Photo courtesy Alexis DeJoria

Alexis DeJoria returning to NHRA, will drive for, run own team in 2020

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Following a two-year hiatus from drag racing, Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria will return to the sport full-time in 2020.

DeJoria last competed in the 2017 season before announcing she was retiring from the sport to spend more time with her family — although she did leave open the possibility of returning one day. Now it’s apparently the right time for her return.

I honestly knew deep down when I made the announcement to retire at the end of the 2017 NHRA season that it was going to be sort of an open-ended retirement,” DeJoria said in a media release. I’m beyond excited to get back out there. I’ve been blessed spending time with my family these past two years off. This was a decision I made with their support, and we are all looking forward to my return to the driver’s seat.”

DeJoria’s first race will be the 2020 season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. While a primary sponsor for her Funny Car will be revealed in the near future, DeJoria did announce that Nicky Bonifante and former world championship driver Del Worsham will serve as co-crew chiefs for her return to the sport.

While DeJoria, Bonifante and Worsham have a long history with Kalitta Motorsports, DeJoria’s new operation will be an independent team, according to the release. It was Worsham’s car that DeJoria first obtained her Funny Car license in 2010, and Worsham then became her crew chief during her rookie season before he returned to driving and won the 2015 Funny Car championship before departing to re-start his family-based team. Worsham returned to Kalitta Motorsports this season.

Bonifante, meanwhile, worked on DeJoria’s car for several years during her tenure at Kalitta Motorsports, eventually being promoted to chief tuner for the 2017 season.

Bonifante and Worsham are currently co-crew chiefs for Shawn Langdon’s Funny Car at Kalitta Motorsports, but are expected to leave those roles upon the conclusion of the current season to join DeJoria’s operation.

I now have this incredible opportunity to build a team with two of the people who were by my side when I started my nitro Funny Car career,” said DeJoria, whose ultimate goal is to become the first female Funny Car world champion. Del is my mentor and the person whose car I licensed with in the first place, and Nicky was one of the first people at Kalitta who I talked to when I made the transition from Top Alcohol Funny Car to nitro Funny Car.

“Del and Nicky, they’re the ‘dream team’ for me, and I’m eager to embark on this new adventure with them.”

A resident of Austin, Texas, DeJoria has earned five NHRA national events, including the prestigious 2014 U.S. Nationals, before stepping away from her 11,000 horsepower Funny Car.

Fellow Funny Car competitor Tommy Johnson Jr. was among several individuals who treated their support for DeJoria’s return:

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James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.