IndyCar Driver Review: Remaining part-timers P28-39

Leave a comment

My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I looked at the 28 IndyCar drivers who raced in seven starts or more this year in detail. The remaining drivers in spots 28-39 all had their moments in their four starts or less (29th, Ana Beatriz, was covered in a separate post after running in seven races). My brief thoughts on each driver will follow:

28. Carlos Munoz

Stud, fearless, freak of nature; Munoz was the most exciting driver to enter into IndyCar since Tomas Scheckter in 2002, and Munoz’s countryman Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999. In 2014, we’ll see both Colombians on the grid for full seasons.

30. Luca Filippi

He finally got his IndyCar chance after funding failed to develop for RLL in 2012. Naturally, Filippi capitalized for Bryan Herta, with a combo of pace, dedication and tenacity reminiscent of another Italian who took IndyCar by storm – Alex Zanardi.

31. Pippa Mann

The “social media people’s champion,” with a steely resolve and fierce determination to prove she belongs in a car. No one fought harder to make their dream come true in 2013, and Mann performed better than her final results will register in Dale Coyne’s “Cyclops Cyclone” in her four starts.

32. James Davison

Davison was a surprise choice for Mid-Ohio and Sonoma in Coyne’s second car but acquitted himself well given a long open-wheel layoff. Will Power rates his countryman highly and Davison’s two starts lived up nicely to that praise.

33. Stefan Wilson

Another in the round-robin of No. 18 Coyne drivers, Stefan Wilson made an overdue and popular debut at Baltimore with one of the year’s sharpest liveries, the white-and-green Nirvana Tea Honda, and with brother Justin as his teammate. Stefan essentially thrown in at the deep end but kept his head while most of the others found the wall, improving his lap times and gaining valuable experience.

34. Conor Daly

Few “get” Indy more than Daly and his ’500 debut, if rocky at times, was well-deserved. Seems keen to prove himself further in IndyCar and his dedication to the sport is unquestioned, as he was a frequent visitor at the IndyCar races that didn’t clash with GP3. Hell, he even got a podium in an Indy Lights cameo at Houston.

35. Townsend Bell

It’s been a pleasure for me to get to work with Townsend on our “Ten with Townsend” series of questions throughout the year. Our NBCSN analyst’s one start this year at Indy didn’t quite go to plan, but it was definitely memorable given his yellow-and-blue hat he rocked for the month of May.

36. Lucas Luhr

I’ll be honest; I was shocked when I heard Luhr – a sports car veteran of a dozen years – would be making his IndyCar debut for Sarah Fisher at Sonoma. Luhr didn’t make a huge first impression, but improved over the course of the weekend and would be welcomed back for future IndyCar starts.

37. Katherine Legge

Every year, one Indianapolis 500 qualifying effort leaves your jaw dropped, and for me, Katherine’s was the one. She hadn’t driven an IndyCar in eight months and had just come off racing the radical DeltaWing at Monterey when she arrived for a “Bump Day special” in Sam Schmidt’s third car. The qualifying run was perfect and her race would have ended in the top 15, possibly top 10, had she not made slight contact exiting Turn 2 early in the race.

38. Buddy Lazier

Every year, one Indianapolis 500 entry leaves your jaw dropped, and for me, seeing Buddy Lazier back in a car for the first time in four years was rather stunning. But hey, to his credit, the 45-year-old got on with the program without missing a step. It was good to have him back in the field even if it was mainly to help fill the field to 33.

39. Michel Jourdain Jr.

Including Michel as a cursory mention here because he was this year’s hard-luck qualifying driver at Indy. All month, RLL could not get the setup and pace right on this third car, and Jourdain failed to qualify for no fault of his own. There’s many in the paddock that wants the popular Mexican driver to get another chance.

NHRA to expand field sizes for 2020 Countdown playoffs

NHRA
Leave a comment

Field sizes for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs could substantially increase for the upcoming 2020 season, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

The previous standard to qualify for the playoffs was the top 10 ranked drivers following the last regular season race before the Countdown begins, the U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis. That standard remains in place.

Now, in light of Wednesday’s announcement, additional drivers in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car “Nitro” classes will be eligible for the six-race Countdown playoffs if they compete in all 18 regular season events and run a minimum of two qualifying sessions at each of those 18 events.

Given that most of the 18 NHRA regular season events have as many as four qualifying sessions, the new expanded field could potentially add several Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars to the Countdown field. For example, if there are 16 full-time teams that compete in all 18 regular season races for the upcoming season, all 16 teams will likely qualify for the playoffs.

If those additional drivers meet the new standard, their point standings will also be reset after the U.S. Nationals, as has always been the case for the top 10 Countdown qualifiers.

Changes will also take place in Countdown qualifying for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, which have smaller season schedules than their counterparts in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 13-race regular season, additional Pro Stock drivers who have competed in all 13 prior events as well as took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will be eligible for the Countdown.

Because it contests only an 18-race overall season schedule, Pro Stock’s portion of the Countdown is only five races, rather than six as in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, which has a 16-race overall season schedule, in addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 11-race regular season, riders who have competed in all 11 regular season events and took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will also be eligible for the Countdown.

As in Top Fuel and Funny Car, all Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers/riders that qualify for the Countdown after the U.S. Nationals will have their points reset.

Speaking of points being reset, the NHRA also announced that heading into the Countdown, Top Fuel and Funny Car will see first and second place be separated by 20 points, while each subsequent position will be separated by a 10-point differential.

In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, first and second place heading into the Countdown will be separated by 20 points, while second through fifth place will be separated by 10 points and all positions below fifth place will be separated by five points.

And has been the case in the past, all drivers/riders that reach the Auto Club Finals season-ending race will earn points-and-a-half for qualifying and each round run.

According to a NHRA media release, “NHRA officials made this change in order to better reward driver endurance and encourage participation in regular season events.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski