Ganassi rebuttal to Penske could include TK, Hinch, or another wild card

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Roger Penske’s made his next move for the 2014 IZOD IndyCar Series with the signing of Juan Pablo Montoya. And now we await the rebuttal from Penske’s archrival Chip Ganassi, if he opts to bring back a fourth full-time car.

Some Ganassi team officials have said this year that a four-car program – two apiece between the Target team and the Novo Nordisk and other sponsor (NTT Data 2013, Service Central 2011-2012) second squad – makes more sense as an overall program in terms of data and resource sharing.

With three full-time cars this year, though, Charlie Kimball’s maturation and development has increased in the Novo Nordisk camp. He’s been working in greater harmony with Target teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti than he did in his first two seasons, 2011 and 2012, in the second squad.

Anyway, there seem to be four options for Ganassi’s fourth car in 2014, if it returns after a year’s hiatus:

  • Tony Kanaan. The Indianapolis 500 champ gives Ganassi another bullet at Indy, of course, and his oval ability remains near the top of the grid. He and Franchitti gelled as teammates at Andretti Green Racing half a decade before, and Kanaan wouldn’t have to be the “setup mule” he’s often needed to be in his final Andretti years and at KV Racing Technology-SH, his current squad. On the downside, his qualifying on road and street courses the last few years has left something to be desired, although that’s largely down to KV’s erratic form. The car would be there if TK can scrounge together the sponsorship, though.
  • James Hinchcliffe. From a long-term growth standpoint, “Hinch” is your better option. Why, you ask? At 26, he’s just entering the prime years of his driving career and at 28 or 29, in a couple years, he’d be ready to move into one of the Target cars and be the face of the franchise. Target is keen to expand in Canada and Oakville’s “Mayor of Hinchtown” would be an excellent face. That said, he’s played a big role in the improved chemistry at Andretti Autosport, and has thrived with engineer Craig Hampson – it’s doubtful that on the surface, he’d want to leave those surroundings.
  • Ryan Briscoe. The anti-Montoya move, if you will. Briscoe was a Ganassi driver first, enduring a challenging rookie season in 2005. He had varying levels of success at Penske from 2008 through 2012 but never won a title, most notably missing out in 2009. He returned to CGR at this year’s Indianapolis 500 and while the team still rates him highly, he’s more likely to take the seat at Panther Racing for 2014.
  • The Montoya “out of left field” option. If budget weren’t the issue, you’d love to see a Justin Wilson, a Sebastien Bourdais or a Simon Pagenaud in the Ganassi stable next year. But of those three, Pagenaud seems set to stay with Schmidt Hamilton in 2014 and Wilson is contracted to Dale Coyne Racing for three years.

Josef Newgarden dominates from pole to win KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America

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There’s a reason why Josef Newgarden calls Road America his favorite racetrack – and he showed why Sunday, dominating to victory in the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc.

Newgarden led all but two laps from the pole and was in a class of his own throughout the 55-lap caution-free race on the 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course in central Wisconsin, defeating runner-up Ryan Hunter-Reay by 3.3759 seconds.

“(I wanted this one) really bad,” Newgarden told NBCSN in victory lane. “I wanted to win here since last year. This car has been a rocket all weekend. It wasn’t easy. Ryan was very quick and I knew Dixon was right behind him, so we were working for it the entire race.

“I kind of knew what I had to do, but it was a lot of work. Ryan was really pushing me. It’s good to get a win. It doesn’t matter what car, as long as it’s Team Penske.”

It was Newgarden’s series-leading third win of the season in the first 10 races (also won at ISM Raceway in Phoenix and Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama), pushing him past Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Will Power and Scott Dixon, who both have two wins in the 2018 campaign.

“I was hoping to make it more interesting for the fans here at Road American and on TV,” Hunter-Reay said. “The last two stints, when he put on used red and I had blacks, he was really hooked up. … I was pushing 110 percent, that’s for sure.

“Unfortunately, I just couldn’t catch up to Josef. I was able to close up the gap a little bit here and there, but not like I was early in the race. He found his own way for sure. Definitely, the clean air out front helps, but hats off to him: he had a great race and deserves the win.”

Dixon finished third, followed by Takuma Sato, Robert Wickens, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Spencer Pigot (his best finish of the season), Ed Jones and James Hinchcliffe.

Dixon (393 points) maintains the Verizon IndyCar Series points lead, Hunter-Reay (348) moved up two spots to second place, Alexander Rossi (tied with Hunter-Reay for second at 348) dropped one spot to third, Newgarden (343) climbed one spot to fourth and Will Power (328) dropped two spots to fifth in the standings.

“It’s so tight … so tough,” Dixon said. “The Verizon IndyCar Series, right now, the competition is through the roof. To get a podium these days is tough enough, yet to get a win. But we’ll keep pushing and see what we get.”

There was action right from the opening lap, including misfortune for Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power, who suffered engine issues that sent him to the pits after the opening lap.

After trying to work on his car in the pits, Power’s team pushed it back to the paddock to attempt further repairs, but those efforts failed and the car was retired.

Power was third in the IndyCar points standings coming into the race, 36 points behind series leader Scott Dixon. He finished last (23rd) in Sunday’s race and will likely drop to fifth in the standings.

“They replaced the exhaust, and it just blew straight back out,” Power told NBCSN’s Marty Snider. “So, there’s obviously something going on in there that’s gone wrong.

“I feel bad for all the guys. It’s just one of those things, you know – you’ll get that every now and then at some point. No good, but we’ll move on to the next one.”

Also, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi had an issue with what appeared to be brakes- or suspension-related that resulted in a lengthy pit stop after 38 laps. Rossi finished 16th in the 23-car field.

“Hugely disappointing,” Rossi told NBCSN. “It was good enough for fourth … but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

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