control and advanced engine management electronics.
INDYCAR sees how beneficial the series is too. Since the start of the system in 2010, 37 Indy Lights drivers have made at least one INDYCAR start. An astounding 23 of the 33 drivers in this past year’s Indy 500 was an Indy Light graduate including eight of those 23 being past Lights champions.
“From top to bottom, the entire team recognizes the role and commitment Indy Lights has played in bringing new talent to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES,” said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment said last month. “We are firmly committed to ensuring its continued success.”
Most of this driver lineup is intact. Alfa Romeo will roll out with the same two drivers (Kimi Raikkonen/Antonio Giovinazzi). Same with Williams with Nicholas Latifi and George Russell. Mercedes may be the only other team that has the same driver lineup as 2020 with Valtteri Bottas already back and a good chance of Lewis Hamilton returning.
But, there’s plenty of other changes though.
Esteban Ocon returns to Renault again but with a new teammate. Daniel Ricciardo departs to drive at McLaren with Lando Norris as the Aussie replaces the departing Carlos Sainz Jr. In return, Sainz is going to Ferrari to take over the seat left by Sebastian Vettel. The German driver will go to the Aston Martin BWT team to replace Sergio Perez.
Perez is a free agent still as taking over the open ride at Renault to team with Ocon is Fernando Alonso.
The Haas F1 Team will have two new drivers with Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher taking over the cars that were driven by Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen in 2020.
Yuki Tsunoda is the most recent signing as he will replace Daniil Kvyat at Scuderia Alpha Tauri.
The only other ride open is at Red Bull. It’s either going to be Alex Albon or Perez.
Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda – 10 Pierre Gasly, 22 Yuki Tsunoda R
Red Bull Racing Honda – 33 Max Verstappen, TBA
Alpine F1 Team Renault – 14 Fernando Alonso, 31 Esteban Ocon
Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari – 7 Kimi Raikkonen, 99 Antonio Giovinazzi
Haas F1 Team – 9 Nikita Mazepin R, 47 Mick Schumacher R
Scuderia Ferrari – 16 Charles LeClerc, 55 Carlos Sainz Jr.
Aston Martin Mercedes – 5 Sebastian Vettel, 18 Lance Stroll
Mercedes – AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team – 77 Valtteri Bottas, TBA
McLaren F1 Team Mercedes – 3 Daniel Ricciardo, 4 Lando Norris
Williams Racing Mercedes – 6 Nicholas Latifi, 63 George Russell