IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Remaining part-time entrants

Simona de Silvestro. Photo: AP
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MotorSportsTalk concludes its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with these drivers who raced in three or fewer events:

30. Simona de Silvestro (3 starts)
31. JR Hildebrand (2 starts)
32. Oriol Servia (2 starts)
33. Mikhail Aleshin (1 start)
35. Townsend Bell (1 start)
36. Carlos Huertas (3 starts)
37. Alex Tagliani (1 start)
38. James Davison (1 start)
39. Bryan Clauson (1 start)
N/R. Buddy Lazier (1 DNQ)
N/R. Rocky Moran Jr. (1 Practice)
N/R. Davey Hamilton (1 Test)

The sample size was too small and too infrequent to merit much more than a one-paragraph review for these drivers. Here are quick recaps of the races where they made an appearance:

Simona de Silvestro, Nos. 25 and 29 Andretti Autosport Honda

The likable, talented and popular Swiss made a welcome return in the best equipment she’s ever had. Problem was, it was only for the season opener, which then grew into two further races. Fourth in NOLA owed more to strategy and it briefly had her top-10 in points, but she endured a tough Indy 500 in her last IndyCar appearance this season.

JR Hildebrand, No. 6 CFH Racing Chevrolet 

Was unlucky to have not finished higher than he did in his two month of May starts for CFH Racing. Gambled on strategy at the Grand Prix and had a potential top-six in his grasp before a rough final pit stop; meanwhile banked his second straight one-off top-10 in the Indy 500 in P8. Deserves more starts in 2016.

Oriol Servia, No. 32 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda and No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda 

An Indy 500 pre-race sleeper, Servia didn’t get to send the David Letterman special in Ray Harroun livery into Victory Lane, ending in the wall after contact with Ed Carpenter. But Servia’s grace, fortitude and determination shone through in what was Justin Wilson’s No. 25 Honda in a last-minute call-up at Sonoma.

Mikhail Aleshin, No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

The likable Russian made a surprise, welcome return to the IndyCar field at Sonoma in a third car and scored a top-10 finish after qualifying the highest of the three cars. It plants the seed for a potential full-time return in 2016.

Carlos Huertas, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

“Grumpy Cat” made a surprise last-minute return ahead of St. Petersburg and nearly finished second at NOLA on strategy before an inglorious and unfortunate spin under yellow. The surprises continued when he mysteriously disappeared for two races, then came back for Indy, qualified well for the ‘500, then suffered an inner ear condition and removed from the cockpit once more.

Townsend Bell, No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing Chevrolet 

NBCSN’s IndyCar analyst made his usual Indy 500 appearance, but without the desired result despite great pit work from the DRR crew and early month promise. You can view his month of May blogs for MotorSportsTalk here, and the third year of our annual “Ten with Townsend” series here.

Alex Tagliani, No. 48 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda

Had a cool car with a Gurney tribute livery driving for Foyt, led a lap again on pit strategy and finished his usual mid-teens in his second straight one-off Indy 500.

James Davison, No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda 

Davison’s practice speed was impressive given limited running, but his lone race start ended ingloriously following a pit road collision that hit two crewmembers.

Bryan Clauson, No. 88 KVSH/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Chevrolet 

The short-track ace and the popular Jonathan Byrd’s name returned to IMS after several year hiatuses and more often than not, it showed in a tough month.

Buddy Lazier, No. 91 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet

The 1996 Indy 500 champ found qualifying with a new aero kit, a deeper field and limited on-track running a tougher challenge this time around than in 2013 or 2014.

Rocky Moran Jr., No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

Moran was due to make a surprise, but welcome, debut at Long Beach before a hand injury derailed and sidelined him after an accident in practice. Conor Daly took over the ride for the rest of the weekend.

Davey Hamilton, No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing Chevrolet

Hamilton made his competitive one-day return in an official session filling in for T-Bell during the first day of oval kit testing at IMS.

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)