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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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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