What to Watch For: IndyCar at Toronto (2:30 p.m. ET, CNBC)

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TORONTO – Following an interesting weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto, today’s race – the 11th of 16 in the Verizon IndyCar Series season (2:30 p.m. ET, CNBC) – represents a good opportunity for the field to get jumbled considering strategy, cautions and surprises often tend to dominate proceedings.

The top four on the grid is predictable with Scott Dixon ahead of three Team Penske drivers, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, but with Sebastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe in fifth and sixth there are some hungry drivers ready to overtake the Penske/Ganassi quartet.

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

Here’s what to look for ahead of today’s 85-lap race, which you can see live on CNBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (re-air is 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

THE START…

Considering the new tight, slower Turn 11 and most of the other races have been able to get the cars lined up side-by-side prior to the start, it will be interesting to see how many rows can get lined up out of the slow corner. That will then see the cars launch going into Turn 1, where there’s at least a good funnel effect.

…THEN TURN 3

Toronto’s most legendary and perhaps notorious corner is Turn 3, the tight right-hander at the end of Lake Shore Blvd.

“Being up front means you’re less likely to get caught up in a mess in Turn 1 and Turn 3, which is almost inevitable here. So we’ll see how it turns out,” said Hinchcliffe.

Bourdais joked, of any possibility of INDYCAR moving the start to the backstraight, “Let’s have a crack at it on the back straight, see how many cars we can take out in Turn 3. It would be awesome.”

Thus far this weekend Turn 3 hasn’t been the trouble spot. Instead, it’s been…

…AND THEN TURNS 9, 10 AND 11

The final complex of the circuit has been the complex under the most scrutiny this weekend, following Turn 8, which was moved back to its original configuration on Saturday.

Of Turn 8, polesitter Dixon said, “It’s where it should have been to start with, I think. It’s a place I think more for racing. It’s always difficult to pass there, but it’s always another option. On street courses you need as many options as possible.

“It would definitely help the racing. It helped the corner a little bit. Wherever the concrete is here, especially on the apexes, one,three, five, eight, even through the last section now, just gets polished. It’s very slippery.”

Here’s Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport on Turn 11: “For sure the track is much different than last year. It’s much harder for the drivers, especially in (Turn11 – we saw a lot of problems there.”

Turns 9, 10 and 11 will be the most difficult corners to master because they’re tighter and have produced a number of accidents throughout the weekend.

PIT LANE

As noted in the preview, the pit lane may well be a mess – some drivers have it worse than others trying to enter their respective boxes.

If a full course caution occurs and most of the field pits at once, it could get chaotic, quickly.

CARNAGE ON TAP? 

There have really not been a lot of cautions this year, because the depth of field is so strong from drivers 1-22 and the reliability from both Chevrolet and Honda has been largely impressive albeit with some hiccups (Chevrolet is seeking to improve though after some recent component failures).

But while the number of cautions has gone on road and street courses this year, in order, 2, 0, 1, 2, 2, 3 and 1, it just feels like we’re due for a race of derpage.

The Toronto course has proven to be more challenging than normal owing to the above course changes, and the fact we’ve had two crashes already with Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball at Turn 11 in Friday practice portends a race where the pace car is due to be circulating more frequently than normal.

The law of averages simply dictates we’re due here in Toronto, where cautions usually come fast and furious. In the race’s history (hat tip to my colleague Steve Wittich for this), the average is 3.6 yellows for 14.81 laps.

In 2014, race two, there were seven yellows for 20 laps and in 2011, there were eight for 32 laps. Since 2012 and the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis, there’s only been more than four yellows once – that aforementioned 2014 race.

HINCH…

It’s James Hinchcliffe’s home race and with it comes the necessary pressure of wanting to perform. He’s been asked a similar question about it being his home race countless times. How will he do today? It’s always a story.

SEABASS…

Arguably Bourdais, in the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet, has been the best driver outside of the Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing stables at Toronto. He was disappointed in some respects to be fifth but that’s because if he and his car were even further dialed in, he’d have been on the front row. Definitely one to watch.

…AND THE REST OF THE NON-GANASSI/PENSKE BRIGADE

Beyond the top four drivers, there’s these outstanding questions:

  • How does Josef Newgarden fare from P8 on the grid after acknowledging this hasn’t been his strongest weekend?
  • What to make of the Dale Coyne Racing teammates after their strong qualifying positions?
  • Can Andretti Autosport spring a strategy surprise to overcome a poor qualifying performance?

HERE’S YOUR GRID AND PIT WINDOWS

We shall wait and see.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”