NCAA has Final 4 set, Indy 500 has its own Final 4 in terms of entries left, how many spots get filled?

INDIANAPOLIS — By this time next week, the NCAA Tournament will be ready for completion. Next Monday night, under the ambiance of “One Shining Moment” players from one of the four remaining schools (Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Villanova) who stamped their names into the Final Four this past weekend, will be cutting down the nets in New Orleans.

While most of the talk this week is surrounding the Final Four in a collegiate sense, my brain keeps drifting off to the Month of May and a different, more unique Final Four at the taking.

We sit here today, two months out from race day, and as of now we still don’t have a full field in terms of entries for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). We have 33 spots available with 32 car and driver combos entered. With 36 engines for the taking, we’re essentially down to our own Final Four in terms of NTT INDYCAR Series competition.

How many of the 4 left get used? Where do the other four teams come from and do we need to be concerned that they’re not been spoken for yet?

At this point last year, we had 31 entries confirmed, so we’re actually a little ahead as of now than we were at this time in 2021. It wasn’t until April 5 that the third Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing entry that would be driven by Santino Ferrucci was announced. That was entry No. 32.

That though is where the entry list went into overdrive.

Three days later, AJ Foyt Racing unveiled their plans for a fourth car that would be driven by JR Hildebrand. That filled the field of 33 on April 8.

11 days later, Dreyer & Reinbold formally announced their Indy only entry for Sage Karam. That was No. 34. Then, Andretti Autosport and Cusick announced their plans for entry No. 35 with Stefan Wilson on May 4.

There was 35 cars on the entry list before Top Gun showed up to make No. 36.

What I’m basically saying is, there’s time. No need to panic at this moment. The engines and cars are out there. However, the time is also numbered though.

There are 4 engines and 4 cars already made and ready to be used, but from what it sounds like now, it’s hard to get those 4 cars out of storage.

Here’s what I mean by that.

Dallara has 36 cars ready. Honda has 18 engines. Chevrolet has 18 engines. That matches the 36 cars. The reason for this number is that’s what was available last year and up until a few weeks ago, everyone was planning for the new engine package to come out in 2023. That’s now been pushed back a year.

So, with that being said, why produce more engines when they’d all change soon? That’s why 36 was the magic number and will be so for this May and next May now.

Out of the 32 on the entry list as of the end of March, you have Penske and AJ Foyt Racing all down an entry for the Chevy side. But, DRR added a car and Juncos Hollinger Racing is back. That makes it basically a wash in the bow tie camp.

4 of the 5 years that Foyt showed up with 4 cars, 1 of them didn’t make it including Charlie Kimball (pictured) last year. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Foyt isn’t likely to expand back to a fourth. They ran 4 cars in 1985 (1 didn’t make it), 1987, 1996 (1 didn’t make it), 2000 (1 didn’t make it) and last year (1 didn’t make it). In the 5 years of showing up to Indy with 4 cars, 4 of them 1 of the 4 didn’t make it. So, why stretch yourself thin?

The thing is, Top Gun, Carlin and Paretta are in danger of not coming back too.

Top Gun lost their chassis to RC Enerson who’s family owns that tub. The Enerson’s don’t necessarily have the budget to use it though. Top Gun would like to run again, but don’t necessarily have the funding to buy it off the Enerson’s.

Carlin sold their equipment to JHR but it doesn’t sound like JHR has the resources still to run a second car and with a rookie driver, they feel like they may need it for spare parts. See, they showed up in 2019 and saw Kyle Kaiser suffer a practice crash during the week. They exhausted all efforts to get a car ready for him to qualify for which he miraculously did that year. Do they want to go through that again when they can have a car sitting there available?

Then the case of Paretta, it sounds like they’re close but don’t necessarily have enough funding or pieces in place to snag a car/engine package. They ran Juncos’ car last May but with Juncos coming back to INDYCAR in the Fall and now full time this season, they needed that car back.

