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.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)