IndyCar Driver Review: Remaining part-timers P28-39

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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.

The road to the 2023 Daytona 500 is not paved for Travis Pastrana, he’ll attempt the DIRTcar Nationals

Pastrana DIRTcar Nationals
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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Travis Pastrana will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup series race on February 19 with the grandaddy of them all, the Daytona 500, but his road to get there will not be paved and his car will have only two fenders as he tackles Florida Speedweeks and the DIRTcar Nationals.

In mid-January, it was announced Pastrana will attempt to qualify a third car from 23XI Racing that fields fulltime entries for Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. Sponsorship will come from Black Rifle Coffee, who approached him during the offseason to ask what kind of “really cool stuff” he would like to do. Pastrana replied, “the Daytona 500” with a characteristic laugh in his voice.

“It’s good,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’re going to go down, we’re going to go hangout with [NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion] Matt Crafton, one of [Black Rifle’s] drivers, we’ll go to Modified races and watch all the Late Models. We’ll watch the racing, and we’ll bring [United States military] veterans down and hangout with [Steve] Arpin.”

But there is a saying among dirt track fans that goes, ‘asphalt is for getting to the track; dirt is for racing’ – and Pastrana is taking that to heart.

After racing on the snow in Nitro Rallycross February 4-5 in Calgary, Alberta, the original plan was to head to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida to watch the modified and late model races. Until Crafton called him out for not racing.

Pastrana relayed the conversation: “I told Crafton [I was coming to watch] and he goes, ‘Ah, too much of a sissy to drive?’ I called Arpin, and said, ‘So, Longhorn, I heard you guys have vehicles that can kick the crap out of Crafton’s vehicle.’ [Arpin] said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t suck, you can beat him.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”

The DIRTcar Nationals run from February 6-18. The first week features six UMP Modified Mains each night they run, on Monday (Feb. 6), Friday (Feb. 10), and then the prestigious Gator Championship race on Saturday (Feb. 11). Pastrana hopes to run every night in one of Arpin’s cars, also with sponsorship from Black Riffle Coffee.

And this is not just for bragging rights; there is money on the line. Pastrana and Crafton have a $1 bet on who has the best finish.

While Pastrana is accustomed pitching his car sideways on a combination of left and right turns in a rally car – he won the Nitro Rallycross race at ERX Motorsports Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota last October and became the first two-time winner in the 2022/23 season at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, Arizona in November – the DIRTcar Nationals will be an entirely different proposition.

It took a day for Pastrana to get comfortable in the modified. And it took a little coaching from Arpin, who has experience in both dirt modifieds and rally cars to make him fast.

“[Arpin] showed up the second day after hearing how bad the first day was,” Pastrana said, which is confirmed in the Instagram post embedded above. “But he just told me, until you commit, it’s not going to work. Once I committed, it started making a lot of sense. But coming in, if you’re lifting off the gas while trying to turn, it just doesn’t turn and all your natural instincts say, ‘Don’t get on the gas.’ So, yeah, I feel like it should suit my driving style because I’m more of an aggressive sideways type of driver, but it was very difficult. Turning and sliding, I’m fine. Getting it there is not the easiest.”

Pastrana has one previous start in a dirt late model that came in the 2010 Prelude to the Dream. He finished 23rd in the 27-car field and was three laps off the pace. He wasn’t the only driver having difficulty getting a feel for the car that night; Jeff Gordon finished on the same lap, only one position ahead of him.

Travis Pastrana will race one of Steve Arpin’s dirt modifieds during Florida Speedweeks as he prepares for the 2023 Daytona 500. – Jacy Norgaard, World Racing Group

The price of the weekend could well exceed the dollar he may lose to Crafton.

“It’s going to be an expensive weekend,” Pastrana said. “Not everything is covered. If I crash anything, it is going to be all on me. This is one of those things where I want to come down and have fun. I want to hang out with the crowd, I want to sign autographs and give high fives. Especially for the Modified crew, that’s the grassroots racing that I love and some of my friends are involved with. We’ll be camping down there with Arpin and all the Longhorn guys, just hanging out. I feel like that’s a great opportunity for us to bring a lot of [US] veterans and bring people that are into racing and aren’t into racing, friends and family, and just have an awesome time.”

And it’s not out of the question that Pastrana could add another top-10 to his record book in the DIRTcar Nationals. After the rocky first day, Pastrana gained speed. Enough so that Arpin’s confidence was raised.

“We’re pretty confident Crafton is going to have to run hard to keep his dollar,” Arpin said.