Penske was high on Paretta making the show last May and I question on if he’d truly throw them to the curb this soon. That’s why they could potentially be in play for that Honda engine to fill the field.

What about Honda? They have 17 of their 18 engines allocated. Andretti Autosport is down from 6 cars to 5, but Chip Ganassi Racing is up from 4 cars to 5. That’s a wash. RLL and Meyer Shank Racing are each back with the same amount of entries. The only one left is what Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing does. They had three cars last year. Ed Jones in the 18 and Pietro Fittipaldi in the 51. The 52 car was supposed to go to Cody Ware but they withdrew it for Indy but ran it on special occasions (4 races) elsewhere. The question now is, do they even own that chassis and engine anymore and if so, will they use it?

Jones was replaced by rookie David Malukas while two-time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato is in the 51. The 52 is the missing piece to the Honda puzzle. Do they use it, or do they lease it out? Do they even own it?

We know Ganassi, RLL and MSR is set. The only expansion if DCR/RWR don’t use it would be Andretti.

DCR ran three cars at Indy in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020 before scaling back to two in 2021. They did attempt four cars in 2018 but one of them (Pippa Mann) didn’t make the field. So, just running two cars once in the last 7 years make it viable for them to run a third if they choose.

Andretti ran six cars last year so could in theory do so again. They’ve actually ran 6 cars here in 3 of the last 6 years (2017, 2018, 2021). They ran 5 cars in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020.

Cusick partnered with them last year and they say they have a budget ready to run by themselves this year. The thing is, time has ran out so they’ve been exploring a partnership. Is this the most viable one in the paddock right now?

Vasser Sullivan was wanting to show up in May as a partner. Their best option would be a Honda-Andretti sixth car or teaming with Ganassi on a fifth entry for Tony Kanaan due to Vasser and Kanaan’s past history.

I don’t put much stock at all in that special 18th Honda entry, especially with how this NASCAR season is going as I don’t put any stock in any stock car driver coming to try Indy this late in the game.

Chevrolet (15) – 3 Left

  • Team Penske (3) – Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Scott McLaughlin are back as they’re scaling down from four cars to three.
  • Arrow McLaren SP (3) – Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist are back full time. Juan Pablo Montoya is in the No. 6 Chevrolet for the Month of May only.
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (3) – Rinus VeeKay is back in the 21. Conor Daly will be in the 20 while Ed Carpenter will be in the third seat for Indy in the 33.
  • AJ Foyt Racing (3) – Kyle Kirkwood will be in the 14 full time. Dalton Kellett will return to the seat of the 4 car. Tatiana Calderon will race the 11 car on all road/street courses with JR Hildebrand now on ovals.
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (2) – They’ll have two cars this May for Indy only and Sage Karam (No. 24) and Santino Ferrucci (No. 23) will drive them.
  • Juncos Hollinger Racing (1) – Callum Ilott will be in the car again as an Indy rookie.

Honda (17) – 1 Engine Left

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (5) – All five drivers (Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan) return but with Jimmie Johnson racing full time, they needed a fifth car for Tony Kanaan. That car and engine package comes from Andretti Autosport’s inventory of six that they had last year.
  • Andretti Autosport (5) – They’ll run four cars full time (Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco) with Marco Andretti as Indy only.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (3) – Graham Rahal, Jack Harvey and Christian Lundgaard make up this team.
  • Dale Coyne Racing (2) – HMD Racing replaces Vasser Sullivan in the 18 ride and brings David Malukas with them. Rick Ware is back on the 51 Honda and will have Takuma Sato. Is the 52 seat back?
  • Meyer Shank Racing (2) – Here’s another expansion with them growing to two full time cars now too. Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud) will drive them.

