IndyCar 2017 driver review: Spencer Pigot

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. Spencer Pigot enjoyed a solid sophomore season, running in all road and street course races for Ed Carpenter Racing from the start of the year and helped longtime friend and team owner Ricardo Juncos fulfill his dream of making his first Indianapolis 500 start.

Spencer Pigot, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 21st place (10 starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 17th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 20.6 Avg. Start, 15.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 8th, Best Start 13th, 0 Top-5, 3 Top-10, 8 Laps Led, 17.1 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish

Stats won’t tell the story of Spencer Pigot’s year-to-year improvement and growth in confidence, which was enough to move the Rising Star Racing-supported driver into a full-time seat with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018. The bottom line was many of his results could have been better save for some lucky breaks.

Between a brake rotor igniting (St. Petersburg), his engine misfiring (Indianapolis road course), suspension repairs (Road America), and a cut tire (Toronto), four potential fifth to eighth place results went begging. It was unfortunate his best result of the year was eighth when he ran regularly in the top five or six before the issues struck in whatever roundabout way they could. His passing ability and deft touch on the brakes was easy to take note of.

His one tough weekend this year came after Pigot made a one-race detour to his Mazda Road to Indy team, Juncos Racing, for its Indianapolis 500 debut. He had a heavy impact exiting Turn 2 in practice, but rebounded by qualifying in a repaired car without any further practice, then held on to the otherwise woefully ill-handling car in the race.

The only real critique you could say of him is that his qualifying needs to be better, which is something Pigot freely admits. He still is yet to break out of Q1 in 20 road or street course race attempts, but he did improve his usual qualifying position this season. Crucially, he out-qualified JR Hildebrand in seven of the 10 races they were teammates this season, as Hildebrand’s offbeat setup choices rarely paid dividends. His higher upside was evident throughout the year, and he should only be better in 2018 following an offseason of testing.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)