PREVIEW: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear

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DETROIT – And so, the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series season begins this weekend. With the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear offering a chance at two races – it’s double the chance for success or failure in the frame of the rest of 2017.

Here’s some of the things to look for this weekend:

2017 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear – Talking Points

Avoiding the “Detroit results hangover”

Takuma Sato is next up among those who head to Detroit after the whirlwind week of media since winning the Indianapolis 500. And since Detroit became a doubleheader weekend in 2013, it’s not gone well.

At the doubleheader weekends, these have been the results for the ‘500 champion:

  • 2013: Tony Kanaan, Race 1 Started 19th, Finished 13th; Race 2 19th/12th
  • 2014: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Race 1 21st/16th; Race 2 21st/19th
  • 2015: Juan Pablo Montoya, Race 1 3rd/10th; Race 2 1st/10th
  • 2016: Alexander Rossi, Race 1 17th/10th; Race 2 18th/12th

Sato is now part of a three-way tie for second in points with Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, 11 behind new points leader Helio Castroneves, who moved into the spot after the race.

If Sato can survive Detroit without losing too much ground, that’ll determine where he lands in the overall championship and whether he can fight for anything the rest of the way.

Seven for seven?

Sato’s win at Indianapolis also made him the sixth winner in as many races to kick off the year. A seventh winner this weekend would match the 2000 CART and IRL seasons.

Consider Scott Dixon is not among those six who have won, and there’s others such as Castroneves – winless since race two here in 2014 and who won his first race ever in that seventh race of the 2000 CART season – among others who are yet to win this year.

Even if a repeat winner of the five drivers who have won this year repeats this weekend, there’s still a chance for seven of eight, as the series looks to tie or eclipse the record mark of 11 winners in a year.

Championship shakeup

The top 14 drivers are within 100 points heading into this weekend, with 98 points separating Castroneves in the lead from Marco Andretti in 14th. Again, a strong two or bad two races this weekend could jumble that order.

Chevy vs. Honda in Chevy’s backyard

The wins are split this year, three each between Chevrolet and Honda. Honda currently leads the Manufacturer’s Championship, 480-471.

The breakdown of winners in the Chevrolet sponsored race, since it’s been a doubleheader, are broken down this way, with Chevrolet holding a 5-3 lead.

  • 2013: Mike Conway (Coyne Honda), Simon Pagenaud (SPHM Honda)
  • 2014: Will Power (Penske Chevrolet), Helio Castroneves (Penske Chevrolet)
  • 2015: Carlos Munoz (Andretti Honda), Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Chevrolet)
  • 2016: Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Chevrolet), Will Power (Penske Chevrolet)

Gutierrez’s debut; Jones’ beginning of rest of year one

Dale Coyne Racing is in the spotlight this weekend, as ever. Esteban Gutierrez makes a perhaps surprise debut in the team’s No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda, the Mexican driver making at least a one-weekend appearance as the latest new driver in the series.

Meanwhile for Ed Jones, in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, the weekend presents a fascinating case study into how his psyche will affect the rest of his year. Both in 2015 and 2016, Jones had a midsummer slump that hindered his eventual points total in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series, although last year he made up for it when he won by the end.

Jones has never raced at Detroit and with Sebastien Bourdais absent for the foreseeable future, the Dubai-based Brit now faces an interesting opportunity where he’ll assert the team leader role. Will he rise up to the challenge and continue his success of the opening six races of the year, as he currently sits ninth in points, just five behind fifth place? Or will hit the perhaps inevitable rookie year speed bumps?

The final words

Switching it up and going with two drivers this weekend, in both A.J. Foyt Racing drivers of the ABC Supply Co. Chevrolets. Why, you ask? Carlos Munoz explained the challenge of what it takes to prep for Detroit, while teammate Conor Daly has had his best IndyCar success at this track – he’s come sixth, second and sixth in his last three starts here.

Munoz, who won his first and thus far only race of his career thus far on these streets in 2015:  “Moving on from Indy to road courses makes for a really challenging week, because everyone is really tired — the mechanics, engineers and the drivers. And Detroit is a two-race event which makes it tough. Still, Detroit is where we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve qualified good, run good and I got my first win there in 2015. They’ve ground down the bumps on the backstretch, which will be nicer, but it’s still a challenging track. I’m looking forward to it.”

And from Daly: “I love Detroit. It’s always where I get my best finish. I was second last year, and I want to win this year. This track is a lot of fun for me and having a doubleheader is great. Two races are always better than one! Should be fun!”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 2
10:20-11:05 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 1
3:30-4:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 2
4:20-4:35 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice

Saturday, June 3
10:05-10:35 a.m. – Race 1 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), IndyCar.com (live)
3:03 p.m. – Driver introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to start engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit 1 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (live)

Sunday, June 5
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Race 2 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), IndyCar.com (live)
2:59 p.m. – Driver introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to start engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit 2 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

Race 1

1. Sebastien Bourdais
2. Conor Daly
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Graham Rahal
5. Helio Castroneves
6. Carlos Munoz
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay
8. Charlie Kimball
9. Tony Kanaan
10. Alexander Rossi

Race 2

1. Will Power
2. Simon Pagenaud
3. Ryan Hunter-Reay
4. Josef Newgarden
5. Scott Dixon
6. Conor Daly
7. Tony Kanaan
8. Sebastien Bourdais
9. Marco Andretti
10. Takuma Sato

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.”