Path for Johnson, Larson, Kyle Busch to next year’s Indy 500 looking slimmer and slimmer, basically down to DRR if it’s going to happen at all

A month or so ago, the likelihood of us seeing Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and even Kyle Larson in next year’s Indianapolis 500 was looking good. At least to see 2 of the 3. However, in a recent turn of events, the likelihood of seeing any of the 3 are slim to none.

With the developments of the NTT INDYCAR Series engines being solidified and who’s racing in them, it is growing increasingly more and more unlikely that any of the three can make it work even if they want to.

Both Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch have been given the approval of their respective team owners to do so.

“I want to be in the best equipment possible, with the best crew,” Larson said last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “So, yeah, I mentioned to Jeff and Rick that I’d like to do it, but I also did a year ago, too…

“It’s kind of up to them to find something. Rick didn’t want me doing it this year, but he said in the future I could.”

When Busch signed a new contract to race for Richard Childress Racing in 2023, he gave away some interesting tidbits. One was that he can race in the Indy 500 in the future.

“I can do it,” Busch said. “Any Chevrolet team INDYCAR teams call me up.”

However, there’s not many Chevrolet teams that can make it work now for either.

You first have to look at the Chevrolet teams in the NTT INDYCAR Series. Team Penske, Arrow McLaren SP, Ed Carpenter Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing each hold cars/engine packages. 

AMSP is now filled with Tony Kanaan driving the 4th car. They’re filled. If not them, then what about Penske?

Busch, said in November of 2019 that Team Penske was actually an option when he thought that he’d be racing in the ‘500 a few years ago.

“Him and I have spoken about it though,” Busch said then. “He was one of the team owners that I was going to drive for if the opportunity presented itself.”

The promoter side of Roger Penske would love to have Busch or Larson. The owner side would say that it’s likely not feasible for his team. Penske’s cars haven’t been right for the Indy 500 in the last 3 years.

For 2020, they qualified 13-22-25-28. They’d finish 5-11-14-22 with 16 total laps led. 

For 2021, they qualified 17-21-26-32. They finished 3-12-20-30 with 3 total laps led. 

So they scaled back in 2022. Instead of 4 cars, they went to 3. While the overall season was a success with all 3 cars in the top 4 in the final standings including a 1-2 finish, at Indy, they were still quite a bit off. 

They qualified 11-14-26. They finished 13-15-29 with 0 laps led. 

So with 22 total laps led in 3 combined years, bringing a 4th car back out for Busch doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. 

Both of DRR’s cars were fast in 2022 so it makes sense if they can make it work – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Which leads us to Ed Carpenter Racing as the next team up. Ed Carpenter lives for Indy and he’s not parking Conor Daly or Rinus VeeKay to make room for Busch or Larson. He’s never had 4 cars in a single race and I don’t see why that could magically change now. It’s not like they’re a juggernaut that can handle this, so I don’t see Busch or Larson and ECR being a fit in a 4th car.

Then it’s down Foyt. They have 2 cars for Santino Ferrucci and Benjamin Pedersen. The only way that they’d run a 3rd car would be for Dalton Kellett which has already been announced that it’s not happening. Larry Foyt said that it’s not likely in the cards to bring out a 4th car for May either. After all, when they do run 4 cars at Indy, it never ends well for them. 

“The only person we’re talking to is Dalton. Obviously, he’s been a part of the team. There’s a desire to work together, but we both know we have to go out and find some people to make that happen.

“We’re not going to do anything unless it was really going to strengthen the team. We’re both on the same page on that.

“On the JR (Hildebrand) side, I don’t know that we’ll run an extra car at the 500. We just have to see how that shakes out,” Foyt said on the manner.

“At the moment some of that funding has gone into this program to make sure it was a full-time program. I think we may just not worry about an extra car at the Speedway this year is kind of the thought.

“Everything is still open. It’s still very early days. Hate to speculate too much. Yeah, that’s kind of where it’s at.

“If we ran a third, it would only be with Dalton, so… Not looking for a third outside of that at the moment.”

In fact, in 4 of the 5 years that they ran four cars here, one of the cars didn’t make the race. The only time that four cars for Foyt made the race was in 1987.

When they went to 4 cars the last time out for 2021, Foyt said this of the signing of JR Hildebrand for it. 

“Growing to four cars, we wanted to make sure it’s a guy that had a lot of experience here,” said Larry Foyt. “He could actually contribute and be a helpful part to the team. It made a lot of sense.”

Busch and Larson again each doesn’t have the experience.

So that takes Foyt out leaving JHR and DRR. 

Juncos Hollinger Racing isn’t likely going to attract a driver like Busch or Larson, plus they are actively looking for a 2nd driver. Callum Ilott isn’t going to get benched and it’s going to be hard to attract a 2nd driver with them knowing that they can’t race the Indy 500. While they could in theory get a rookie who has no Indy or oval interest, I just don’t see that realistically happening.

Which is why it’s likely down to DRR. Do they run 1 of the 2 or even both? Are both interested in that team? They have Indy only cars and by throwing all their eggs in one basket does in a way help, but can they make it work?

Outside of that, there’s no other option for Busch or Larson or any other NASCAR driver for that matter at Indy in 2023.

“It kind of went dark,” Busch said on Friday from the Phoenix Raceway, the site of this weekends NASCAR season finale. “It all dried up.”

Larson agreed and spoke to the fact a few hours later saying that nothing moved forward but if something competitive came up, he’d jump all over it.

He says that with being a Chevy driver and not many Chevy seats left, it’s makes it tougher.

“It’s tough but I want to do it,” he continued.

Chevrolet (13)

Arrow McLaren SP (4) – They’ll use all 3 engines full-time next year with O’Ward, Rosenqvist and Rossi in them. Now Kanaan was announced as the 4th driver for the part-time car.

Team Penske (3) – All 3 drivers are returning

Ed Carpenter Racing (2) – Both drivers are back.

AJ Foyt Racing (2) – They had 3 engines this past year but sounds like they’ll scale back to running 2 with rookie Benjamin Pedersen and veteran Santino Ferrucci in their cars.

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.

Waiting Confirmation

Chevrolet (5 open, 4 could be spoken for)

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.

Ed Carpenter Racing (1) – I don’t get a sense Ed Carpenter wants to expand to 4 cars and I can’t see him stepping away so expect Carpenter to be in the 3rd ECR car next May. If he doesn’t, which would be a massive shock, this would be a direct path for Paretta.

Word is the Top Gun/RC Enerson saga has ended with Enerson in possession of the equipment and looking for a team to pair with. AJ Foyt had 4 chassis/engine programs for 2021, went down to 3 for 2022 but could scale back even further to just 2 in 2023 which opens up some leeway.

Cusick, DragonSpeed and Paretta want in but may be fighting for 1 engine/chassis package. The other could be best to pair with Enerson.

As far as Jimmie Johnson, now that he’s a Chevy owner in NASCAR, how does that work? That’s even something that he doesn’t know how it would play it either. Plus, even if he were to want to return to Chip Ganassi Racing’s 5th car, there’s no guarantee that a 5th car is even possible.

That’s because Honda may be filled already. From what it sounds like, Andretti will have all 5 back, Ganassi has 4, RLL will have 3 full-time and 1 part-time for Indy only, DCR will have 2 full-time and 1 part-time in an Indy only role and MSR has two.

That’s the magic number of 18 already hit.

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