Maintaining the Balance of Power

One topic that I purposely omitted from my Random Thoughts post on Monday was Andretti Autosport re-signing Alexander Rossi to a multi-year contract. Most of you know I am a lifelong fan of Team Penske, dating all the way back to Mark Donohue and Rick Mears, then to Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves and now to Josef Newgarden. There have been very few Team Penske drivers I have pulled against over the years.

But when rumors began to swirl that Roger Penske coveted Alexander Rossi, I was against it from the start.

The reasons most people gave for opposing it was to maintain the balance of power in the NTT IndyCar Series. When a co-worker who is a very casual IndyCar fan asked me about Rossi going to Penske, I gave him the balance of power line. He looked at me like I had two heads. It was harder to explain than I thought it would be.

But when you think about it, Rossi going to Penske may have skewed things so much that we may have been reduced to watching four Team Penske cars duke it out each week among themselves. How boring would that have been?

Consider this – each of the Big Three (Penske, Ganassi and Andretti) currently have at least one series champion on the team. At Team Penske, all three current drivers have won a championship, and two of the drivers have won the Indianapolis 500. At Chip Ganassi Racing, Scott Dixon has done both. But at Andretti Autosport, only an aging Ryan Hunter-Reay has done both and going into next season, he will be six years removed from his Indianapolis 500 win and it will be eight years since his lone championship.

Hunter-Reay may not be ready to be put out to pasture just yet, but he will be thirty-nine in December and this past week at Mid-Ohio, he matched his season-high finish of third. That’s a nice way of saying he is winless this season. Five years ago, Andretti Autosport was unquestionably Hunter-Reay’s team. That is no longer the case. It’s now Rossi’s team.

Alexander Rossi already has one Indianapolis 500 win to his credit. Last year, he was in the running for the championship heading into the last race of the season, before he tangled with teammate Marco Andretti at the start and had to get a new front-wing – effectively handing the championship to Scott Dixon after Lap One. Rossi is currently second in points again this season, and trails Josef Newgarden by a scant sixteen points. Even if Rossi fails to win the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship, most would agree that it’s only a matter of time before he does –he is that good.

Even though I am a self-proclaimed life-long Team Penske fan, I’ve been accused of writing The Rossi Blog since I’m obviously a big fan of Rossi. It’s true that I’m a Rossi fan, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve dedicated this site to him.

But by staying at Michael Andretti’s team, That gives each of the Big Three at least one championship contended for the next several years. Scott Dixon is actually about six months older than Hunter-Reay, but shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. My guess is that Hunter-Reay will hang it up in a year or two; although I think his current contract expires at the end of this season, if I’m not mistaken. So he could call it quits at the end of this season, but I doubt it. Still, I think Dixon may go another five years or so. He won’t catch AJ Foyt in wins, but he will most likely overtake Mario Andretti for second-place in all-time wins.

Even if Dixon hangs it up after a couple of more seasons, Felix Rosenqvist showed us Sunday that he may be the next big thing coming up and he could take the role as Ganassi’s top driver when Dixon retires.

Think of the void that would have been left at Andretti had Rossi left. You would have Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Marco Andretti; while Penske would have Rossi, Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. That would be a case of the rich getting richer.

Don’t get me wrong, I tend to like dynasties in sports. The New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the Boston Celtics, Notre Dame and even the evil Alabama Crimson Tide have always intrigued me the way they stayed so good for so long. But they all played in leagues with stability that were not so dependent on fan interest if one team was dominant.

The NTT IndyCar Series is different. Different winners are celebrated. Remember in 2009, when everyone complained about the “red cars” winning everything? The red cars were the two Marlboro cars of Team Penske and the two Target cars of Chip Ganassi Racing. Sixteen of the seventeen races were won by one of those four cars, with Justin Wilson winning at Watkins Glen for Dale Coyne being the lone exception. It got boring, really boring – when you knew that most likely, the win in any given race would come from one of only four cars.

I could envision a scenario like that for years had Rossi gone to Team Penske. Now that we know he’s staying, at least I feel like other teams have a strong chance against Team Penske – and that’s coming from a Penske fan.

I’m also glad that Andretti is staying with Honda (or is Honda staying with Andretti?). I was hoping that NAPA would step up and sponsor Rossi for the full season. In fact, they are scaling down their race sponsorship for Rossi. Of the thirteen races run so far, I believe NAPA has been on the car for all but one (Texas). For next year, NAPA will only be on the car for nine of the seventeen races, including the Indianapolis 500. AutoNation, who is already an associate sponsor for Andretti driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, will step up and sponsor the remaining eight races for Rossi. Curiously, AutoNation is also an associate sponsor for Jack Harvey at Meyer Shank Racing. They have already stated their intentions to also be a major supporter for that team as they try to go full-time in 2020.

So even though I stumbled when I was asked about the Balance of Power within the NTT IndyCar Series, it is a real thing – at least one full-fledged threat to win the championship for many years to come on the top-three teams in the series. And yes I also think that had Rossi moved to Team Penske, it would have stacked the deck dramatically in their favor. Other than Team Penske, that would not have been good for anyone.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Maintaining the Balance of Power”

  1. Really happy he’s staying with Andretti and looking forward to good title battles for years to come.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    This is intriguing because Penske has snatched up the last several promising young Penske-fighters (Pagenaud, Newgarden, even Power fit this mold) and was known to be keeping his eyes on others (Hunter-Reay, Rahal, and now Rossi). Roger usually gets his man.

    It is a great decision for those who want to see a more competitive series, but for Rossi himself… well, rare is the driver who performed better without Penske than with him.

    I won’t quibble with Napa’s decision to scale back (slightly, they were only supposed to be on the car for 10 races this year, but have rights to all unsold races), they spend lavishly on motorsports. They have big presences in Indycar, NHRA, NASCAR, and World of Outlaws sprint cars and back winning contenders in all of those series.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    Enough about Rossi. Dario had some high praise for Felix Little Twig today at Racer.Com. (Qvist means little twig in Swedish language) The move that Rosenqvist put on Power early in the start of the race was outrageously good. As Robin Miller might say: “Rosinqvist is truly a hot shoe”

  4. PenskeCAR

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