INDIANAPOLIS — 2020 is now behind us. It’s time to look forward to what will certainly see another wild year in racing for 2021. The pandemic is still here but there’s light at the end of this tunnel. While saying that, the 2021 season won’t be back to normal yet like it was in 2019. But, plans are in place and have proven to work on how to safely get races going without a long stoppage like we saw last spring.
Will there be some shuffling around in terms of scheduling still? Absolutely. It’s already happening. But, in terms of driver lineups, those are about done.
We’ve had a wild offseason thus far with several moves made between November and mid December. But, what’s left?
As we sit here today, F1 is done. The NTT IndyCar Series has just Carlin (1-2 cars), Andretti Autosport (2-3 cars), Steinbrenner/Harding (1 car) and Dale Coyne Racing (2 cars) left.
The NASCAR Cup Series has Rick Ware’s four car fleet, Spire’s second entry (No. 77 Chevrolet) and Gaunt Brothers’ No. 96 Toyota open.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series is pretty much done with championship caliber seats while the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has just really the Ford camp left with what DGR Crosley does with their second seat and if ThorSport makes any unexpected changes to their four driver lineup.
Other than that, the rest is done. Here’s what happened.
NASCAR Silly Season Recap So Far
Plenty of rides swapped hands. The top domino in free agency last year was what Hendrick Motorsports was going to do with the No. 48 Chevrolet. 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 Childress Racing.
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 Corey LaJoie to Spire in the No. 7 Chevrolet entry.
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 for the No. 37 Chevrolet but hasn’t yet secured a charter for that ride as they lost it to Spire’s second entry. The only way they can get another one is if they get one from Rick Ware.
Ty Dillon is still looking for work but everything else appears to be drying up.
The only thing left other than that is the one seat at Spire, what Rick Ware does with his four seats and the Gaunt Brothers’ plans.
For now, the 36 charters cars have five seats left to be filled and four are with one team.
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. There’s also rumors of a couple of new teams, one with Floyd Mayweather and another from NY Racing. Neither of those would have a charter though. More on this below.
Rides Open (All Have Charters minus Gaunt Brothers)
Spire – No. 77 Chevrolet
Petty Ware Racing – No. 51 Ford
Rick Ware Racing – No. 15, No. 52, No. 53 Fords
Gaunt Brothers Racing – No. 96 Toyota
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.
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 and Anthony Alfredo will race full time for them in 2021.
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.
23XI (1) – Bubba Wallace
Leavine Family Racing
With all this said, what is the Daytona 500 looking like? We know we have 36 charter cars that will be guaranteed to make the field for the Feb. 14 race. But, what about the open cars?
David Ragan will be in the No. 36 Ford for FRM for a second straight year. Preece in the 37 is another open car barring them finding a Charter for it. Chad Finchum and Timmy Hill appear to be back in the MBM entries. Beard Motorsports appears to be coming back but with Brendan Gaughan retiring, the rumor is Noah Gragson may get a seat in the ‘500 in this No. 62 Chevrolet. Ryan Ellis could be in play for the No. 32 Ford for Go Fas should they intend to race in the ‘500, which I’d assume they will. Kaulig Racing announced that they’ll field a car as well for the ‘500.
That gets us to seven open cars to take us to 43 entries again. I don’t think it stops there though. Penske could bring out a fourth car for Austin Cindric for the ‘500. We know they’re going to do so for select races already and the Daytona 500 would be a great start. You also have the NY Racing team that is rumored to have an interest in a Daytona 500 and possibly a full season program. Then you have the Gaunt Brothers’ No. 96 Toyota. I haven’t heard of them closing down.
That’s four more open cars to get us up to 10 to carry us to 46 cars for the Daytona 500. There’s then rumors about a few more teams that could show up too.
There’s been a lot of movement here lately. Ryan Sieg will be back in the No. 39 Ford as they’ll swap from Chevrolet’s this year now. Same for family teams of Jeremy Clements (No. 51 Chevrolet) and Brandon Brown (No. 68 Chevrolet) just they’re back with their teams as well as the bowties. 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. They will have a second car that will see Tyler Reddick drive it at Daytona and other drivers in select races after.
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.
Hattori Racing Enterprises is expecting to be back with Austin Hill in limited capacities in their No. 61 Toyota.
Some of the smaller teams have even set their lineups as noted below too.
Notable Full Time Teams
Team Penske – Austin Cindric (No. 22 Chevrolet)
Stewart-Haas Racing – Riley Herbst (No. 98 Ford)
RSS – Ryan Sieg (No. 39 Chevrolet)
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)
JD Motorsports – Jeffrey Earnhardt (No. 0 Chevrolet), Colby Howard (No. 15 Chevrolet)
SS Green Light – Joe Graf Jr. (No. 08 Chevrolet)
BJ McLeod Motorsports – Matt Mills (No. 5 Chevrolet), Jesse Little (No. 78 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)
Derek Kraus is coming back to the No. 19 Toyota. Todd Gilliland is back in the No. 38 Ford. What else has happened?
