Commentary

2021 NTT IndyCar Series Silly Season Synopsis

By: Ashley McCubbin

19 full-time entries with 21 drivers, along with a pair of competitors set to do single race or partial schedules. As we count down to the NTT IndyCar Series beginning at Barber Motorsports Park, that is currently how things stand, with questions still be answered through the grid.

Please allow us to take you up to speed on where things stand.

The entire racing world was shook when Jimmie Johnson announced he was retiring from full-time NASCAR competition to pursue a chance at getting behind the wheel of an IndyCar. After a successful test, he will be running the 13 street and road courses for Chip Ganassi Racing, splitting the ride with Tony Kanaan.

Johnson showed speed turning both left and right in a stock car, and it will be interesting to see just how seven-time adapts to doing so without fenders. It’s a true testament to natural talent, but may not be as steep a learning curve as some may anticipate. After all, he has already impressed in limited testing and was strong in the Formula 1 swap with Fernando Alonso.

For Kanaan, this is the perfect opportunity for the veteran who wants to focus on just turning left, but will now be able to do so in proven equipment surrounded by familiar faces. He partook in six events last year with A.J. Foyt Racing, only scoring a single top-10 with ninth at Gateway. Now there will be no excuse to not return to his old form given CGR won the title last year with Scott Dixon.

Notably, Dixon will be back in the fold once again as he tries to make it two in a row after leading the series with four victories. Marcus Ericsson returns to the No. 8, hopeful of scoring his first CGR podium and improving on last year’s performance with nine top-10’s in 14 races, including a fourth at Road America.

They’ll be joined by new comer Alex Palou, who makes the swap over after racing for Dale Coyne Racing in 2020. Palou struggled for much of the season, only scoring three top-10’s with a third at Road America.

After winning Road America, Felix Rosenqvist will not return to CGR, instead making the move to Arrow McLaren SP, replacing Oliver Askew. Askew struggled throughout the 2020 campaign, placing outside of the top-15 on six occasions, though was third at Iowa. However, placing 12th in points while his teammate Pato O’Ward was fourth is probably why the change ultimately happened. The Mexican could be a dark horse for the title after the success last year, as he scored four podium finishes in the hunt for his first career victory.

Arrow McLaren SP will have a third car for the Indianapolis 500, with Juan Pablo Montoya behind the wheel. It will be his first start in an open-wheel car in three years, but he has won the Greatest Spectacle in Motorsports on two past occasions.

Askew, meanwhile, has yet to announce any plans for the 2021 season, leaving wonders as to whether his road up to the ladder will come to an abrupt ending.

Experience, meanwhile, seems to be the topic of conversation through Silly Season as Helio Castroneves will be making his return to the series, set to run six events in stating he has something to prove in IndyCar still. He will be running the partial schedule for Mayer Shank Racing after spending his career to date with Team Penske. Being able to return to running strongly should be a goal, as many people were left asking questions with no top-10’s in three starts for 2020.

Jack Harvey returns to Mayer Shank Racing on a full-time basis, hopeful of continuing to improve on the big dreams they have in their program. The No. 60 Honda showed potential in their first shot at the full campaign with six top-10 finishes. Now with a veteran influence, perhaps Castroneves can help show what they are missing.

Team Penske will still have their stamp on the series as expected, with four full-time entries as Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power all make their returns in hopes of building upon past championship success and wins to produce more. There will be a new shoe in the house as Scott McLaughlin turns focus on the full schedule after making his debut at St. Petersburg to finish 2020. He proved he was worthy of the ride through his success in Australian V8 Supercars and a couple successful test sessions.

A.J. Foyt Racing spent last season trying a couple different drivers behind the wheel of the No. 14, and both of those fit the bill with both Dalton Kellett and Sebastien Bourdais being offered full-time rides. Kellett’s promotion was a surprise following a best finish of 20th in eight races, while Bourdais showed potential with a fourth in the season finale at St. Petersburg.

As of right now, Charlie Kimball is the only driver out of Foyt’s 2020 line-up that has yet to announce a ride. He is expected to land his feet somewhere (possibly with Dale Coyne Racing) due to having some sponsorship money of his own to contribute.

Dale Coyne Racing has yet to solidify their line-up, which comes as no surprise as that’s been par for the course over the past couple seasons. Santino Ferrucci can be (mostly )removed from the discussion, though, after announcing he will compete in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 20 events for Our Motorsports.

Andretti Autosport confirmed Alexander Rossi will return behind the wheel of the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts entry, while Colton Herta makes the switch from to the No. 26 instead of the No. 88. Recall the 88 is co-owned with Andretti and Steinbrenner Racing, whereas the No. 26 is solely an Andretti car.

Rossi is a driver that has proven he’s talented and fast, and it’s just a matter of when and how it all comes together for him to be a champion. Herta, meanwhile, showed progress in that regard in just his second full-time campaign with a third-place finish in points. The success is why Andretti made the move, wanting to ensuring his future in knowing the youngster is a title threat.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is the champion of their team, but has yet to resign for the 2021 campaign yet. It is expected to be a formality thing, with no rumors as of right now to say different. The same could be said for Marco Andretti and his future in the No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport w/ Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian Honda.

The No. 88 is the only entry that remains fully up in the air, and it does not seem to be heading Zach Veach’s way, as he took himself out of the seat last year with three races remaining to allow the team a chance to try and look for a new driver. His future in the sport is yet to to be determined.

James Hinchcliffe signed a three-race deal with Andretti Autosport for 2020, which turned into six events as he ran those three that Veach stepped aside for. If the team is wanting to continue their marriage with Steinbrenner, the Canadian is the front running candidate at this time after a seventh in the Indianapolis 500. Could it be time for a full reunion here?

There’s no change at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with both Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato set to return after the latter won the Indianapolis 500 last season. Bobby Rahal expressed being impressed by the results and performances put up last year, citing a new to focus upon improving qualifying to make their job easier so they could contend more often.

Ed Carpenter Racing is also following the same route, as Rinus Veekay returns full-time following a season-best third in the Indianapolis Grand Prix in his rookie campaign. They will have a second entry, as team owner Ed Carpenter once again runs the ovals with Conor Daly competing on the road and street courses.

Carlin Racing has yet to solidify their plans, but nothing is expected to change as Max Chilton will more than likely run the street and road courses, plus the Indianapolis 500, while Daly runs the ovals.

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