A Mixed Bag of Signings This Week

Another couple of dominos fell this week, in regards to seats being confirmed in the NTT IndyCar Series for the 2021 season. No one was surprised on Tuesday, when James Hinchcliffe was announced as the driver of the No. 29 Honda for Andretti Autosport. It will be a fulltime ride, with sponsorship coming from Genesys for ten of the seventeen races including the Indianapolis 500. If you recall, Genesys was his sponsor for the 500 last year along with Texas and the IndyCar GP. The sponsorship for the other seven races will be announced later.

While there was no intrigue whatsoever for that announcement on Tuesday, Wednesday’s announcement was a bit of a surprise. Surprise may not be the right word. I’ll call it more of a disappointment.

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan announced on Tuesday that they would be revealing their driver for the No. 18 SealMaster Honda on Wednesday. I immediately got on my group text of IndyCar friends to speculate who it might be.

I proposed it would be Romain Grosjean for the non-ovals, with Santino Ferrucci filling in for the ovals – including the Indianapolis 500. I knew that Grosjean had expressed interest in IndyCar, but had sworn off the ovals after his frightening F1 crash late last season. I was hoping Ferrucci may have time in his NASCAR schedule to do four ovals and a weekend of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

My other friends speculated that it would be Pietro Fittipaldi or even Cody Ware. Instead we learned on Wednesday that the choice was Ed Jones. The SealMaster car had taken four-time IndyCar champion Sébastien Bourdais to a win and a seventh place finish in the standings in 2018. Santino Ferrucci brought his exciting style of driving the No. 18 Dale Coyne car with Vasser Sullivan last season and finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500, after finishing seventh the year before in the second Coyne car.

After those two drivers gave the No. 18 a good ride, I expected another hot name to fill that cockpit. Instead, we got a boring driver with an equally boring name – Ed Jones.

If you have followed this site for a while, you probably realize that I have never been a big fan of Ed Jones, and that’s being kind. Most disagree with me on this, but it’s just the way I feel. The frustrating thing is that there is no real tangible thing I can point to, to say why I don’t care for him. I just don’t. I find him to be about as exciting as a forty-pound bag of fertilizer, and I’ve never quite understood what the fuss over him is all about.

Lots of drivers are lacking in personality, at least on the surface. When Alexander Rossi came onto the scene in 2016, I thought he was about as dry and aloof as they come. But by the end of his first season, I could tell that there was really a dry wit underneath his quiet exterior. I now find Rossi to be quite personable – in an understated way. Scott Dixon has been described as boring, but he sure didn’t sound boring when accusing of Will Power pulling off “…sort of a d**k move” in the pits at Mid-Ohio a few years ago. Sam Hornish could come across as stand-offish, but he could at least make an effort to be conversant.

The dullness of Ed Jones doesn’t seem to be just skin deep. I think it goes all the way to the core.

And before everyone thinks I’m piling on because he’s an introvert – I’ve taken the Meyers-Briggs assessment. I always test out as an introvert. In fact, I have a lot of empathy for introverts who are expected to be jovial and chatty in unfamiliar settings. I know what it’s like to walk into a room of chatterboxes and wanting to turn around and run out the door.

I don’t even sense that Jones is shy. I just think he may just be a bit blank. I think that would be perfectly OK if I thought he was a better driver – but I’ve never been sold on him.

Yes, I’m aware that he won the 2016 Indy Lights title. I was also there when he finished a steady third in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie driving for Dale Coyne. I will admit that I was very turned off when his supporters acted as if Jones had been dealt the dirtiest of filthy blows, when the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year was given to Fernando Alonso instead of Jones. They all came out of the woodwork crying foul, since Alonso’s car had blown up late in the race and he finished twenty-fourth. Unlike the rookie award for the season, the Indianapolis 500 RoY award is not solely based on race results. It is a cumulative award for what a driver accomplished or overcame throughout the entire Month of May.

I thought Alonso was deserving of the award. I’ve never had a vote for Indianapolis 500 RoY, but if I did – Fernando Alonso would have gotten my vote in 2017. When Alonso won, the reaction from the Jones supporters was that of pure outrage. They didn’t listen to reason, or even a discussion of why someone thought Alonso should have won. They were right and anyone who thought Alonso should have gotten it was not only wrong, but was a horrible human being as well.

I was never much of a fan of Jones before then, but that reaction really turned me off regarding Jones. He could have done something to make me re-think my position, but he didn’t. I didn’t care for Alexander Rossi during his first season, but by his second season, I was a big fan. His ability and his style, along with the aforementioned dry sense of humor won me over. Ed Jones showed me nothing beyond Indianapolis in 2017. The best he did for the remainder of the season was a seventh at Road America and a ninth at Belle Isle. The other finishes were abysmal and he finished fourteenth in points.

Amazingly, that was good enough to get him a ride in Chip Ganassi’s No. 10 Honda in 2018. The events that put him in that car also compounded my feelings for Jones. Going into the 2018 season, Dale Coyne had a handshake deal with Ed Jones to drive his car again. While handshakes won’t hold up in a court of law, many of us still consider a handshake as one man or woman giving their word of honor to another man or woman. It’s an ethical bond. When that bond is broken, it may not be considered illegal – but it is certainly considered unethical among a close-knit group like the IndyCar paddock.

