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Coyne and TBA are reunited, so who could fill the No. 19 seat?

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Going into the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener a few years ago, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, we had a tongue-in-cheek post looking at Dale Coyne Racing’s TBA options for its No. 18 Honda.

Ultimately, Colombian Carlos Huertas was the team’s choice, and his shock win at Houston race one stood as the team’s most recent race victory until Sebastien Bourdais opened the 2017 season on top this year.

However the rapid movement of Brendon Hartley away from Chip Ganassi Racing has seen Ganassi pry Ed Jones from Coyne’s grasp for 2018.

Hartley was projected for the Ganassi seat but received a Formula 1 chance from Scuderia Toro Rosso starting at last week’s United States Grand Prix.

Bourdais and Jones’ early confirmation last year seemed to project a brave, TBA-less world at Coyne, but now – like midseason after Bourdais’ injury in Indianapolis – TBA is back at Coyne with a vengeance.

It now means the No. 19 Honda alongside Bourdais for 2018 is open, and there’s any number of candidates who could fit.

Here’s a list of potential options:

RECENT COYNE DRIVERS

Coyne and Enerson. Photo: IndyCar

Coyne’s rotation of drivers in its Nos. 18 and 19 cars throughout the last three years has been plentiful, and features this list of drivers not currently signed for 2018: Esteban Gutierrez, James Davison, Tristan Vautier, RC Enerson, Conor Daly, Luca Filippi, Pippa Mann, Huertas, Rodolfo Gonzalez, Francesco Dracone and Rocky Moran Jr.

That crop of 11 drivers features a couple proper standouts, a large number of drivers with mid-range potential and two or three drivers who are best left forgotten in IndyCar lore.

Of that group, Daly, Enerson and Gutierrez would seem to have the best chances… hypothetically.

Daly overachieved results-wise in 2016 but largely achieved those finishes thanks to excellent strategy from Coyne, who Daly called a “wizard.” But he’s now out at Foyt. Enerson’s three-race cameo at the end of 2016 impressed many in the IndyCar paddock, but his miss at the seat for the 2017 season seems to loom large.

Gutierrez back again? Photo: IndyCar

Gutierrez is in a position where he desires a full-time seat and Mexico desires a full-time race, but would Coyne want to keep him for another season after a respectable but not outstanding series of fill-in drives for Bourdais this year? That’s a bigger question mark.

Knowing Coyne’s propensity to take chances on young drivers, it might be worth looking instead at the next crop of kids.

INDY LIGHTS GRADUATES-IN-WAITING

As Coyne struck pay dirt with both Jones and Enerson in the last two years, it’s worth looking at the number of Indy Lights drivers poised to make the step up to a greater IndyCar role in 2018.

Harvey. Photo: IndyCar

Jack Harvey, the Englishman, has a budget to float with support from AutoNation and SiriusXM. His three-race stint this year between Andretti Autosport with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was decent, but he didn’t have the best set of circumstances at his disposal in either opportunity.

Could ZCD replace Jones? Photo: IndyCar

Zachary Claman DeMelo, the teenaged Canadian, is another driver who would seem to fit here. The Montreal native made his debut at Sonoma with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and excelled on race pace for those looking deeper than just the pure results. With support from Paysafe, “ZCD” might be the three-letter acronym that replaces “TBA” at DCR.

Santi Urrutia celebrates his first win of 2017. Photo: Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Santiago Urrutia has talked openly of being “close” to an IndyCar seat and is known to have had conversations with Coyne before. The Uruguayan has a wealth of speed to burn and talent at his disposal, but he’s not had the best relationship with some of his team members in his two years in Indy Lights, save for engineer Tim Neff who he excelled with.

Matthew Brabham seems forgotten by the IndyCar world but the Australian American is an affable young kid with a lot of talent at his disposal. Budget has always been his biggest hurdle to clear though.

Others such as Colton Herta, Aaron Telitz and Nico Jamin, who all tested at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test last weekend, all are likely a year away or more from their IndyCar bows. Jamin, of these three, is the most IndyCar-ready while Telitz impressed in a big way with his win in the rain at the Watkins Glen finale.

