This week in INDYCAR

INDIANAPOLIS — This has been a busy week in the NTT INDYCAR Series with the Jimmie Johnson news on Monday, the schedule release on Tuesday and a silly season update in between.

MORE: Last week’s This Week in INDYCAR

Here’s what you may have missed so far.

Johnson To Scale Back His Racing In 2023

Jimmie Johnson’s worn out. When he decided to step away from his seat in the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports at the completion of the 2020 season, he never expected to be as busy as he’d be in 2022.

Johnson ran part-time in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR Series season as well as the endurances races in IMSA including the 24 Hours of Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta. However, he desired to run the Indy 500 and with doing so, why not run the full slate in INDYCAR for 2022?

So that’s exactly what he did. However, he quickly found himself as busy now as he was when he left NASCAR. While it wasn’t 38 weekends of work, it was over half a year’s worth for a driver that wasn’t ready to bite off more than he could chew.

17 INDYCAR races, a full Month of May, testing, sim work, IMSA starts, etc, it was becoming too much. So Johnson elected to scale back his efforts now in 2023.

Johnson announced on Monday that while he doesn’t know what his schedule will hold for 2023, it won’t be a full-time endeavor in any racing series.

“I’ve made the decision that I will not compete full-time in 2023,” Johnson said in a statement. “This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart I know it’s the right one.

“I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in INDYCAR has been a dream come true. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in INDYCAR, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together. They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them.

“More importantly – and the true rock stars in all of this – (is) my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. We have enjoyed every minute of these last two years, (and) 2022 checked so many boxes for me personally, and I am truly fulfilled.

Team owner Chip Ganassi said he is “fully supportive” of Johnson’s decision.

“He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together we would like to do so,” he said.

Ryan Keeton, Carvana’s co-founder and chief brand officer, said Johnson has been “so amazing to collaborate with.”

“Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter,” he said.

Johnson would like in a sense to race a NASCAR event or two. He’s wants to race the big IMSA events including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Of course, he wants to race the Indy 500 so by scaling back, he can run all the big races and pick and choose what he wants.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see Johnson in the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Daytona 500, Sebring, Long Beach, the Indy 500/Coke 600 double, Le Mans, etc.

The thing is, ovals is where he made his biggest mark with both top 10’s coming on them (Texas, Iowa), him making the Fast 12 for the Indy 500 and leading laps at Iowa.

Alex Palou and Scott Dixon came up just short due to pit lane for Sunday’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

2023 Schedule Released

INDYCAR has announced a 17-race schedule for the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES as the sport’s brash and bold athletes will be showcased with traditional weekend dates, 13 races on NBC and an exciting, late-summer swing leading to another climactic ending to the 2023 championship.

The 2023 season opens Sunday, March 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. Thrilling, wheel-to-wheel racing then will take place all spring and summer, including the 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 28, before the season ends with a stirring climax Sunday, Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The journey to a championship includes a stretch of eight races in the final nine weeks of the season, giving fans action nearly every weekend.

MORE: My 2023 INDYCAR schedule takeaways

“The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is on an impactful upward trajectory, making progress at a pace that befits our thrilling style of competition,” Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said. “The 2023 season provides an opportunity to further build on this trend, bringing our sport and its stars to more markets and households and reaching new consumers across the globe.”

For just the fourth time in the last 50 years, the INDYCAR SERIES will have 13 or more races on network television in the United States. The total appearances on broadcast television become 15 with the addition of PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying coverage, Saturday and Sunday, May 20-21, ahead of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The first seven events of 2023 will be featured on NBC, including the “500.” The season also finishes with six of the final seven races on network television. The 2023 season will include three races on USA Network and for the second consecutive year one exclusive race on Peacock. Peacock will present live simulstreams of all races on NBC and USA Network, as well as live coverage of all qualifying and practice sessions next season.

In partnership with NBC Sports, the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES was the most-watched season in six years and the most watched across NBC Sports on record. Powered by NBCUniversal’s popular streaming service, Peacock, the 2022 season also was the most-streamed season on record.

Half of the 2022 season’s 16 races on television featured a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of more than 1 million viewers, the highest mark since 2008. Last year’s season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by RP Funding, was the most-watched season opener in 11 years.

“We’re very excited for our 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule and to build on this past season’s viewership milestones,” said NBC Sports, VP, Programming Mike Perman. “In providing comprehensive coverage across NBC, Peacock and USA Network, NBC Sports is once again looking forward to telling the stories of these world-class drivers and this compelling series.”

