IndyCar: What’s Honda’s next move, driver-wise?

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A trying 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season featured one major highlight for Honda: the Indianapolis 500 triumph with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

But that was about it in a year that was arguably one of the toughest for the stalwart stakeholders of IndyCar.

In the Manufacturer’s Championship, Chevrolet defeated Honda 2293-1889, and that was with Chevrolet losing 100 points at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway for various penalties. In only six of 18 races did Honda outscore Chevrolet under the new Manufacturer’s Championship points.

It marks the third straight Manufacturer’s title for Chevrolet since General Motors rejoined the championship in 2012.

On the driver front, Honda has lost two of its marquee drivers. Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) and Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing) are now aligned with Chevrolet teams; Newgarden doesn’t switch teams, but the merged CFH squad takes the Chevrolets run by Ed Carpenter Racing rather than the Hondas utilized by Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Meanwhile Pagenaud, a longtime Honda driver, saddles up with Chevrolet at Team Penske.

It leaves Honda in a bit of a quandary on the driver front, as well as the team front.

As it stands now, Chevrolet has at least 12 cars – four apiece from Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, and two apiece from CFH and KV Racing (or whatever KV’s second team name will be known as).

Andretti Autosport leads Honda’s contingent with four cars of their own, with at least three of their drivers (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz) confirmed for 2015. Then there’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing with two cars apiece, and single cars from A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport.

The next likely domino to fall is James Hinchcliffe, who could well become the face of Honda assuming he stays with the manufacturer. Hinchcliffe is a potential replacement for Pagenaud at SPM if he doesn’t re-sign with Andretti.

Justin Wilson is also a flagship member of Honda’s lineup, and it would behoove the manufacturer to ensure Wilson has a quality ride with either Andretti or SPM as his Coyne tenure could well be at an end.

There remain the big last names – Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal both are Honda drivers for 2015 – that Honda can utilize if they become regular race winners and title contenders.

The goal now for Honda, ideally, would be to keep Hinch and Wilson on board besides RHR.

It’s just the items like this (Pagenaud and Newgarden in a cornfield, Pagenaud in an Acura commercial) that are being left behind.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)