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Penske coy on JPM, Newgarden, targets IndyCar lineup in 30 to 60 days

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SONOMA, Calif. – Roger Penske is excellent at many things in racing, including keeping his cards close to the vest.

So too is Josef Newgarden, who has been rumored to potentially make the shift from Ed Carpenter Racing to “The Captain’s” Team Penske for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

So, it perhaps comes as no surprise that Penske offered no hints about his lineup for the 2017 season during a post-event media availability following the confirmation of Menards in a 10-race deal for Simon Pagenaud next season.

The only thing Penske let slip is that the four-car lineup for 2017 is not necessarily guaranteed.

Commercial arrangements appear in place for Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, but the fourth car – currently driven by Juan Pablo Montoya – is yet to have its commercial considerations accounted for.

Penske is targeting to have his IndyCar lineup revealed within “the next 30 to 60 days.”

“Well there’s lots of speculation of what we’re going to do on our drivers. We’re really not in a position to announce the final slate of guys for next year. Our goal is to run at least three cars and potentially four cars,” Penske told assembled reporters.

Penske was non-committal on Montoya’s status.

“We haven’t made that decision yet. We’re in discussions with him. Obviously we have to look at the sponsorship available,” Penske said.

“We’ve got to put the sponsorship around him. I think hopefully in the next 30 to 60 days we’ll have an announcement on what our final lineup will be.”

Despite several attempts, Penske either smiled or offered a “no comment” when asked Newgarden’s status.

“Right now, he’s not available yet,” Penske told a group of assembled reporters.

Penske’s also been linked to a potential sports car program – which could serve as a landing spot for Montoya down the road – and he reiterated what Penske Racing president Tim Cindric has said about wanting one.

If you’re thinking from a prototype standpoint, IMSA has moved towards the new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) platform for 2017. DPi offers one of the four homologated LMP2 chassis, but with custom manufacturer bodywork available as well as a different engine.

In a FIA World Endurance Championship situation, LMP1’s hybrid is open, while in LMP2 there are only just the four chassis with a spec Gibson engine.

“I’ll say what Tim has said, we’ve wanted to run sports cars for a number of years when we were in with Porsche,” Penske said.

“Hopefully there’s an opportunity. We’ve had a chance to talk to two or three different manufacturers. That has some bearing on what we might do, vis-a-vis with the IndyCar also.”

Mark Kent, Director of Motorsports Competition – Chevrolet, did not tip his hand either on when any official GM sports car program for 2017 will be announced. Cadillac has been projected as one of the two DPi manufacturers for 2017, but GM has not made an official confirmation or announcement about its participation.

“The only thing I can say there is, stay tuned,” Kent said.

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500