Maybe Nice Guys Really Do Finish Last

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On Wednesday, we got confirmation that Zach Veach will not be returning to Andretti Autosport for the 2021 season. I’m speculating here, but it’s a pretty good bet that Gainbridge decided not to renew their three-year sponsorship agreement that expires at the end of the current season. Veach brought them to Andretti and even to IMS as the presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500. I don’t know that Gainbridge is not returning, but that is my assumption for this post anyway.

I wish I could say that this will be a post on how Zach Veach has been treated unfairly as he is being kicked to the curb, but that’s not the case.

Unfortunately, motor racing is a results-oriented business. Gainbridge apparently didn’t see the results from their sponsorship with Veach and Andretti, so they decided not to renew for 2021. We’ll probably never know if the pandemic had anything to do with their decision, but it probably didn’t help Veach’s case.

Had Veach put up Scott Dixon-like results over the past three seasons, Michael Andretti would have moved mountains to find new sponsorship in order to keep Veach. But ride-buying aside, racing is still something of a meritocracy. Gainbridge got Veach’s foot in the door with arguably one of the Top-Three teams in the series. It was up to him to do something with that opportunity.

Unfortunately, the results just weren’t there and Michael Andretti really didn’t have much of a decision to make. There is not a shortage of talented unemployed drivers to put into one of his five cars in his stable – especially if they come with some money.

I like Zach Veach. You could not find a nicer guy in the paddock. When we went to the 2019 season-opener in St. Petersburg, we were invited to an Andretti Autosport media reception on Friday night, that was a meet and greet for all of their drivers, not only their IndyCar drivers, but their Road to Indy drivers as well. Who were the only two drivers there that gave us lowly bloggers the time of day? Oliver Askew and Zach Veach, and Askew was still in Indy Lights at the time. By the way; we learned yesterday that Helio Castroneves will be subbing for Askew next weekend. More on that on Monday.

Zach Veach probably asked us more questions than we asked him. He didn’t know who we were and was unfamiliar with this site (if you can believe that). But he seemed intrigued that a not-so-young couple from Nashville would have an IndyCar site for more than a decade. He was one of those people that had the unique ability to make you think that at that moment, we were the two most important people in his life. Of course, ten minutes after the event was over – he probably forgot we even existed, but he sure made us feel important while we were talking to him.

That was two nights before the 2019 season started. He was coming off of a promising rookie campaign in 2018 that saw Veach finish fifteenth in points, with a best finish of fourth at Long Beach, in only his third race of the season – along with a few more Top-Ten finishes. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got. Veach finished fourteenth at St. Petersburg, two days after we talked to him, and it went downhill from there – including finishing twenty-second in the very next race at COTA. Two eighth place finishes at the double-header at Belle Isle and a seventh at Iowa were the only Top-Ten finishes in his sophomore season that saw him drop to eighteenth in points.

This season started off with promise, he ran a legitimate fourth at Texas to open up the abbreviated 2020 season. By legitimate, I mean it was no fluke. Veach ran up front all night and looked strong doing it. At that point, I figured that Veach simply had a bad year in 2019, and the potential we had seen in him was finally going to come to light. If that was to be the case, his timing was impeccable to flip on the light switch, since he was entering the third and final year of the contract with Gainbridge as his sponsor.

Unfortunately, Veach fell back to reality and mediocrity at the very next race – the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, where he finished an unremarkable fourteenth. As it turns out, he would probably kill to repeat that performance at IMS. He hasn’t matched that fourteenth place finish since that Fourth of July weekend. At one point, Veach went through a six-race span where he finished twentieth or worse in five of those six races. Nice guy or not, not many owners would put up with that kind of performance after the season he had the year before. The writing was on the wall.

Publicly, this is being presented as Veach voluntarily giving up his seat for this year’s final three races, in order to give Andretti Autosport “…time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021”. I’m not sure I’m buying that. If Veach had been told that he would not return for 2021, why wouldn’t he use the final three races as an audition for other teams? Veach is actually nice enough of a guy to do something like that, but if I was in his situation – I think I would let everyone in the paddock know I’m available for next year, then do my best to post three good finishes.

If I had to guess, the decision for who will drive the No. 26 in 2021 has already been made. I think James Hinchcliffe will get full backing from Genesys (his sponsor for three races this year) and will be back on the grid fulltime in 2021 – putting his promising broadcasting career on hold for a few more years.

Where will Zach Veach end up? Well, that’s hard to say. Unless he can find another sponsor with deep pockets, I’m not sure any current IndyCar teams would sign him. As I said earlier, there are a lot of talented drivers out there that have much better resumes and no seat. I don’t see him getting a ride in front of them.

This is another case of nice guys finishing at the back of the pack. Unfortunately, Zach Veach may go the way of Alex Lloyd, Tristan Vautier, Gabby Chaves and Kyle Kaiser – recent Indy Lights grads who didn’t make the most of their one chance, maybe even through no fault of their own, and were never heard from again in the IndyCar paddock. I certainly hope that’s not the case and I wish Veach the best.

Sometimes you wonder if it’s a good thing for a rookie to start out for a really good team. Too much is expected of them and they are compared to the likes of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta. Maybe the expectation to perform at a high level right out of the gate was too great. Perhaps he would’ve fared better starting out with someone like Carlin or Dreyer & Reinbold, where expectations are much lower. Then again, maybe he’s just too nice.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Maybe Nice Guys Really Do Finish Last”

  1. George, I’m not sure where you are getting the “Gainbridge is gone” idea? I haven’t heard anything of the sort, in fact I keep hearing quite the opposite, that Gainbridge is staying on at AA. I know you know that they are the Indianapolis 500 title sponsor, I don’t see them giving that up anytime soon. It’s just strange to see you so far out on this limb when nobody seems to be saying what you are saying in this article. Not that that hasn’t happened before, and I will certainly stand corrected if they do go away….

    Phil Kaiser
    Carmel, IN

  2. At the start of the Gateway race there was an incident … and some damage … and then Veach, from the back of the pack came powering through the wreckage, instead of jamming on the brakes, to destroy 60% of Team Andretti.

    I thought it must have only been me that saw it because the announcers completely avoided the fault but then someone stuck a mic in Michael’s face and he said, witth smoke pouring out of both ears, that Veach had just taken out 3 of his cars.

    At that moment I knew he was done.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    The timing of the split is curious, but it is one that makes me think both Andretti Autosport and Veach have designs on what they are doing next year. Hinch at Andretti seems reasonable speculation and I would be surprised if Veach was not in the 500 at least.

    Veach has a long history of finding sponsorship for his racing endeavors. If he wants to keep racing, I expect he will a find a way at some level.

  4. Learning that James will be in the seat for next weekend’s double header made my day.

    Zach always struck me as a genuine person. I wish things had turned out better for him. I do not believe he is finished with racing, but not sure he has a future in IC.

  5. Oliver Wells Says:

    Veach going was no surprise. Now Michael just has to persuade Marco…

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