Pedersen likely takes over the 14 ride at Foyt. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Pedersen To AJ Foyt Racing

Another silly season wrinkle has been confirmed. Benjamin Pedersen was named as one of the drivers for AJ Foyt Racing on Wednesday.

AJ Foyt Racing Team President Larry Foyt has hired Pedersen, the 23-year-old Indy Lights veteran, to drive one of the team’s Chevrolet-powered Indy cars in the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series.

The agreement spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.

“I’m super excited to get going with the team,” said Pedersen, a dual citizen (Danish and American) who was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, raised in Seattle, Wash. and is currently living in Indianapolis. “I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to INDYCAR and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season. INDYCAR has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”

Foyt’s interest in the young rookie began early in the season when a trusted colleague suggested Pedersen to him. Pedersen and Foyt met, and Pedersen started shadowing the team, which included standing on the No. 14 pit box, monitoring the radio and intercom communication during the practices and races plus sitting in on team meetings.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100% committed to INDYCAR, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races. It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Pedersen moves to INDYCAR after two seasons in the Indy Lights Series where he claimed his first pole and victory at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway earlier this month. Having stood on the podium 11 times over the past two seasons, the young Dane spoke about the benefits of having participated in the top rung of the Road to Indy ladder series.

“The Indy Lights Series and car serves as the ultimate transition into INDYCAR,” he offered. “From a series perspective, Indy Lights goes to the INDYCAR events, so we share the same weekend format, points, rules, race director, etc. This makes the transition very natural to INDYCAR as all of these things will stay the same.

“From a car perspective, I can say firsthand that the Indy Lights car is a great car to transition from since it really rewards pushing to a high limit and almost over-driving a bit on the peak of the tire.”

Pedersen, who tested an Indy car for another team several months ago, noted the differences between the two formulas.

“When I had my debut Indy car test a few months ago, it was a very successful day topping the time charts and I found it very natural to transition into the Indy car,” said Pedersen, whose car will operate out of Foyt’s Speedway, Ind. shop. “The biggest differences were the brakes, dampers, tires, and aero. You have a much higher sensation of grip compared to the Indy Lights car and I actually felt the Indy car was a bit easier to drive in many regards. The carbon brakes are the biggest difference, and they allow you to brake so late and hard, and when combined with all the other things mentioned above, it’s nearly impossible to lock the brakes on the initial brake phase due to how much grip there is. It’s just a really enjoyable car to drive that really rewards attacking the brakes and also asking a lot of the tire laterally (side to side).”

The team will begin testing in January as they prepare for the 2023 season which will open on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, March 5th.

Takuma Sato Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Silly Season Update

Most of the 2023 INDYCAR season has been solidified. We know when and where we’re racing. We know Colton Herta isn’t going to F1. We know Alex Palou is staying with Ganassi and Felix Rosenqvist will as a result remain with Arrow McLaren SP.

We know Penske is remaining status quo. So will Andretti Autosport. So will Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing. So will Meyer Shank Racing. So will Ed Carpenter Racing. AMSP has Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward coming back and Alexander Rossi as the 3rd driver.

That’s 6 teams solidified.

Foyt is set on 1 car and it sounds as if Dalton Kellett may take his funding elsewhere. Don’t sleep on Santino Ferrucci here with him being a prime candidate for the 14 and Pedersen to the 4…

So else is what’s left?

It’s down to Juncos Hollinger Racing, Takuma Sato, Honda and really Paretta.

JHR seems to be zeroing in on a driver of the No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet. Agustin Canapino seems to be the top target now.

Honda has a potential 2 engines left. Ganassi had 5 chassis last year, 4 full-time, 1 as Indy only. I don’t see them needing that Indy only anymore and can see them keeping a 4th for Johnson for whenever he wants to race.

So does that 1 open engine go to Dale Coyne Racing? We know both DCR and HMD want to expand to a 2nd team between them and pair it with the already existing Rick Ware Racing car. That’s dependent on an engine and Takuma Sato’s plans. If Sato returns, they want to use a 3rd seat for Linus Lundqvist. If Sato retires, then Lundqvist could move into the 51 and DCR/HMD won’t need that 3rd car after all.

That leaves 1 engine package still left from the old Vasser Sullivan entry.

Paretta wants to grow but I don’t see a scenario with Chevrolet to happen outside of ECR’s help. I know Ed Carpenter wants to race ovals only again so I can see this expanding to ECR/Paretta teaming up for all road/street courses.

Cusick and DragonSpeed want in too.

Is there enough engines to go around in the bow tie camp or should 1 of them look at Honda?

