2014 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I break down the 33 drivers in this year’s 98th Indianapolis 500, hopefully as quickly as possible. For a comparison to last year’s, have a look at what we thought ahead of 2013.

Much of Sunday’s race, the fifth of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, will be determined by temperature, fuel mileage and tire wear as well as how good each car “sucks up” in the tow effect.

Row 1

20-Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

Tony DiZinno: Indiana’s native son and the back-to-back polesitter is smart enough to know what didn’t work last year, and what he and his team can change this year to keep it P1 on race day. I don’t think he takes it, but a top-3 or top-5 is a good projection.

Chris Estrada: One of the top oval racers in the entire series, Carpenter is capable of an upset if he can keep his nose clean going into the final quarter of the race.

27-James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the series’ most popular drivers would make a popular winner, especially after suffering his concussion in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hasn’t yet had a truly great Indy 500, though.

CE: Hinch’s luck at the ‘500’ has been mixed, but considering the equipment at his disposal, a Top-5 finish is not out of the question.

12-Will Power (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: His Fontana win exorcised demons but I’m not convinced – yet, anyway – Power has enough to make it back-to-back 500-mile wins. Racing at Indy and racing at Fontana are two completely different animals.

CE: Power was victorious the last time IndyCars raced on an oval, and he can definitely have a say in the outcome starting from the front row.

Row 2

3-Helio Castroneves (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: I think this is your guy, or pretty dang close. Everything about the Pennzoil throwback livery, Rick Mears helmet and overcoming the struggles of the last several years points to him saying, “Hey, I’m freaking due for No. 4.”

CE: After leading just four laps in the last four Indy 500s, three-time winner Castroneves needs to summon his past magic.

77-Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Put him in the top tier of win contenders. In year three of his oval development, with a rocket of a car and a Senna tribute helmet, could well make it a month of May double at IMS.

CE: If GP of Indy winner Pagenaud takes the ‘500,’ you’d hope that IMS quietly wires him a bit of bonus money for sweeping the New Month of May.

25-Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: A popular pick; he always runs well at Indy and just needs that final bit of luck to match his consistent race craft.

CE: Marco’s been a threat in recent years, and a win from sixth on the grid would trigger some of the loudest cheers ever heard at 16th and Georgetown.

Row 3

34-Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: Perhaps it was because he was such a revelation last year, but I don’t think the sequel’s gonna be as good as the original for Munoz.

CE: After his explosive charge to second last year, Munoz cannot be counted out. But it just feels like a replication of that feat is a tick too much to ask.

67-Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: The rising American star needs a good ‘500 after two trying ones, and has the pace to contend. A solid top-10 would be a good result for him.

CE: What an arrival on the national stage it would be for the gregarious American if he can come through for the small Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team.

21-JR Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The 2011 “he walled it on the last turn” narrative is tired. He needs a new chapter of his career, and is the best one-off challenger with Ed Carpenter Racing.

CE: One driver with a big chip on his shoulder + one team that’s proven itself on speedways = legitimate dark horse.

Row 4

2-Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske Motorsports/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The Penske “wild card.” He’s either going to be mixing it with the leaders or falling back due to the lack of balance, but I think he’ll stay within the top five most of the day.

CE: Montoya will be a force to be reckoned with once he fully comes to grips with the DW12, but right now, a Top-10 would be a solid day’s work.

9-Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Dixon’s race pace is better than we all thought (myself included). He knows how to handle this race, save fuel and will contend for his second win.

CE: The Target cars should be a threat in race trim, and after several near-misses, it feels like Dixon’s due to get his mug on the Borg-Warner for a second time.

26-Kurt Busch (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the race’s biggest stories, but it would be a better story for IndyCar if he only ends top-five at best, and not in victory lane.

CE: You have to admire the former NASCAR champion for being a quick study with the IndyCar, but it seems that a Top-10/Top-15 showing is the ceiling for him.

Row 5

98-Jack Hawksworth (BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian/Honda)

TDZ: Admitted to me he has no idea where he’ll end up, but his street course pace from earlier this year has translated nicely to IMS. Must be considered a rookie-of-the-year contender.

CE: The Hawk has shown that he’s a gasser, but it will be interesting to see if he can play things steady in his first ‘500.’

19-Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Indy’s best “under the radar” driver in recent years is a potential win contender if the balance is right, but the pit stops must be spot-on throughout the day. One last year cost him dearly.

CE: Be prepared to say ‘Where’d Wilson come from?’ again; he’s pretty good at making people do that.

7-Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Fast and fearless is a dangerous combo at Indy. The Russian rookie could run the gamut from a top-five or crashing for the first time this month in a blaze of glory.

CE: The pedal-to-the-metal Aleshin will either stun the heck out of everyone like Munoz did last year or be one of the first in the fence; a “tweener,” he isn’t.

