Indy 500 engine count update, post-three Indy announcements

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You might read this headline today and ponder the question, “Hey, it’s March 4, so why are you already writing about engine counts for a race in May?” Glad you asked.

With the last three IndyCar team-and-driver announcements – Martin Plowman for A.J. Foyt Racing, Jacques Villeneuve for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and today, Kurt Busch for Andretti Autosport – all related to the month of May and not the full season, it provides the first glimpse at where the engine count stands for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

The entry list is traditionally released in April, and in March is when deals usually begin to get announced. Here’s where we stand now:

  • As it stands now, there should be at least 22 full-season entrants. Of those 22, 12 would be Honda, and 10 Chevrolet. Another Honda (2nd RLL) and another Chevrolet (Panther) would push that number to 24.
  • Honda’s 12 right now are: Andretti Autosport 4, Dale Coyne Racing 2, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 2, and 1 apiece for Foyt, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport.
  • Chevrolet’s 10 right now are: Chip Ganassi Racing 4, Team Penske 3, KV Racing Technology 2, and Ed Carpenter Racing 1.

Add in Plowman, Villeneuve and Busch’s confirmed entries, and that’s three more Hondas to take us up to 15.

Either or both of an RLL second or Coyne third would push the Honda number to 17, which would likely be the cap on leases with Chevrolet also needing to fill 17 to provide a 50/50 split for 34 cars (33 of which would start).

An 18th Honda could potentially appear if RLL and Coyne both run an extra car, and the Fisher team runs a second car. That could be either an RW/SFHR entry if Rotondo Weirich’s Steve Weirich’s second car (Bryan Clauson drove it in 2012 at Indy, Lucas Luhr in 2013 at Sonoma) is entered. Or, if the crowd-funded Cutters RT effort hits its number, SFHR would run that car.

The Chevrolet side will be a bit tougher to hit the 17 number with the 10 confirmed cars now. Here’s its breakdown:

  • Panther Racing is yet to confirm its driver or primary commercial partners for 2014, and has been left off IndyCar’s Leader Circle list for 2014. But a Panther entry would take the Chevrolet number up to 11.
  • Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion, is expected to return with his family-run Lazier Partners Racing car. There’s a dozen.
  • KV Racing Technology team co-owner Jimmy Vasser has said a third car is likely. That’s 13.
  • Up to four more could be possible with all four potential but not set-in-stone programs possible. That would include a second Carpenter car, fifth Ganassi car (the TUDOR Championship is off, so a crew would be available), a single entry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and a single entry for Dragon Racing.
  • While DRR has made some overtones in the media about a return, Dragon hasn’t as much. The Indianapolis Star‘s Curt Cavin said on his weekly “Trackside” show Monday night that Dragon has not returned multiple phone calls; TracksideOnline.com reported more than a week ago that the Villeneuve car, the third SPM, was purchased from Dragon Racing. With Dragon’s other car listed as “through a partnership” with Team Penske for Juan Pablo Montoya, the question of suitable equipment exists. Penske and SPM did run separate third cars at Indianapolis in 2013, for AJ Allmendinger (Penske) and Katherine Legge (SPM), respectively, while Dragon also ran two cars for now-KV teammates Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra.

What this all means is as of March 4, there are 25 confirmed car-engine combinations for this year’s Indianapolis 500, 23 of them with confirmed drivers (the second Dale Coyne and BHA entries have yet to confirm their full season drivers).

The race is on for teams and drivers to now gather the funding to put together the remaining programs from here.

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.