Past Indy Lights drivers Dean Stoneman and Felix Serralles headed to sports car racing in 2017. Meanwhile Felix Rosenqvist has a Formula E contract for the 2017-2018 season, so the speedy Swede is unavailable, and half the reason the Jones-to-Ganassi thing happened in the first place was due to the contract block as Rosenqvist is highly regarded by Ganassi and was the leading candidate for the No. 10 car if he was available.

THE REMAINING INDYCAR 2017 LEFTOVERS… NOT LIKELY

Knowing Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and JR Hildebrand all raced full-time in 2017, they could be available, but given budget isn’t a strong suit for any of these three – Kimball would probably have the most to offer – it’s highly doubtful any of these three would be in the frame for the seat. Kimball has raced only for Ganassi while both Munoz and Hildebrand have now bounced around multiple teams in the paddock. Kimball has been linked to Carlin’s potential bow with Max Chilton as its lead driver, but isn’t confirmed there.

Similar Sebastian Saavedra has been teammates with Bourdais twice previously at Dragon Racing and KV/AFS Racing. He’ll have some budget on offer but seems less likely as well.

Honda Dallara 2018 UAK test driver Oriol Servia would be an excellent choice here and achieved his best success in IndyCar with Bourdais as his teammate in 2005, at Newman/Haas Racing. But the chance of Coyne having two veteran drivers here are slim at best.

A EUROPEAN OR LEFT FIELD OPTION?

Knowing there’s been occasional out-of-left-field choices in the past, there could well be interest from drivers whose F1 hopes have faded or upcoming drivers who might not be able to graduate into F1 from Formula 2 who could enter the frame. Similarly, there’s drivers in the sports car world who may have interest here too.

SO HOW DOES ONE PICK THE TBA? 

Picking the answer to a Coyne TBA choice requires finding the best answer to a hypothetical math equation, which is: Talent + Budget / Realistic Hopes of Succeeding in a Low-Pressure Environment.

The drivers listed above boast varying degrees of talent and budget and realistically, a younger driver with less than a full year’s experience in IndyCar will be more well attuned to the opportunity here, than a more experienced driver.

It makes one of the Indy Lights drivers the more likely pick at this juncture ahead of most of the recent Coyne leftovers, as the combination of an eager-to-please young gun with a budget in hand means they’d be entering in with lower expectations, and would look to emulate an Enerson or a Jones in wowing the paddock depending on how they progress.

It’s also worth noting whoever the pick is will have an excellent engineering team at their disposal to work with.

Does Daly get another shot at Coyne? Photo: IndyCar

This is Dale Coyne though, and Daly’s “wizard” term is accurate here.

Something of a magician to have kept his small-budget team going for 30-plus years, Coyne’s known for surprises.

Faced with the unexpected vacancy to fill, how Coyne moves forward is now the next big question mark of the goofy 2017-2018 IndyCar silly season.

NHRA: Pritchett, C. Force, Kramer, Krawiec all No. 1 going into Denver eliminations

Leah Pritchett was one of the four no. 1 qualifiers. Photos and videos: NHRA
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NHRA Media Release

MORRISON, Colo. – Leah Pritchett raced to her third No. 1 qualifying position of the season at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals and set the Top Fuel track speed record during her final qualifying pass on Saturday at Bandimere Speedway.

Courtney Force (Funny Car), Deric Kramer (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the 14th of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Pritchett earned her second consecutive No. 1 with a run of 3.799-seconds at 327.19 mph in her Mopar Dodge 1320 dragster as she prepares for Terry Totten in eliminations. This is her 10th career No. 1, she has one win this season, one runner-up finish and is fourth in points. She was the No. 1 qualifier at this event last season and raced to a runner-up finish.

“We were putting the coals to it for sure, licking our chops,” said Pritchett. “We are on the mountain and this is our sponsor’s race, and we are giving it everything we got. We got a new front half on our dragster and I’m sure glad we did. About halftrack I wasn’t sure if the front wheels were on the ground that thing was dancing, dancing, and dancing. I knew we were cooking it and getting it.”

Brittany Force qualified second and will face Jim Maroney and points leader Steve Torrence is third and will race Bill Litton.

In Funny Car, Courtney Force was able to improve on her qualifying from Friday night and earned her ninth No. 1 of the season in her final pass of the evening with a run of 3.949 at 309.91 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro. She is the currents points leader and will face Terry Haddock in the first round.