Ed Jones broke that bond. When Chip Ganassi found out there was no written contract, he pounced. Jones called up Coyne and informed him that he was driving for Ganassi instead. He didn’t negotiate or even allow Coyne the opportunity to respond. He just said that’s it and hung up. Just because you have the legal right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

I could never be an IndyCar owner, because it’s apparent my memory isn’t short enough. I could never forget that Jones did that to me just three years ago, and I could never bring him back to drive for me again. Maybe Dale Coyne is a much bigger person than I am, and is willing to forgive and forget. I could forgive, but I couldn’t forget. If he dealt with me in an unethical fashion before, why would I think he wouldn’t do it again at some point?

It didn’t go well for Jones at Ganassi, especially in the second half of the 2018 season and Jones was dumped in favor of Felix Rosenqvist. Ironically, Rosenqvist did pretty much the same thing to Ganassi for this coming season – opting to sign with Arrow McLaren SP, when Ganassi assumed they had a deal for 2021.

In 2019, Jones found himself in the part-time ride for Ed Carpenter in the No. 20, for the non-ovals. Aside from a sixth at Indianapolis in a third car for ECR, Jones had poor results in the No. 20. He had no finish higher than twelfth, yet he had six finishes lower than sixteenth.

The driver termed a rookie sensation by some in 2017 was out of IndyCar for 2020. Three teams in three seasons is not great for a resume, when there are so many drivers scrambling for so few rides. If you are going to burn bridges like Jones did to Coyne before the 2018 season, you’d better produce results. Jones didn’t.

But as down as I sound on Ed Jones, I like to see people get second chances, no matter how they screwed up their own situation. I’ve made my share of mistakes and missteps in my life, and I’ve always been grateful to those that gave me a second chance. Fortunately, I’ve been able to reward those that believed in me with better results the second time around. To paraphrase General Patton; I have a lot of faults, but ingratitude is not one of them.

I will probably never be on the Ed Jones bandwagon, where I cheer for him to win every race. But I am hopeful that he will make the most of this second chance that Dale Coyne is giving him. I hope that he rewards Coyne with great results and shows him that he made the right decision to give him this second chance. More than anything, I hope that if Jones finds success, he will show Dale Coyne some loyalty – not to stifle his career, in case Roger Penske or Michael Andretti calls – but to honor his commitment for at least another season, regardless if there is a signed piece of paper involved. I hope he will need to do the right thing, not just the legal thing. Dale Coyne has earned that loyalty, and Ed Jones will owe him that.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “A Mixed Bag of Signings This Week”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    100% with you on all of this.

  2. For whatever reason, the poll question is not working this morning. The host of the site changed poll vendors a few months ago, and I’ve not been real pleased with them. Here is another example. My apologies for the technical difficulties. – GP

    • I have determined the problem with the poll question. After almost twelve years, I have reached my limit of free poll questions. They now want to charge me $15 per month, which I am not willing to do. I’m cheap. So I will explore the possibility of a free outside vendor, but this may signal the end of the Oilpressure.com poll questions. Sorry about that! – GP

  3. Maurice Kessler Says:

    Your poll is not counting votes., or, at least, it didn’t count mine.

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    George – Wondering if you might share your feelings when you wrote regarding Wednesday’s announcement …. call it more of a disappointment…….

    What might you be referring to that was the disappointment in your opinion?

    Best to Susan & you.

    Stay warm ! !

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I know the way Jones won the Indy Lights championship rubbed some folks the wrong way as well, and I get all that. Still, Jones is a solid driver who finds top-level speed on occasion. I don’t think he will be a big step backward from Ferrucci, but I also don’t think he’ll move the team forward much either. Yeah, I can think of other drivers I’d rather see, but that goes for several seats in the series.

  6. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    George…I just want you to know that I feel exactly as you do about Ed Jones. He is boring and Alonso clearly, in my mind, deserved ROY at Indy. Not an inspirational choice.

  7. I find the Jones selection underwhelming too. Where is the money coming from and are Sealmaster ripe to be approached. Let’s hope Jones does prove us wrong but he sure won’t improve the ratings if he wins and goes on a chat show. Bless.

    I would have voted for three.

  8. I agree on Jones, but it’s funny that I have the same opinion on Spencer Pigot, not that he is as boring but that he has had so many chances without a lot of highlights to hang on.

  9. Jones and Coyne worked out well together last time around, so it is likely going to work well again this upcoming season. Coyne putting Jones in his primary car #18 is saying that he puts all of his eggs for this year in one basket, not several. That one is the Indianapolis 500, and that does make a lot of sense as it is the one race on the schedule that pays the most in prize money, and especially makes sense this year as it is the least likely event on the schedule to be cancelled for global healthcare reasons.
    Do I consider Jones to be a bit of an Indianapolis specialist? In a way but if I were a team owner looking for an Indy-only driver, I’d still choose Carlos Munoz instead. What has he been doing latley?
    Yet, for Coyne, choosing Jones is probably the best deal/option available. Here’s hoping he can score another Top 10 result for the team at the Indianapolis 500.

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