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 what was initially 12 races and now is a full time basis. 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 will likely see Tanner Gray remain in the No. 15 Ford and team with Deegan. His family is a part owner of the team now.
Toyota (4 full time)
KBM will feature two new drivers with John Hunter Nemechek (No. 4 Toyota) and Chandler Smith (No. 18 Toyota). HRE will have Austin Hill in the No. 16 Toyota with Stewart Friesen in the No. 52 Toyota too.
Ford (6 full time)
The Ford camp will have Hailie Deegan in the No. 17 Ford for DGR-Crosley and Todd Gilliland back in the No. 38 Ford for Front Row. The DGR team has an opening in their No. 15 Ford right now which will likely go to Tanner Gray being back in that ride yet again for a second season.
ThorSport has their four Truck camp open but all signs point to all four drivers returning.
Chevrolet (10 full time)
GMS will have defending series champion Sheldon Creed (No. 2 Chevrolet) to go with Zane Smith (No. 21 Chevrolet), Chase Purdy (No. 23 Chevrolet) and Tyler Ankrum (No. 26 Chevrolet). Raphael Lessard comes over via KBM to drive the No. 24 Chevrolet for as of now 12 races.
Niece Motorsports will have Ryan Truex (No. 40 Chevrolet), Carson Hocevar (No. 42 Chevrolet) and Brett Moffitt (No. 45 Chevrolet) as their drivers.
Spencer Boyd returns to Young’s Motorsports’ No. 20 Chevrolet.
Austin Wayne Self will be in the No. 22 Chevrolet with Tim Veins in the No. 49 Chevy too.
NDYCAR 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.
Andretti Autosport will likely have Ryan Hunter-Reay back in the 28 Honda and Marco Andretti back in the No. 98 Honda. Then, what do they do about the No. 88 Honda? They need a paying driver with substantial amount of money to drive it. James Hinchcliffe is strongly rumored to be racing there full time but is it in a fifth AA car or is it with this AA/Harding/Steinbrenner partnership?
Coyne was supposed to have Santino Ferrucci back but he left for NASCAR. Pietro Fittipaldi is the favorite to be replacing him now. Charlie Kimball is the other rumored favorite to team with Fittipaldi. But, some F1 castoffs have been mentioned as well. The top two drivers with money will end up there.
Carlin is left for their oval only seat which by all accounts appears to be likely heading toward Daly again. Kimball is in play for their second seat should they bring it out or at the very minimum the oval seat with Chilton if Daly doesn’t return to their oval only program on the No. 59 Chevrolet.
The rest is done.
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.
Carlin announced a two car outfit for Indy Lights in 2021. Former FIA F3 driver Alex Peroni will drive one car with the other working in conjunction with former Indy car driver and Indy Lights champion Jay Howard. The Carlin team will also serve as the top rung of Jay Howard’s Driver Development (JHDD) and will be based out of Carlin’s US base in Delray Beach, Florida and run alongside the team’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES operation.
Before Christmas, Andretti Autosport announced that Robert Megennis will return to his No. 27 Dallara in 2021, completing the team’s four-car lineup.
The New York-native is a veteran of Indy Lights and the Road to Indy getting behind the wheel of a USF2000 car for the first time in 2016. In the 2019 Indy Lights season, the 20-year-old scored his first win on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and sat on the pole position for the Freedom 100. Within his rookie Indy Lights campaign, Megennis captured two pole positions, six podiums and finished fifth in the points championship.
Megennis completes Andretti’s 2021 Indy Lights roster, joining rookie teammates Devlin DeFrancesco [No. 17 Dallara], Kyle Kirkwood [No. 28 Dallara] and Danial Frost [No. 68 Dallara].
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.
So where does the car count sit now? That’s six between Andretti and Carlin.
HMD Motorsports has also partnered with Global Racing Group to go from two cars to four for 2021. They announced that Benjamin Pedersen will drive one entry and David Malukas in the other. No other drivers were announced yet and will be after the new year, but we do know that they’ll operate out of the Brownsburg shop of HMD.
That’s 10 full time cars already.
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.
That’s at least 12 with Robb and Lindh having money to find teams if they’re outside of HMD/GRG.
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 drivers are in place from 2020 to 2021. But, a lot have changed teams though. 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 after that.
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.
Fernando Alonso will replace Ricciardo at Renault and team with Esteban Ocon.
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 and Sergio Perez are the most recent signings as Tsunoda will replace Daniil Kvyat at Scuderia Alpha Tauri and Perez stepping in for Alex Albon at Red Bull.
Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda – 10 Pierre Gasly, 22 Yuki Tsunoda R
Red Bull Racing Honda – 11 Sergio Perez, 33 Max Verstappen
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