Full-time status a long time coming for Shank, Harvey

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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There’s an old adage that slow and steady wins the race.

Like in the old fable of the tortoise and the hare, sometimes the most successful people in life are those who work toward achieving their goals at a slower, more attainable pace.

After three years of competing in the NTT IndyCar Series on a part-time basis, Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Michael Shank and driver Jack Harvey now hope that their slow, but steady ascent into a full-time competition will bring wins in their future races. 

After forming a technical alliance with Andretti Technologies to run their first Indianapolis 500 in 2017, Meyer Shank Racing ran six races in 2018 and 10 races this past season in a technical alliance with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (now Arrow McLaren AP). 

Next year, the duo will renew their alliance with Andretti as they compete in their first full-time season. And while MSR’s path to full-time status has been a lengthy one, Shank is a firm believer that the team made the right decision of slowly wading its way into the IndyCar pool instead of diving head first into the deep end. 

“I think a lot of people in racing come in and blow their dough, and then they’re gone,” Shank told NBC Sports. “[They] create a lot of ill will and no-good for anybody.

“When we came to IndyCar, we went to the series and said ‘here’s our plan, and this is what we’re going to do,’ and they just kind of looked at us like ‘okay. That’s what everyone tells us,’ but we actually did it, and I think, in baseball terms, we’re probably batting .700 relative to hitting all of our goals. I think we’ve done a pretty damn good job doing what we need to do, and I couldn’t be much more happier.”

Michael Shank. Photo: James Black/IndyCar.

A former racer himself, Shank made his lone IndyCar start in the 1997 Las Vegas 500K. After hanging up the helmet, Shank shifted his focus to team ownership, with Michael Shank Racing competing in the Champ Car Atlantic Series and eventually the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series (now part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship).

Eventually, Shank made the decision to attempt to return to IndyCar racing as a car owner, and he bought a Dallara chassis in 2012 with the intention of running Indy.

However, Shank failed to secure a competitive engine, and thus the team never entered the hallowed grounds of ‘The Brickyard’.

“Back in 2012, I didn’t have the relationship that I have with Honda today,” Shank said. “In fact, I was a Ford team at the time in IMSA, and they have no presence here in IndyCar.

“It’s extremely hard to get into.”

Having lost money in his first attempt to run Indy, Shank was initially hesitant to return. However, changes in IndyCar management persuaded him to give the series another shot.

The only difference between 2012 and 2018 is Jay Frye,” Shank said. “Jay Frye put his hand out and put his arm around me and said ‘let’s make sure we get this done. What’s your plan, and how can we help?’

“It was not just me, though. There’s other teams like us that came in at the same time. Harding came in, Carlin came in, Juncos – we’re all part of that class that came in.

“All of us came from different backgrounds. I feel we’re doing as good of a job as any of those other teams.”

Since its first race in 2017, MSR’s path towards full-time status has been very carefully planned and orchestrated.

Though no driver or team owner wants to watch races from the couch, Shank said he believes that the path MSR took was the best one.

“What hurts us worse is to come in and be gone because we’re financially ruined,” Shank said. “That hurts the most.

“We had X amount of money, and we asked ‘how can we spend this amount of money? What’s the best, most efficient way to get results for our partners?’ They need results and so do we.

“We set out a very specific plan starting in ‘18, and we stuck to it by the letter. Everything we’ve done is by plan.”

Part of what has made MSR’s plan so successful is the fact that every year the team created a set of goals that they felt could realistically be achieved.

“This year’s goals were to finish in the top 10 as much as possible and transfer at least once in qualifying,” Shank said. “We did a good job of achieving that a lot of the time.

“Next year, as we roll into a full season, we want to be in the top 10 in the points from the get-go, and we want to have three to five podiums and three to five top fives, and the rest of them in the top 10. If we do that, we’re going to finish fifth or sixth in the championship, and that would be exactly a perfect goal.

“There’s going to be days were we finish 14th, though, and we get that. But we’ll just be trying to keep it even-keeled and not lose sight of that.”

So what does the team’s driver think of these goals?

“Our goals, our desires, between me, Michael, and everybody at MSR are totally in line with what we want to achieve in the time frame that we want to achieve them by,” Harvey said.  “I think this team is being built for longevity. That’s how I see it.

“I was happy with the plan and obviously wanted to stick around and be a part of it as long as I can.”

Like Shank, Harvey’s road to full-time status has been a long one.

Jack Harvey won the Freedom 100 in 2015. Photo: Chris Owens/IndyCar.

After making his way up Europe’s ladder series, Harvey moved to the U.S. in 2014 to race for Schmidt Peterson in Indy Lights. Between 2014 and 2015, Harvey won six races in Lights, including the 2015 Freedom 100 at Indianapolis.

Harvey went rideless in 2016 before driving for MSR in its maiden Indy 500 the following year. Since then, Harvey’s scored four top 10’s in 19 IndyCar races, with best starting and finishing position of third, both of which came in this year’s IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

With MSR continuing to improve each season, Harvey he has plenty of trust and faith in Shank, and sponsors SiruisXM and AutoNation, among others.

“We just have so many good relationships that I still felt this is the team,” Harvey said. “This year we’ve shown what we can do, but I feel like we still got some gas left in the tank to be able to improve next year.

“We all have this thing called pride and we want to get the best results we can. I think between us, we all understand each other. There’s some difficult conversations, but we don’t shy away from them.

“We appreciate all of our sponsors. I think we look after them really well at the track and away from the track. We go racing with people we enjoy going racing with, who we all believe in. It’s very much a big team effort. I think the way we’ve expanded really shows that.”

Now with a full slate in 2020, both Harvey and Shank are hopeful to make the most of their first full-time season. Should the duo continue to impress next year, they could very well become one of the best feel-good stories the series has seen in a long time.

“The story of how we got from 2017 to now is an awesome story,” Shank said. “It could be a little book, actually.

“Let this effort win a big race at some point, it’ll be a true textbook example of how people can do whatever they want to do. You just have to be creative and treat people well.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter 

 

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.”