Could Chevrolet be part of Kurt Busch’s and AJ Allmendinger’s Indy 500 plans?

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Chevrolet IndyCar program manager Chris Berube wants to see the bow tie on a few more cars in this year’s IndyCar series, which obviously includes the legendary Indianapolis 500.

NASCAR’s Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger both want to do the proverbial “double” by driving in this years’s 500 – and later that same day in Sprint Cup’s most grueling race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600.

Busch is entering his first season with Stewart Haas Racing. Allmendinger, likewise, will be in his first full year with JTG Daugherty Racing.

Can you say no-brainer?

The common thread with both drivers and their Indy 500 hopes is Chevrolet. Stewart Haas runs Chevy bodies and motors prepared by Hendrick Motorsports, while  JTG-D switched this year from Toyota to Chevy’s prepared by Richard Childress Racing.

In this day and age of marketing and branding oftentimes being more powerful than the actual driver or competition itself, Busch and The Dinger may already be halfway home in their hopes to race at Indy with their current Chevy connections. It would be Busch’s first time in the 500, and Allmendinger’s second time (he finished seventh in last year’s classic).

“We are less than what we supplied last year, and that was the level we’d like to be at,” Berube told Racer magazine about Chevy’s overall IndyCar season plans. “So we can take on another couple of cars this year.

“Whether it comes from our existing teams adding cars or a new team … it’s a little more difficult to add a whole new team than it is to add cars, but as it stands we’re at 11 cars, and last year it was 13 for most of the season.”

Busch and Allmendinger would fit quite nicely into Chevy’s Indy plan, but it’s not like we’ll have to have a tag day for Chevy in terms of the overall season. It still has some very powerful teams in its camp including Team Penske, Chip Ganassi’s Team Target, KV Racing Technology (which won last year’s 500 with Tony Kanaan, who has moved to the Ganassi camp for 2014), Ed Carpenter Racing and Panther Racing.

“The depth of the talent is stout,” Berube told Racer. “I don’t think we’re any worse off this year [in that regard]. But we all have to grow, and we have to give them more power and more durability.

“We’re pretty happy [with the new engine]. We’re fine tuning now, but that’s very important — that could be the difference between a race-winning application, and one that just creates power. The drivers have to know how to wield it.”

Now admittedly this is pure speculation, but one dark horse possibility for Busch or Allmendinger – or potentially both – would be to drive for Dragon Racing in the Indy 500. While Dragon is not running the full IndyCar schedule this season, it will be at Indianapolis, according to team owner Jay Penske, son of Roger Penske.

And with Dragon likely to once again be powered by Chevy, again, can you say no-brainer?

Granted, Busch is being courted by several teams, including Andretti Autosport, although it has shifted to Honda power for the upcoming season, which could be a deal-breaker for Busch.

But with other potential suitors including Ganassi, KV Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing, surely a Chevy-powered NASCAR driver – or two – should be able to find available rides with a bow tie team for May’s “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” don’t you think?

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Even with half the purse and no fans, Indy 500 still has major team value

Indy 500 purse fans
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Even with reportedly half the purse and no fans in attendance, NTT IndyCar Series driver-owner Ed Carpenter believes it remains “absolutely critical” to hold the 104th Indy 500.

“Far and away it’s what makes and breaks our season as teams,” the Ed Carpenter Racing namesake told reporters during a Zoom media availability last week. “It’s the most important event to our partners. It 100 percent sucks not having fans there and not even being able to have the experience with our partners in full being there. But it’s necessary.

“We’ve got to look at all the hard decisions now of what we have to do to be in a position to have fans in 2021. It’s critical for the health of the teams that we have this race to make sure we have teams back here next year. That sounds a little dramatic, but that’s the reality.

HOW TO WATCH THE INDY 500 ON NBCDetails for the Aug. 23 race

DAILY INDY 500 SCHEDULEClick here for all on-track activity in August at Indy

“We live in not only a very volatile world right now, but our industry and motorsport in general, it’s not an easy business to operate. When you lose your marquee event, it’s a lot different than looking at losing Portland on the schedule or Barber. They’re in totally different atmospheres as far as the importance to us and our partners.”

Robin Miller reported on RACER.com that IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske told team owners last week the purse for the postponed Indianapolis 500 was slashed from $15 to $7.5 million. Miller reported holding the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) would be a $20 million hit to the bottom line.

Carpenter still is supportive of Penske’s “outstanding job” of leading the series through the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Even with a 50 percent purse reduction, the Indy 500 remains the linchpin of teams’ economic viability.

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The schedule has taken many hits with the cancellation of races at Barber Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas, Detroit, Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca and Toronto, and another race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio has been indefinitely postponed.

That leaves the 2020 slate at 12 confirmed races of an original 17, which has raised questions about how many races teams need to fulfill sponsor obligations.

“It’s a moving target,” said Carpenter, who announced the U.S. Space Force as a new sponsor for the Indy 500. “I think we’ve been pretty blessed as a team with the level of commitment of our partners and their understanding of COVID-19 and the impact on our schedule, our contracts.

“All of it is out of our control, out of the series’ control, the promoter’s control. At the end of the day is there a firm number (of races) I can give? No. But definitely every one that we lose, it does make it harder to continue having those conversations.

I think everyone’s as confident as you can be right now with what we have in front of us with what’s remaining on the schedule. Things are so fluid, it changes day-to-day, let alone week-to-week. We just have to take it as it comes. Right now the focus is on the 500 and maximizing this month to the best we possibly can given the situation.”

That’ll be hard this month for Carpenter, who grew up in Indianapolis and is the stepson of Tony George, whose family owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway for decades.

Having spent a lifetime around the Brickyard, Carpenter will feel the ache of missing fans as he races in his 17th Indy 500.

Ed Carpenter, shown racing his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway last month, led a race-high 65 laps and finished second in the 2018 Indy 500 (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“Over that time you develop relationships that are centered around standing outside of your garage in Gasoline Alley,” he said. “It stinks, it sucks that we don’t get to share that passion we all have that is the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately it’s the reality we’re in right now.

I think this is the best that we can do unfortunately. Without a doubt it’s going to be a different environment. You’re going to be missing the sounds and a lot of the sights and colors. For sure I’ve thought about it. It’s going to be a different morning, different lead-in to the race. After 16 of them, you have a cadence and anticipation for the buildup. That’s all going to be different this year.

“I’m confident it’s not going to affect the type of show we put on or the excitement and how aggressive we are fighting for an Indy 500 win. It’s still going to mean the same thing. We’re just not going to have our fans to celebrate with after the fact. But it’s going to be historic.”