Where is it Coming From?

It is still March, but things are taking shape for the Month of May. One thing that is almost complete is the entry list for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500. The problem is, it currently stands at only thirty-two entries. I’m not sure if it is the supply chain issues, the current and uncertain economy or what, but the talk of thirty-five to thirty-six entries we were hearing back in January has totally vanished.

The general consensus among those that know is that there is no danger of the Indianapolis 500 having a field smaller than the traditional thirty-three starters, for the first time since 1947. I tend to agree with that notion, but I’m still pondering where the thirty-third car will come from.

I think we can rule out Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing. Both of those teams are running five cars each – their normal full-timers, plus Tony Kanaan for Ganassi and Marco Andretti for Andretti Autosport. Those two teams are already accounting for almost a third of the field. They won’t stretch themselves any further.

Meyer Shank Racing and Dale Coyne Racing are adamant in saying they will not be adding cars, beyond the two each team is running this season. The same goes for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. They have expanded to three fulltime cars this season, and are not looking for any additional expense. You’ll notice all of the teams I’ve mentioned are all Honda teams – accounting for seventeen cars.

Arrow McLaren SP has already announced they will be running Juan Montoya in a third car for the AMR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. They are probably not inclined to add a fourth car. Dreyer & Reinbold have already announced their plans for Indianapolis, with Sage Karam and Santino Ferrucci. They are doing well to field two cars. Don’t expect them to add a third. Juncos Hollinger Racing was absent from the grid for over two years, before running the last three races of last season with Calum Ilott; with whom they are running the full season this year. They are in no position to add a second car.

That’s three Chevy teams so far, that I see no way they will add an extra car. That leaves three fulltime Chevy teams that might, emphasis on the word might, be able to field an extra car – Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing and AJ Foyt Enterprises. Those three teams have already committed three cars each for the Indianapolis 500. That brings us to fifteen Chevy-powered cars and seventeen Honda-powered cars for a total of thirty-two committed car and driver combinations.

When you look at those three teams, you would think that Team Penske is the one most able to field an extra car. After all, it was just last season that they were running four fulltime cars in the series. It is assumed they have more resources than anyone else. With Ganassi and Andretti running five cars, couldn’t they step up to four?

It’s not that easy. It’s not unheard of, but Team Penske rarely adds an extra car for the 500. He did it once for Juan Montoya and three times for Helio Castroneves as they were both being pushed toward sports cars and phased into an IndyCar retirement. He also brought out an extra car from AJ Allmendinger in 2013. Team Penske likes to do things right, and not wheel out an extra car at the last minute to go along with a thrown-together crew. I could be wrong, but I would be surprised if the thirty-third entry comes from Team Penske.

Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) usually has two fulltime cars and a third car for the 500. That’s what they have now, but things are a little different this season. Both fulltime cars have drivers running the full season. That means Ed Carpenter is trotting out a third car at all ovals for himself. He is having to employee two fulltime crews, in addition to a part-time crew for all of the ovals. I’ve never seen ECR run a fourth car at Indianapolis. I don’t expect to see them do it this year either.

That leaves AJ Foyt. In years that the series was having trouble filling the field, we could always count on AJ Foyt to roll out an extra car at the last minute. Last year, Foyt had planned on running four cars in the race for the first time in recent memory. But when Charlie Kimball failed to qualify, that left him with the three cars of Sébastien Bourdais, Dalton Kellett and JR Hildebrand for the race. This year, Foyt already has cars committed for Kyle Kirkwood, Hildebrand and Kellett.

If I had to guess, one of the low-budget teams will be counted upon to deliver an extra car. They will play on Foyt’s love of the tradition of the Indianapolis 500, and how he would not want to see the field dip below thirty-three for the first time since he was first involved with the race in 1958. Maybe Foyt can once again run a retro-livery carrying the No. 1, like they did last year. Who would drive it? Charlie Kimball would be my first guess, since he seems to still be associated with the team in some capacity. However, Kimball was on the ECR pit box this past weekend in Texas. If not Kimball, then possibly former Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who also has a history with the team. If I’m Foyt and I’m talked into running a fourth car at Indianapolis – Hunter-Reay is who I would go with. He’s hungry and now humbled. I think he’s eager to prove he still has something left in the tank. Besides, as of right now he would be assured of making the race. I seriously doubt a thirty-fourth entry will materialize at this point.

I do feel comfortable that there will be thirty-three cars on the grid on the morning of May 29. The only question is, what does the path to thirty-three look like. My guess is that pass goes through AJ Foyt Enterprises – again.

George Phillips

14 Responses to “Where is it Coming From?”

  1. Maurice Kessler Says:

    I don’t think Penske would continue his legacy at IMS without 33 cars in the 500. Aid might be given by Penske to another team to make the field. I agree either Kimball or Ryan Hunter Reay would be a good choice to fill the seat.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I expect the 33rd entry will be strange marriage of a group that has a car (like the Enersons or the Foyts), a driver that has a budget (James Davison seems done, so… Stefan Wilson?), and a group that has a crew (one of those USAC or Indy Lights teams that has “stepped up” in Mays past). It will all but assuredly be powered by a Chevrolet.

  3. Team Penske has cut back to 3 cars so it seems like they should have a few extra cars sitting around. I don’t understand why Roger can’t lease one to Beth Paretta if he is really serious about wanting the female forward team to succeed. Or was tht just a lot of PC hot air? I know there is a people shortage but Paretta has at least a partial crew held over from last year and Simona lined up as driver.

  4. Mark Wick Says:

    NBC has committed a lot to qualifying coverage and the race, and I have read that there is a plan for Hinch to provide his commentary from inside a car during the race, so I believe he should be included in this speculation.

  5. Why isn’t Bourdais considered? I know he’s a road course driver but has performed decent at Indy and should be a former pole winner. Unless he has basically hung up his Indycar career….

  6. Two items – first, I read where TK will be running #1 on his entry from CGR, so that’s not available for a fourth Foyt entry. Secondly, I read an article a couple weeks ago and RHR said he’d had interest, but not from what he would consider a competitive team, so he’s out. Couldn’t see him ever going to Foyt, that team is so far off the pace at most places. And as Rodger Ward said when he got out of his ill handling car mid-race in 1966, he knew he was done, and said at the victory banquet – “no reason to end a wonderful career driving a bad car that might end up in a spectacular crash.” I give RHR all the credit in the world for not taking a substandard, non-competitive ride just to be in the race. He has nothing to prove.

  7. Maurice Kessler Says:

    What about the “SpeedwY car” that was seeking donations from the fans. Are they any where in the conversation?

  8. “The only question is, what does the path to thirty-three look like. My guess is that pass goes through AJ Foyt Enterprises – again.”

    my guess is the pass goes through everyone.
    my question is…where does it return and fulfill?

  9. I miss the days when George “Ziggy” Snider would qualify a Foyt backup with about 8 laps of practice……then the car would stop or catch fire on the pace lap.

  10. Makes me wonder if we see Lazier roll out an old car for Flynn, just to start in the back and make a few laps, RC Enerson and that team he was with could bring the old car out too maybe. I know they aren’t going to be competitive efforts, but I think we will see the Jean Alesi type thing for that 33rd spot, a dog slow car to fill the field.

  11. I think Roger Penske’s in a tough spot here. I can understand how he wouldn’t want to hamper Team Penske by running additional cars, but as the series and IMS owner, I would also think he’d want to do whatever he could for the betterment of the show. Isn’t the easiest way to do that by just putting Ryan Hunter Reay in a 4th Penske car for the race?

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