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Cole Pearn off to fast start fitting in with Conor Daly and IndyCar team

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Conor Daly (surprisingly!) didn’t follow Cole Pearn on Twitter until shortly before the announcement of his new lead race engineer for the Indy 500.

But Daly was well aware that Pearn had a social media persona that precedes him — and the reaction to his hire confirmed it.

“I’ve seen Cole retweeted many times,” Daly, who became a Twitch sensation during IndyCar’s iRacing sojourn, said with a chuckle Thursday during a Zoom media availability with Pearn. “Big Internet guy. As an Internet man myself, I have a passion for Internet humor, content (and) creation.

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“I got texts (and messages) from so many people. It’s as if we had hired the alpha of all racing. It’s as if Mario Andretti has come to our team and blessed us with his experience and career, some alpha wizard of engineering. That’s great. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see what happens. I mean, we’re going to get along, I can tell already. That’s the best part.”

The working relationship has begun taking root as Pearn arrived in Indianapolis two days ago to begin work at Ed Carpenter Racing.

Next week, he will be setting up Daly’s No. 47 Dallara-Chevrolet for the Indy 500 – and the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) will mark the first time Pearn has worked in the NTT IndyCar Series after becoming one of the most successful crew chiefs of modern era NASCAR.

“Obviously Indy 500 is a huge deal, so definitely a bucket list item for sure,” said Cole Pearn, who guided Martin Truex Jr. to the 2017 championship and 24 victories in NASCAR’s premier series. “To get a chance to do it with a great driver and a great team as well, a team I kind of felt comfortable with, was kind of a perfect opportunity.”

Pearn is comfortable at ECR because of his longtime ties with Pete Craik, ECR’s lead engineer who joined the team last year after working with Pearn and Truex at Furniture Row Racing in NASCAR. When the team was in need because the postponement of Indy precluded its original choice of engineer for Daly, Craik called Pearn.

“We talked about it way back maybe that would be something,” Pearn said. “So they were in a spot where they needed somebody. It was like, Yeah, why not? That’s kind of how it came together. It was pretty simple from that standpoint really. (Craik) called and just said, ‘Would you want to do this?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Then we talked to the higher powers, I guess, went from there.

The Canadian, who abruptly left Joe Gibbs Racing in December to operate a company that owns ski and hiking lodges in British Columbia, has no plan to return full time in racing but has missed the competitive element while watching NASCAR on TV this year (and frequently flashing his acerbic wit on Twitter).

He also likes the culture at ECR, a two-car team with Carpenter and Rinus Veekay that is adding a third entry for Daly at Indy.

“Seems very similar” to Furniture Row Racing, Pearn said. “Obviously the shops are a lot smaller, less people, stuff like that. I think it’s got a lot of that kind of scene going on. This is a huge race for them, they typically do really well here. Being part of that is going to be good.”

Carpenter has three Indy 500 pole positions and finished a career-best second while leading 65 laps in 2018 — catching the eye of Pearn, a longtime IndyCar fan who already had made many contacts in the series. “It’s not like going into something totally foreign,” he said. “You at least know the players, you know what’s going on from that standpoint.”

Ed Carpenter led a race-high 65 laps in a second-place finish in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 (Patrick Smith/Getty Images).

He also has gotten to know the players at ECR. Though the postponement of the Mid-Ohio races this weekend means the Brickyard will be his first on-track immersion with the team, Pearn is getting more time around the team at its shop and also learning to speak the language of IndyCar, which he describes as similar to stock cars but just with different values.

“Seems like a great group already,” he said. “I’m the new guy. Just trying to find my place at this point.”

And as a recent Twitter follower, Daly already can tell it’s a fit.

“A guy like Cole who has had so much success in racing, he knows what the goal is, and that’s to be the best we can be,” Daly said. “It’s just basically going to be an interesting road on how to get there because we’re going to be learning a little bit more each session.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.