Row 6

10-Tony Kanaan (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The car’s good. The team’s good. He’s the defending champ and has nothing to lose. Watch his restarts and expect him in the top-five late battling for his second straight win.

CE: A Top-5 is doable for the defending ‘500’ champion, but I’m not sure he can be the first repeat Indy winner in over a decade.

11-Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Erratic form this month in vacillating between quick and nowhere. Hasn’t found the balance or ultimate pace; I don’t think he’ll be a major contender.

CE: Running with the team that brought Kanaan his ‘500’ win could give Bourdais an opportunity, but IMS hasn’t been one of his better tracks (2 DNFs in 3 starts, average finish of 20.3).

16-Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Not especially quick this month but I’d be surprised if he and the RLL crew aren’t in the top half dozen or so the last 20 laps.

CE: Like Wilson, Servia has the tendency to quietly put together good drives. How far his car will let him sneak up the pylon is the question.

Row 7

28-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the best cars in race trim, RHR is a definite win contender, probably Andretti’s most complete driver.

CE: A tough qualifying session has Hunter-Reay right in the middle of the pack. One wonders if that will mean an aggressive approach from him at the start…

15-Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has all the elements to succeed, but other than a third place in 2011 hasn’t really put it all together at Indy.

CE: Rahal seems to be perpetually under the radar at the Brickyard, but a strong performance on Sunday would mean a lot for his team and the National Guard this Memorial Day weekend.

18-Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Relatively quiet rookie who doesn’t make mistakes and seeks a trouble-free 500 miles.

CE: Huertas has one job: Get the car home in one piece. Consider the usual attrition factor at Indy, and a Top-15 would be a nice effort.

Row 8

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Good cause, good car, good crew and improved confidence. If the balance is right, a top-15 is more than possible.

CE: Here’s hoping that Mann can run the full distance and raise more money for the Susan G. Komen foundation. That said, she’s probably heading for a mid-pack run.

14-Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: He nearly won 2012 and entered 2013 as points leader, but has been under the radar this year. Still seeks first ‘500 top-10.

CE: Sato was a non-descript 13th in last year’s race, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be anything else but non-descript in the 98th Running.

68-Alex Tagliani (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has been all but anonymous this month, but I’d expect that to end on race day… either with a big result or a big moment.

CE: With solid pit work, Tagliani’s veteran savvy could have that second Sarah Fisher Hartman car sniffing a Top-10.

Row 9

6-Townsend Bell (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Our NBCSN analyst ended Carb Day practice P3 and is with defending champion KV Racing Technology; his third career ‘500 top-10 is more than possible.

CE: Third-fastest in Friday’s final practice, Bell may turn some heads on Sunday – and not just because of that vivid color splash on his Robert Graham car.

83-Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: One of three or four “sneaky good” guys here at the Speedway, and he seeks his third straight top-10 finish in the ‘500.

CE: Kimball has turned mid-pack starts into Top-10 finishes the last two years, but he’s got a long road ahead of him coming from 26th on the grid.

5-Jacques Villeneuve (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: The legend is back, having a great time, but he likely won’t factor into the lead pack.

CE: Villeneuve’s return after a 19-year absence is perhaps a little odd, but it’s always good to have another ‘500’ champ on the grid.

Row 10

33-James Davison (KVRT/Always Evolving Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Has quietly impressed on a short engine program for KV Racing Technology, and his vibrant teal and white car has top-15 potential.

CE: A full 200 laps will feel like a win for Davo no matter where he ends up on the pylon.

41-Martin Plowman (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: Foyt’s second car has never been the best in the Indy 500 and the likeable English rookie just needs to bring it home in one piece, with somewhere between 16th and 20th a reasonable effort.

CE: Like Davison, Plowman needs to log as many laps as he can and keep it off the wall.

8-Ryan Briscoe (NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seems decently happy with the car in race trim and is in a better spot now having had months with his crew, as opposed to being a one-off last year. Should end top-10 if he stays out of trouble.

CE: Briscoe converted an Indy pole into a Top-5 finish in 2012. Starting 30th this year, he’ll have to do a lot more work to get a similar result.

Row 11

22-Sage Karam (Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: A rookie with swagger, enough self-confidence and a good team to where he could steal top rookie honors from the last row. Must be patient, though.

CE: SK Money needs another year or two before he becomes “bankable” at the ‘500.’ See what I did there?

17-Sebastian Saavedra (KV/AFS Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seeks an uneventful race after a seriously eventful month, but has kept his emotions in check through it all.

CE: After his GP of Indy pole turned into disaster, it’ll be interesting to see how Saavedra responds on the oval.

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: With decent engineering and a solid Carb Day practice, could factor in for a top-15 if the temperature is right.

CE: The 1996 Indy champ probably isn’t a contender, but it’s not for a lack of trying from him or his family-run operation.

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
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Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”