Strong Indy 500 field already shaping up already, details on who’s signed where and what could be to come down the road

INDIANAPOLIS — Just nine days ago, Juan Pablo Montoya signed on to drive for Arrow McLaren SP’s third Indianapolis 500 entry for 2021. It marks his first return to Indy since 2017. He’s won two of his five ‘500 starts. He’s had a top six finish in all but one of them at that.

The news of Montoya returning came a few weeks after the news came out that Helio Castroneves would also be back. He’ll be joining a second car for Meyer Shank Racing.

Then, you get the news this week that Dalton Kellett (AJ Foyt Racing) and Conor Daly (Ed Carpenter Racing) have signed deals for next year with Kellett piloting Daly’s old car at Foyt, the No. 4 Chevrolet) and Daly splitting the seat in the No. 20 Chevrolet at ECR with boss Ed Carpenter as well as driving a third entry for the ‘500.

That starts to play out in your head and you get to wondering, how is next year’s Indy 500 field shaping up now? So far, it looks very strong. Lets take a look.

You also have Tony Kanaan racing for Chip Ganassi Racing again as his last start with them also came back in 2017. That was also the final full time INDYCAR season for Montoya and Castroneves and the year that Daly drove that No. 4 entry for Foyt too.

The winner that year?

Takuma Sato.

He’s the defending champion of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and he will be back with Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing again as well. He highlights a list of eight former winners already confirmed in joining Montoya (2000, 2015), Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009), Kanaan (2013), Scott Dixon (2008), Alexander Rossi (2016), Will Power (2018) and Simon Pagenaud (2019). That doesn’t even count 2014 Indy 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. He will make this nine when the news becomes official that he’ll be returning to Andretti Autosport next season.

That’s a stout list of drivers.

Every Indy 500 winner since 2013 is here again. There’s 12 Indy 500 wins already on the entry list and 13 when Hunter-Reay is confirmed. Its been years since we’ve had this kind of star power.

Then, you get names like Andretti and Rahal with a strong possibility of a Fittipaldi too. You have Indiana heros like Ed Carpenter and Conor Daly back as teammates. World renowned and former series champion Sebastien Bourdais as well as another world renowned racing driver Scott McLaughlin. Throw in some young guns and the future of the sport in Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta,  Pato O’Ward, Rinus VeeKay and Alex Palou and you get a solid crop of drivers that haven’t won yet that will be on the entry list.

I didn’t even mention James Hinchcliffe who’s close to having a deal put together to remain at Andretti.

That’s just 23 drivers named there. There’s still 11 spots open. Does Jimmie Johnson scratch the itch and run this year?

So, where are we at right now?

We have 23 confirmed drivers overall. That can easily rise to 25-27 depending on when Andretti and Coyne make their announcements. But, for the sake of who’s actually confirmed, here’s the list –

Chevrolet (13)

Team Penske (4) – Josef Newgarden (No. 2), Scott McLaughlin (No. 3), Will Power No. 12), Simon Pagenaud (No. 22)

Arrow McLaren SP (3) – Pato O’Ward (No. 5), Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7), Juan Pablo Montoya (Number TBA)

Ed Carpenter Racing (3) – Ed Carpenter (No. 20), Rinus VeeKay (No. 21), Conor Daly (Number TBA)

AJ Foyt Racing (2) – Dalton Kellett (No. 4), Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14)

Carlin (1) – Max Chilton (No. 59)

Honda (10) 

Andretti Autosport (2) – Colton Herta (No. 26), Alexander Rossi (No. 27)

Chip Ganassi Racing (4) – Marcus Ericsson (No. 8), Scott Dixon (No. 9), Alex Palou (No. 10), Tony Kanaan (No. 48)

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (2) – Graham Rahal (No. 15), Takuma Sato (No. 30)

Meyer Shank Racing (2) Jack Harvey (No. 60), Helio Castroneves – PT (No. 06 Honda)

You also have rides that will be confirmed soon. Word is Hunter-Reay and Andretti are more than likely returning to the two seats at Andretti. Fittipaldi is the favorite to take one of the two seats at DCR. If Santino Ferrucci doesn’t come back, then he will take that car. If Ferrucci is back, you’d get Ferrucci-Fittipaldi tandem for them. Charlie Kimball has been mentioned a lot of taking the second seat if Ferrucci really does depart the team after two years.