Potential Rides:

  • Rick Ware Racing/Dale Coyne Racing – They had the No. 52 Honda last year and the only reason one Honda is left for the taking is due to this ride not being solidified yet. Does this one become available or does the Honda engine end up with someone else. I don’t foresee Ganassi going to a sixth car and RLL moving to a fourth team isn’t likely either. MSR is set a two. So, the only real place this ends up is RWR/DCR, Andretti or a team like Paretta.
  • Paretta – They have the ambition to come back. Can they find the full budget to make this work? Roger Penske can’t really afford for this to be a one-off so helping them get one of the three Chevrolet engines seems like the best option. The thing is, I’ve heard Penske also hasn’t necessarily been involved either. That opens the door for that 18th Honda engine.
  • Top Gun – RC Enerson has everything from last year but the team still says they’ll be back in May. The question is, are they seriously going to be able to pull this off? They had a Chevy engine package last season.
  • AJ Foyt Racing – I don’t really see them stretching themselves thin this year on a fourth car but if the opportunity arose and an engine is just sitting there, never say never.

Alliances?

  • Cusick – They’re after an alliance to team with someone to bring Stefan Wilson a ride again. They teamed with Andretti in 2021 for Wilson in the No. 25 Honda in the Indianapolis 500. It seems as if even though engines are there for the taking and Cusick having a budget to run on their own, that they’re eyeing a merger.
  • Vasser Sullivan – Merging with a fifth Ganassi car is the most sense. They’re not going to run on their own this year.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (pictured) is a former Indy 500 champion and a free agent for May – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Notable Non Rookie Drivers Available

Ryan Hunter-Reay — 14 straight Indy starts, best finish 1st (2014), has 3 top 10’s in his last 4 tries including 5 of the last 9 years. RHR has 4 top 10 starting spots in the last 6 years including 5th in 2020 and 7th last year.

James Hinchcliffe — 9 starts, best finish 6th (2012), 3 top 11’s in his last 5 starts. Pole winner in 2016. Make the Fast Nine in 2020.

Sebastien Bourdais — 9 starts, best finish 7th (2014). 2 of last 3 attempts he qualified in the Fast 9 and was on a pole run before his crash in qualifying in 2017 or this would be 3 of the last 4.

Charlie Kimball — 10 starts, best finish 3rd (2015). Was the 4th Foyt car last year and a DNQ. All 10 starts were consecutive prior to last year’s miss. Had 4 top 10’s in his last 6 Indy tries.

Simona deSilvestro — Tied to Paretta. 6 starts, best finish 14th (2010). Last year was 1st Indy attempt since 2015. Last 4 Indy races came with 4 different teams.

Stefan Wilson — Tied to Cusick. 3 starts, best finish 15th (2018). Ran with Andretti in 2018 and an alliance car with Andretti/Cusick last year.

Oriol Servia – 11 starts, best finish 4th (2012), last start came in 2019

James Davison – 6 starts, best finish 12th (2019), last start came in 2020. 4 of his last 5 starts came with DCR as he always showed up unexpectedly and qualified the car in the race.

Max Chilton -5 starts, best finish 4th (2017). He led the most laps in that 2017 race but has qualified 20th or worse in 4 of his 5 tries.

Spencer Pigot – 5 starts, best finish 14th (2019). 2 of last 3 he made the Fast 9 and qualified in the top 2 Rows at that.

Zach Veach – 4 starts, best finish 15th (2020)

Oliver Askew – 1 start (2020) – finished 30th. Won the 2019 Freedom 100

Ed Jones — 4 starts, best finish 3rd (2017). Among his 4 appearances, they came with 3 different teams. Qualified in top 11 in 3 of the 4 years including last year.

Pietro Fittipaldi – 1 start (2021) – finished 25th. Qualified 13th as a rookie and bein a Haas test driver, could he come back over with F1 in Monaco?

Kyle Kaiser – 2 starts, best finish 29th (2018). Both with Juncos.

RC Enerson — Has a car but no engine or much money for a seat. He failed to make the show in his 1st attempt last May.

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