IndyCar notes: Rahal’s questionable penalty, one-off drivers, rookies have tough days

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Beyond the top runners, other stories emerged from Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series’ season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg we didn’t hit in the last two days. Here’s a quick roundup:

  • Rahal’s penalty call: Of the three avoidable contact penalties called on Sunday, the one assessed to Graham Rahal was easily the most questionable. Charlie Kimball’s car became something of a target halfway through the race when first Simon Pagenaud got into Kimball heading into Turn 4. Kimball, trying to limp back to the pits with left rear bodywork dangling, then turned into Turn 10 when Rahal’s nose clipping him. Rahal took to Twitter after the race to note both his supporters – and haters – with the call earning more scorn than not. “Kimball had a broken car and I didn’t know what he was doing,” Rahal said post-race. “He was so slow off of Turn 9 that I thought he was pulling over and then he accelerates into the kink. He had a broken car and was slow. I went inside of him and then he broke deep. He was cranking in well before the apex so I was trying to bail out and I just tapped him. Sure enough, I dive inside him and he comes over. It’s a shame because the car was good today.”
  • Letterman makes an appearance: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner David Letterman made his annual visit to Florida for the season opener. The retiring host of CBS’ “The Late Show,” said during a picture taken with his driver, “Look, it’s Graham Rahal with his grandpa.”
  • Karam’s Ganassi debut: One finish, zero tearoffs used: The goal for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams rookie Sage Karam, in his IndyCar team debut and second overall start in the series, was to bring it home to the finish. He did, but discovered post-race he hadn’t used any of the visor tearoffs on his helmet. “I was so focused on taking care of the car and running good laps, I totally forgot. But all in all, I just tried to do what the team told me to, which was keep the car in one piece and run all the laps,” he said.
  • Contact crushes Chaves, de Silvestro’s days: The other two avoidable contact penalties were issued when Gabby Chaves and Simona de Silvestro (started 11th) hit the pair of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates; Chaves hit James Hinchcliffe and de Silvestro hit James Jakes, both at Turn 14. Chaves and Marco Andretti also had contact, while de Silvestro collided with her Andretti Autosport teammate, Carlos Munoz. “The incident with Carlos kind of started the whole downhill of our day,” de Silvestro said. “We lost a lot of pace after that incident and then we were kind of behind the ball a little bit. At the end, you just kind of keep going – you adapt to it (how the car changes after an incident). Then, it was unfortunate with (James) Jakes; he seemed to brake really early into the last turn and I couldn’t really avoid him.” Said Chaves of his day: “I learned so much today. The incident with the 5 car (Hinchcliffe): I saw an opening, but it closed up. I tried hard to avoid it, even getting down in the grass, but just couldn’t avoid it.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.