IndyCar could tie mark for most season winners, 11, at MAVTV 500

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Although two of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ most dominant teams, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, collide for the title this weekend at the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), they haven’t had it all their way this year when it comes to owning victory lane.

This year, Ganassi and Penske drivers have won just eight of 18 races. While that’s still a lot, it marks the pair’s first combined sub-.500 winning percentage since 2007 (eight of 17), and unsurprisingly, their lowest win total since.

We touched on it earlier this year, but the parity is statistically unmatched this year with 10 different winners from seven different teams. By contrast, NASCAR Sprint Cup has had 14 different winners, but in 31 races. Thus far, IndyCar’s 2013 race winners are:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon (4 season wins), Charlie Kimball (1)
  • Team Penske: Will Power (2), Helio Castroneves (1)
  • Andretti Autosport: James Hinchcliffe (3), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2)
  • Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports: Simon Pagenaud (2)
  • KV Racing Technology: Tony Kanaan (1)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises: Takuma Sato (1)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Mike Conway (1)

There are 16 drivers in this weekend’s race at Fontana who could tie the all-time IndyCar record of 11 different winners in the season, set in back-to-back years of 2000 and 2001 in the CART series. Those eligible to tie the record include:

  • Andretti Autosport: Marco Andretti (2 career wins), E.J. Viso (0)
  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Alex Tagliani (1)
  • Team Penske: AJ Allmendinger (5)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Justin Wilson (7), Pippa Mann (0)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal (1), James Jakes (0)
  • Dragon Racing: Sebastien Bourdais (31), Sebastian Saavedra (0)
  • Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter (2)
  • Panther Racing: Oriol Servia (1)
  • KV Racing Technology: Simona de Silvestro (0)
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Josef Newgarden (0)
  • Barracuda Racing: JR Hildebrand (0)
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Tristan Vautier (0)

Of those 16, there’s five I think have a realistic shot to tie the mark this weekend. In no particular order…

  • Justin Wilson. His newfound confidence on ovals over the last two years and working relationship with engineer Bill Pappas has been an impressive transformation. He’s driven too well all year to have not scored a victory; at a track where managing his car, tires, and equipment over 500 miles is a challenge, he’s a contender.
  • Marco Andretti. He’s been too good on ovals this year – wins went begging at Milwaukee and Pocono – to have not gotten a win. His biggest issue will be managing fuel mileage.
  • Ed Carpenter. I mentioned it separately yesterday but Carpenter has to be included among the “big dogs” for the all-too-rare oval races. Really showed a lot of people something with his win at Fontana last year, proving Kentucky was no fluke, and will be a contender for all 500 miles.
  • Alex Tagliani. He’s been out of an IndyCar since Toronto in July but hasn’t lost his competitive spirit, racing sports cars with Ferrari. Provided the best opportunity of his career under less than ideal circumstances, Tagliani will seize his chance with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
  • JR Hildebrand. A tough call to include JR here but consider the factors. He probably could have won this race last year, the Barracuda Racing team also could have won last year with Tagliani, and there’s the added motivation of needing a huge result to gain entry into IndyCar’s Leaders Circle Top 22 in entrant points for 2014. Big weekend needed for team and driver as they sort out their respective futures; their only downside to me is missing the series’ open test here last month.

Of the remaining 11, Allmendinger has a good shot given his equipment but knows he will have to play gunner to Castroneves. Servia is probably better than his team over 500 miles, Rahal’s a sleeper if the team’s engineering improves on the oval as much as it has on the street courses of late, and Viso could surprise given the Andretti team’s pace. But they’re longer shots.

The championship is the main storyline heading into the race, but don’t be surprised if we’re looking at victory lane at night’s end with a record-tying mark achieved.

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.