“It felt awesome and we had nothing to lose,” said Force. “We were watching the cars ahead of us and knew that it would be my dad to take us out of the top spot or we would improve. It was a solid pass for us and we picked up a number of bonus points.”

Kramer, a resident of Sterling, Colo., earned his first No. 1 qualifying position at his home track of Bandimere Speedway with his pass of 6.929 at 197.57 during the final qualifying session in his American Ethanol Chevrolet Camaro. This is his third No. 1 of the season, his last coming in Topeka where he parlayed it to his first national event victory. He will square off against Alan Prusiensky in eliminations.

“It is a great feeling coming at your home track and doing as good as we did today,” said Kramer. “I have a ton a laps here so I feel that probably helped a little bit. It was a lot of fun and something that I will remember for a long time.”

Greg Anderson, who is searching for his first win of the season, is second with his run of 6.930 at 196.70 and will face Joey Grose, while points leader Erica Enders is eighth and will face Chris McGaha.

Krawiec earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 40th of his career on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with his run of 7.111 at 187.03 during the first session on Saturday. His elapsed time bettered the track record he set during qualifying on Friday. Krawiec has three wins on the season and is the current points leader. He will face Karen Stoffer in the first round on Sunday.

“I got a good bike and we went .711 both laps today and I think that is something to say about how good the program is being very consistent,” said Krawiec. “It makes me feel comfortable going into raceday, we have a good setup for both lanes no matter what, and I have a very consistent motorcycle.”

Hector Arana Jr. qualified second and will face Ryan Oehler and Andrew Hines is third matching up with Joey Gladstone.

Eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday at Bandimere Speedway.

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MORRISON, Colo. — Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 39th annual Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, the 14th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.799 seconds, 327.19 mph vs. 16. Terry Totten, 4.449, 216.13; 2. Brittany Force, 3.808, 321.50 vs. 15. Jim Maroney, 4.295, 261.88; 3. Steve Torrence, 3.811, 325.45 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 4.283, 218.65; 4. Clay Millican, 3.814, 326.71 vs. 13. Greg Carrillo, 4.129, 307.65; 5. Richie Crampton, 3.822, 318.09 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.995, 301.67; 6. Blake Alexander, 3.834, 326.32 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.865, 272.12; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.834, 325.37 vs. 10. Doug Kalitta, 3.862, 310.91; 8. Antron Brown, 3.856, 318.47 vs. 9. Scott Palmer, 3.860, 317.27.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.949, 322.73 vs. 16. Terry Haddock, Toyota Solara, 4.466, 278.46; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.973, 316.67 vs. 15. Todd Simpson, Charger, 4.462, 270.81; 3. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.986, 321.58 vs. 14. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.287, 272.50; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.992, 318.32 vs. 13. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.197, 302.08; 5. John Force, Camaro, 3.993, 322.27 vs. 12. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.093, 310.55; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.003, 312.42 vs. 11. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.087, 306.74; 7. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.007, 320.81 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.083, 305.01; 8. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.048, 316.15 vs. 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.056, 293.41. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 5.271, 149.07.

PRO STOCK: 1. Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.929, 197.68 vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 20.336, 65.35; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.930, 197.19 vs. 15. Joey Grose, Camaro, 10.066, 94.07; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.932, 197.10 vs. 14. Will Hatcher, Dart, 7.142, 191.87; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.937, 198.12 vs. 13. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.978, 196.99; 5. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.937, 196.90 vs. 12. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.971, 196.93; 6. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.942, 197.57 vs. 11. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.962, 197.16; 7. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.943, 197.13 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.957, 196.82; 8. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.950, 196.96 vs. 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.953, 196.67.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.111, 187.81 vs. 16. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.310, 182.11; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 7.135, 188.86 vs. 15. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 7.306, 183.57; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.146, 188.04 vs. 14. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 7.288, 182.45; 4. Matt Smith, Victory, 7.158, 185.54 vs. 13. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.261, 182.95; 5. Hector Arana, Buell, 7.207, 185.77 vs. 12. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 7.259, 183.05; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 7.220, 183.87 vs. 11. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.243, 181.69; 7. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 7.230, 184.95 vs. 10. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 7.243, 185.46; 8. Cory Reed, Buell, 7.230, 184.60 vs. 9. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.234, 185.61. Did Not Qualify: 17. Kelly Clontz, 7.382, 180.69.