Both Chevy and Honda can produce 18 engines each for the Indy 500 but on a full-time level, they’re really not willing to add much more to the mix. It’s more or less just repurposing the engines that are already out there.

Chevy had 12 full time engines for 2022 and Honda 15. In those numbers, I counted the 3rd ECR engine as well as the 3rd at Foyt engine into Chevy’s allocation because the plan all along was for that Foyt entry to be full-time car anyhow and the 3rd ECR engine was used with Paretta.

On the part-time basis, Chevy engines were a 3rd at AMSP, one at DragonSpeed/Cusick and two at DRR. For Honda, they had 1 extra at Andretti and 1 at Ganassi.

AMSP is moving that 3rd to full-time. JHR is getting that one back from DragonSpeed/Cusick which means DRR holds the keys to the only 2 part-time engines from last year. Chevy could up their full-time engine program to 14 but has 12 accounted for right now (3 for Penske, 3 for AMSP, 2 for ECR, 2 for Foyt, 2 for JHR). Does it move up to 13 with ECR/Paretta? That leaves that 3rd Foyt engine from last year and where does it go?

For part-time, you get up to 15 with DRR’s duo and ECR for Carpenter. So what about the other 3? AMSP could get another engine to use for dare I say, Kyle Busch? That’s 16 engines for May at this point if all comes to fruition.

Honda right now has 14 full-time (4 Andretti, 3 Ganassi, 3 RLL, 2 MSR, 2 DCR). They can go to a 15th depending on Ganassi and DCR.

Andretti will use their part-time one again for Marco Andretti. That’s 16.

Combined, that’s 32 entries basically already known.

DragonSpeed/Cusick could make a run at the other Foyt engine or even AMSP for Kyle Busch? We know where Chevy would obviously like that to go under that scenario. What’s the Top Gun/RC Enerson saga?

Chevrolet (16)

Team Penske (3) – All 3 drivers are returning

Arrow McLaren SP (3) – They’ll use all 3 engines full-time next year with O’Ward, Rosenqvist and Rossi in them. Do they get a 4th for Kyle Busch?

Ed Carpenter Racing (3) – Both drivers are back. Ed is likely back on ovals. Do they pair on a grander scale with Paretta for 2023?

AJ Foyt Racing (3) – They had 3 engines this year but will they use all 3 next season?

Juncos Hollinger Racing (2) – They’ll have 2 cars next year with Callum Ilott in 1 of them and a TBA driver in the 2nd car.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (2) – I don’t get any indication that they’ll scale back to 1 or 0 cars in 2023 after a strong show this past May. I also don’t get any sense they’ll add more races outside of Indy either.

The Top Gun/RC Enerson saga has 1 engine. AJ Foyt has another but do they use all 3? That leaves 1 engine left. Cusick and Paretta are interested. Can they each secure 1?

Honda (17)

Andretti Autosport (5) – They have 4 drivers signed for 2023 and all will be back. I’d expect Marco Andretti to return in the Indy only role again.

Chip Ganassi Racing (4) – I don’t see them running a 5th car for Indy only next year. They can let go of 1 of their chassis/engines now.

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (3) – All 3 drivers are back in 2023.

Meyer Shank Racing (2) – They’ll have both drivers back. They’re eyeing expansion but I don’t see how that gets done yet.

Dale Coyne Racing (2) – They’re after a 3rd engine but can they secure it? Malukas is back but is Sato? They could have 1 seat open. If they don’t, then they want a 3rd engine for Linus Lundqvist.

There’s 1 engine left out there (Vasser Sullivan’s) that could be used. Then the rest gets interesting. Does Ganassi drop 1 of their engines and can DCR gain it? Does MSR secure a 3rd one to use part-time?

Conor Daly To Go NASCAR Racing

Conor Daly has long wanted to give the NASCAR Cup Series a try. Now, he will. Early Thursday morning, The Money Team announced that Daly will make his debut next weekend on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Daly, 30, will drive the No. 50 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Bit Nile.

This won’t be his first NASCAR appearance though. His last came in 2021 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Niece Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He also raced there in 2020 too.

On top of that, Daly raced in the Xfinity Series at Road America in 2018 for Roush Fenway Racing.

The Indiana native has made 97 career NTT INDYCAR Series starts under his belt. He won’t be the only open wheel driver there next weekend. Marco Andretti will race for Big Machine in the No. 48 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series race too.

For TMT, this is their 4th Cup Series race. Kaz Grala raced the car in the Daytona 500, COTA and the Coca-Cola 600.

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