Less speed means no Toyota drivers in Top 5 at Pocono

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Was this weekend a success or a failure for Toyota Racing Development at Pocono Raceway? It depends on how you look at it.

With TRD’s decision to de-tune their engines for this weekend’s race as well as next weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway, the lack of horsepower proved costly as no Toyota drivers cracked the Top 5 in yesterday’s Party in the Poconos 400 – the first Sprint Cup race this year that didn’t see a Toyota driver finish there or lead a lap. Kyle Busch had a shot at a Top 5 at the end, but lost multiple positions on the final restart and wound up sixth.

But then there’s the fact there were no blown TRD motors for the first time in three weeks, which should be heartening for the manufacturer after another recent spate of high-profile engine failures.

TRD is striving for more reliability, which means everything in a series that puts consistency over all else. As we mentioned earlier this weekend, horsepower and performance has not been the problem for Toyota, but those two things mean nothing if all of their cars can’t be there at the end of the day regularly fighting for wins and Top-5 and 10s.

Still, at Pocono, the horsepower deficit didn’t make things easy for their drivers. Take Denny Hamlin for instance, who can ill-afford any problems with his engines as he tries to race for a wild-card berth in the Chase but nonetheless always wants to run up front.

“I think all of us had to play defense on the straightaway which is really tough, but I made the best of it,” said Hamlin, who finished eighth. “It’s about where I thought we would end up, but we need wins and we’re going to have to be aggressive and do everything we can to do that.”

With the Sprint Cup regular season now in the second half, Hamlin appears to be feeling more pressure to get himself into Chase contention (although for his part, he contended yesterday that he was “very optimistic” about his chances). But TRD knows that all the speed in the world will be of no help to Hamlin or their other drivers if the motors keep going back to the garage in smoking heaps.

It’s better for them to get their issues sorted and sacrifice a bit now – in hopes of  a championship payoff later.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.