Indianapolis 500 - Practice

Franchitti’s ride appears down to Briscoe or Tagliani vs. the field


Target Chip Ganassi Racing appears close to unwrapping an early Christmas present, in the form of the replacement for the retired Dario Franchitti in its No. 10 Target Chevrolet for 2014 in the very near future.

Reports from both Autosport and RACER this week have more or less narrowed the field of contenders, at least for 2014, down to two drivers: Ryan Briscoe and Alex Tagliani. TCGR managing director Mike Hull told Autosport’s Mark Glendenning the decision “will be before the holidays.”

Briscoe has not spoken outwardly about the possibility – or any possibility – regarding his 2014 future in IndyCar. He and wife Nicole just welcomed their first child, daughter Finley, last week. He has been tweeting some with Franchitti, Hull and Scott Dixon lately… so make of that what you will.

Tagliani has been a little more candid, as he filled in for Franchitti both at the Fontana season finale and at last week’s Sebring test, the first for the team with Chevrolet power. His development expertise was sought, and his full focus is on securing the seat.

“I think you need to be integrated and have good chemistry and the technical ability is important to them with changing from Honda to Chevy,” Tagliani said via “There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that it changes their whole dynamic.

“Dario was a big part of this team. He was a very technical driver and when it happened to him it threw a big curveball to the team and they’re going to take their time to assess this whole thing. In that respect it’s a process, but just the fact that I’m in the car is a big statement.”

While it appears highly likely one of these two will get the seat – these two were top candidates when MST first identified the contenders for the No. 10 – the nature and length of a contract will be the thing to watch from here.

Briscoe has already spent five full seasons with Team Penske (2008-’12) and one with Ganassi (2005) in his career, with seven career wins and 12 pole positions. On his day he can be excellent. If he was to get the No. 10 car he’d probably provide consistent support to Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball with a win or two over the course of the season.

Tagliani’s never truly had a full-season, top flight opportunity in his extended career dating to 2000. You could argue Player’s/Forsythe Racing, when he was there from 2000 to 2002, had the equipment necessary to contend for championships, but Tagliani was coming into his own as a driver and hadn’t fully maximized his potential. He has his flashes – and his second half of 2012 was excellent – but he’d need to convert that into regular results if he gets the 10.

The bottom line is while either would be a decent short-term fix for 2014, they’d be increasingly under the microscope with the prospect of more attractive free agents entering the market in 2015. James Hinchcliffe is on a one-year deal with a team option at Andretti Autosport, Justin Wilson has long deserved a top flight ride to match his talent, and Josef Newgarden could play himself into contention if he grows and matures even more than he did this year with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

The Target ride, as team boss Chip Ganassi said during a November teleconference, is much more than just a car on the grid. It also means being the face of a national brand and it means providing ample support to teammates.

So, the waiting period might be at an end. But rather than building up to the excitement of seeing what new blood could do in the car, it appears as though the Target car is heading toward old memory lane…

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
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The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

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NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

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The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

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Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski