Alonso brought Indy 500 car count up to 30. Photo: Getty Images

Recent run on Indy 500 entries brings confirmed cars up to 30

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About a month ago (March 7 was our first tracker) there were barely mid-20s in terms of Indianapolis 500 entries confirmed. And then the last five days happened.

Friday at Long Beach, Zach Veach was confirmed in a third AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Then Sunday, Jack Harvey was added as a fifth Andretti Autosport Honda. Monday, Gabby Chaves’ ride with the new Harding Group Chevrolet was formally revealed.

Oh and Wednesday, there was a certain two-time Formula 1 World Champion announced in a sixth Andretti Autosport Honda, as McLaren and Fernando Alonso are set to tackle the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Harvey’s car was also announced to run under the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti banner in a joint entry.

The confirmations bring Honda’s total car count to its maximum 18 available leases and thus will leave it to Chevrolet to fill out the field.

Here’s the breakdown so far:

HONDA (18)

  • Andretti Autosport (6): 26-Takuma Sato, 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay-W, 27-Marco Andretti (Andretti with Lendium), 98-Alexander Rossi-W (Andretti-Herta Autosport), 50-Jack Harvey-R (Michael Shank Racing with Andretti), 29-Fernando Alonso-R (McLaren Honda Andretti)
  • Chip Ganassi Racing Teams (4): 8-Max Chilton, 9-Scott Dixon-W, 10-Tony Kanaan-W, 83-Charlie Kimball
  • Dale Coyne Racing (3): 18-Sebastien Bourdais, 19-Ed Jones-R, 63-Pippa Mann
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (3): 5-James Hinchcliffe, 7-Mikhail Aleshin, 77-Jay Howard (SPM with Team ONE Cure)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2): 15-Graham Rahal, 16-Oriol Servia

CHEVROLET (12)

  • Team Penske (5): 1-Simon Pagenaud, 2-Josef Newgarden, 3-Helio Castroneves-W, 12-Will Power, 22-Juan Pablo Montoya-W
  • AJ Foyt Racing (3): 4-Conor Daly, 14-Carlos Munoz, 40-Zach Veach-R
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2): 20-Ed Carpenter, 21-JR Hildebrand
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1): 24-Sage Karam
  • Harding Racing (1): 88-Gabby Chaves

FILLING OUT THE FIELD

The expectation from here is Juncos Racing, Ricardo Juncos’ team, would be running two cars with Buddy Lazier and his family team joining in – all in Chevrolets – to bring the number up to 33.

For Juncos, the step up to IndyCar from its Mazda Road to Indy success understandably takes a bigger budget to make happen, and why announcements haven’t happened beyond its original reveal is solely down to that. It’s a matter of making the dollars work to see the new team on the grid for its first race.

Lazier’s team told IndyCar Radio at St. Petersburg they again plan to be in Indianapolis, as they have each of the last four years (failed to qualify in 2015 but have three starts in 2013, 2014 and 2016).

If one of these three cars would fail to materialize, another Chevrolet entry would have to emerge to make 33, and despite Carpenter’s wishes to the contrary from his planned two-car effort, that’d seem make the most sense as a logical replacement.

SO WHO’S STILL LEFT?

There’s still a number of drivers actively looking to be considered for those final couple seats. Here’s a quick primer on the likely five drivers vying for the final spots:

  • Spencer Pigot: At the moment, Pigot is sidelined by the double variable of ECR’s planned two-car entry and the fact most of the other entrenched one-off entries have been filled.
  • Matthew Brabham: Continues to make the rounds along with his management in the paddock, but finding budget remains the stumbling block.
  • Sebastian Saavedra: Saavedra and longtime supporter Gary Peterson were in Long Beach and they’ve run a chassis in this race several times over. The longer it gets before the entry deadline, the more likely Saavedra re-emerges once again.
  • James Davison: Like the other three above, the talented Australian was making himself available to team owners for meetings during Long Beach to try to finalize a program. Losing the 18th Honda engine lease potential did not help his prospects.
  • Gustavo Yacaman: Wasn’t at Long Beach but has been rumored for an opportunity, in what would be an IndyCar race debut, a different scenario from the other four.

At the moment, we’re not listing Stefan Wilson, Townsend Bell, Katherine Legge, RC Enerson and Kyle Kaiser among those drivers.

Wilson has publicly bowed out of a seat this year to forego his planned drive with Andretti to allow the Alonso opportunity to occur. If the racing gods are paying attention, the lanky, likable 27-year-old Brit is due karma in spades for making that tough decision.

Bell’s not said he won’t do Indy this year but after having his best chance to win last year fall short, he is smart enough to not take a likely bottom-of-the-field ride just to keep his start streak alive. He also has Le Mans to prep for, where he won last year in class with Scuderia Corsa.

Legge’s hopes likely rested on a Honda engine lease availability and with the Andretti possibility going away, her stint outside the ‘500 is set to continue as it’s highly doubtful you would see her in a Chevrolet.

Despite Enerson’s star turn with Dale Coyne Racing in his three-race cameo late 2016, things have quieted for his hopes, although he was known to be in contention for at least one of the now-filled vacancies.

Kaiser was perhaps the biggest slam dunk when Juncos’ arrival was announced, but we’ve heard in the last couple weeks that the team may not be inclined, and for that matter the driver may not be inclined, to be stretched so thin pulling off both an Indianapolis 500 and Freedom 100 double for Juncos’ planned IndyCar debut. Put this way – if the 21-year-old Californian does do both, it would be more of a surprise now than it was a month or so ago.

All told, the race to fill the final few spots on the 33-car grid is coming towards an end, and the next couple weeks will likely be pivotal in seeing who will make up the balance of the 2017 field.

An IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Talladega? Drivers have discussed it

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If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is interested in an IndyCar iRacing event on an oval, he might like the latest idea being kicked around by NTT Series drivers.

“I personally would want to run at Talladega, but I don’t think that’s an option,” Arrow McLaren SP driver rookie Oliver Askew told NBCSports.com in a Friday interview about his simulation work for the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “IndyCar drivers have a group chat with iRacing, and someone had the idea of running at Talladega, and I thought it was brilliant.”

It actually would be a throwback of sorts as a USAC-sanctioned race with Indy cars at Talladega nearly happened 40 years ago.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be running its second consecutive road course Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or streaming here).

Of the four remaining races in the six-race series, there’s a chance that three of them could be ovals: A Drivers’ Choice track April 11; a “Random Draw” April 18 and a non-IndyCar “Dream” track May 2 (the April 25 race will be at Circuit of the Americas).

ENTRY LIST: Who will be racing at Barber

SPOTTER GUIDE: All 29 of this weekend’s paint schemes

IndyCar drivers are voting on next week’s track, and the options include high-speed ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway and Michigan Speedway.

A multicar crash at Talladega last October. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Talladega apparently isn’t on the list for next week, but surely it could be considered for a future race if it meant having Earnhardt in the field. The 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver is a six-time winner at Talladega, and the NASCAR on NBC analyst’s family is synonymous with the 2.66-mile oval where his late seven-time champion father won a record 10 times.

“I hope he can make that happen,” Askew said of racing against Earnhardt. “I hope IndyCar can grant his wish on that.”

The addition of Earnhardt would fit well with an IndyCar iRacing Challenge that already features champions from NASCAR (Jimmie Johnson) and Supercars (Scott McLaughlin).

Will Power would like to see more of that.

“I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series,” Power said. “Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.”