All signs point toward Alexander Rossi staying with Andretti Autosport

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STEAM CORNERS, Ohio – Expect significant progress to be made before this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on a future contract for Alexander Rossi, his father and agent Pieter Rossi told NBCSports.com.

Although Rossi’s father would not eliminate any team currently under consideration for the talented 27-year-old NTT IndyCar Series star, he listed the three most important criteria that he is considering.

“People, relationships and an environment where he can win races,” Rossi told NBCSports.com. “We expect to make significant progress before we get to Mid-Ohio.”

The elder Rossi didn’t want to eliminate any other teams because he owes it to his son to listen to what all interested parties have to offer.

But all signs point toward Rossi remaining with Andretti Autosport in a multiyear agreement currently being negotiated.

“I feel good about it,” team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com. “The whole thing is we all want to be here together. Whenever everybody wants to work toward the same goal, that makes it easier.

“Alex is doing a great job. He has run very well. The whole NAPA team is doing a great job.”

NBCSports.com has also learned that Andretti Autosport is closing in on a multiyear renewal to remain with Honda Performance Development as its engine partner.

Team owner Michael Andretti was asked if he had reached an agreement with Honda.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti told NBCSports.com. “There are a lot of important pieces we need to complete. Three or four things have to get done at once, and we’re working on it. I want to get this done sooner.

“We’re making headway.”

When does Andretti hope to announce his deal with Honda?

“I hope to announce it soon,” Andretti said. “I’m not sure about dates yet. It feels good. It feels like we are in the right direction.”

Once Andretti and Rossi reach an agreement, the focus will shift to 19-year-old driver Colton Herta, who is currently with Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Although the team has a multiyear contract with the youngest driver to win an IndyCar Series race in history, that team remains short on funding.

Team co-owner George Michael Steinbrenner, IV and his stepfather, Sean Jones, indicated to NBCSports.com they do not have a deal in place for 2020 with team owner Mike Harding. They also indicated there are as many as six different scenarios that could determine next season.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing president Brian Barnhart said the team needs to find sponsorship and/or another investor in the team.

Young Steinbrenner, whose father, Hank, is part owner and co-chairman of Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees, is not using any of the Steinbrenner family fortune to fund the NTT IndyCar Series operation. The goal was to possibly attract interest in the IndyCar Series team by leveraging the Steinbrenner name in a business-to-business relationship.

Andretti also has an interest in that operation, because the team uses Andretti Technologies as its competition partner. When Andretti aligned with Harding Steinbrenner at the end of last season, it was designed to be a team where Andretti Autosport talent from the “Road to Indy” ladder series could break into IndyCar.

“There are a lot of things going on right now that we can’t talk about, but I’m very much involved in that and monitoring it,” Andretti said.

For Andretti, it’s important to keep both Rossi and Herta because the two drivers are generational talents.

Rossi’s emergence has been compared to Andretti when he was a driver and Juan Pablo Montoya.

“He is aggressive, and I was considered aggressive,” Andretti said. “I have really enjoyed watching some of his creative passes. That is something I always thought I was good at. There are some ways we are similar but driving styles, we are a little different. He’s aggressive, and I was aggressive.

“I would compare him more to Montoya than to me. He runs the car very neutral, and he’s not afraid to hang it out.”

Rossi, the driver, has remained steadfast in not discussing his future, leaving the negotiations up to his father.

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”