Honda (4)

Dale Coyne Racing (2) – No. 18 and No. 19 Honda’s

Andretti Autosport (2) – No. 28 and No. 98 Honda’s

That pushes us to 27 cars already. That leaves six spots left to fill the field. Who goes to them? I think we get to six pretty easily here. I’ll explain.

James Hinchcliffe is close to securing a deal to race full time at Andretti. Only thing is, is it in the 29 car or the 88? If the 29, can someone else bring enough money to race for Harding/Steinbrenner? If not, I do expect the 88 car to run at Indy at the very least. A guy like Oliver Askew would make a ton of sense to drive this car if so. So would Carlos Munoz or even a Gabby Chaves again. What about Sage Karam? He’s make sense. Drivers can get money for this race as a one off which keeps this car on the track for at the very least the Indy 500.

Then you get the third entry for Foyt and Rahal. Here’s what Larry Foyt said on the prospects for a third car this past Monday.

“I’m sure we’ll see, we typically run three cars at Indy,” Foyt said. “We’ll see if that comes about. But really wanted to focus on the two (full time) cars for 2021.”

He also said this during the announcement that Bourdais would be back too.

“Our goal is to grow,” Foyt said when announcing Sebastien Bourdais’ signing. So, I’d expect a third Foyt car at Indy. They’ve done so in five of the past six years.

Same for RLL. They’ve brought an “Indy Only” entry the last 11 years straight that they’ve been coming here. They’ve ran three cars the last three years, so why not a fourth? Oriol Servia drove it in 2018, Jordan King in 2019 and Spencer Pigot in 2020.

Here’s what Bobby Rahal said this past Fall about adding a third car full time.

“I think we’d like to run a third car, but it really has to make sense,” Rahal said. “It really has to be someone who can contribute to the team. I’m not interested in running a third car just to say we’ve got a third car. We’ve kind of done that before. A lot of teams have done that. That second or third car doesn’t really contribute. It really becomes a drag on a team. We don’t want that. We work too hard to kind of create the situation that exists today.

“I think with our organization we still can be better, for sure. None of us in the team thinks we’re as good as we can be, so we’re going to continue to push, continue to try to bring good people in, build the foundation and the depth of the team from a mechanical standpoint, an engineering standpoint, you name it.

“First things first. Fortunately Graham’s sponsors are with us for several more years, so that’s a big plus for a team. As I say, I think Takuma wants to continue with us, we certainly want him to. That’s going to allow us to kind of see what’s out there. Again, it has to be contributory to the success of the team in the future. It can’t just be, as I say, running a car for the sake of running a car.”

I think both get done which adds six cars easily. Then, you get Dreyer & Reinbold Racing who should be back. They’re actually trying to add more races at that. Sage Karam doesn’t seem to be factoring for any of the open seats, so a sixth straight year with them at Indy makes the most sense. JR Hildebrand has drove the second car the last three years. Why not another try?

That gets us to 33 entries for Indy.

Additional Entries (6)

No. 29 Honda – Andretti Autosport

No. 88 Honda – Andretti/Harding/Steinbrenner Autosport

No. 41 Chevrolet – AJ Foyt Racing

No. 24 Chevrolet – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

No. 67 Chevrolet – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

RLL (3rd car)

So, what about bumping? Does Carlin come back with a second car again? They have one but didn’t use it last year due to the pandemic. Does Coyne bring out a third car? They’ve done so for eight straight years, why not a ninth?

What about Juncos or Rick Ware Racing? They each own cars. Does Citrone Buhl Autosport come back? Top Gun Racing? Do these teams pair up with Foyt or RLL or Coyne or run on their own?

Does Byrd Racing come back and partner with someone? We know Belardi is out, but can Byrd find a suitor to partner with?

These smaller team and their decisions are going to affect how many cars show up in May. That’s seven teams. Even with Foyt and RLL from above join with two of them, that’s still five left to add to the car count. I think you can safely say half of that five could return meaning we’d have at least 35 entries but possibility of upwards of 36-38 too.

That’s a strong field if you ask me.

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