Panther Racing terminates JR Hildebrand’s contract

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Panther Racing will shake-up its driver lineup starting this weekend at Detroit, as JR Hildebrand has been terminated from his contract in the No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet for the rest of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

In a release, Panther’s managing partner John Barnes offered a comment on the termination.

“We’d like to thank JR Hildebrand for his contributions to Panther Racing, and especially the work he put into supporting the National Guard and all of our programs to support its soldiers,” Barnes said. “JR is a great young man, a class act, and somebody who has been a great representative of our race team and all of our partners since 2011. We certainly wish JR, his family and his representatives all the best in the future.”

Hildebrand offered a statement in the release, and on Twitter.

“I want to thank Panther Racing for the opportunity to drive the No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet,” Hildebrand added. “It was a privilege to represent our men and women in uniform, along with the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe and the team’s veteran employment initiatives. I’m very much looking forward to the next chapter in my IndyCar career, and wish all my friends at Panther the absolute best.”

On Twitter, Hildebrand wrote, “It is true, I will no longer be driving the No. 4 National Guard car for @PantherRacing. I want to thank the team for their efforts and hard work, it was a privilege to represent the @NationalGuard, the @NGYFoundation and employment initiatives while there. .I am very much looking forward to the next chapter of my IndyCar career, as wish all my friends at Panther the best.”

Hildebrand’s 2013 season has gotten off to a rough start, as he currently stands 20th in the points. Crashing into Will Power under a yellow flag at St. Petersburg didn’t help things, but he rebounded with a needed top-five in Long Beach. Still, Indianapolis was a brutal disappointment as he crashed on lap 4, and was first out of the race.

The change was first suggested, and first confirmed, by the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin. Cavin suggested during Wednesday night’s edition of “Trackside” on Indianapolis radio station 1070 The Fan that Hildebrand’s Indianapolis accident was “the most embarrassing moment in Panther Racing history.”

Panther will name a replacement later Thursday, but it is expected to be either Oriol Servia or Ryan Briscoe. Barnes was in the paddock in Detroit on Thursday, but unavailable for further comment.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.