Chronicle: Drama-rich IndyCar as Indianapolis 500 looms

Through just three races, the IndyCar series is already building enough dynamic storylines to be worthy of its own Netflix schedule.

Speculation is mounting that IndyCar, much like NASCAR and any motorsport series with a finger on the pulse of pop culture, is trying to put together a behind-the-scenes documentary series similar to Formula 1’s “Drive to Survive.” has led to an explosion in the popularity of F1 in the United States, the market that every racing entity looking for sponsors in the world wants to break into.

Well, it’s time to mic the IndyCar paddock, which packed a season of drama in the first three events with the Indianapolis 500 still seven weeks away.

Josef Newgarden has “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on his wish list and he’s already talking about it. His first career win at the Long Beach Grand Prix On Sunday, Team Penske went a perfect 3-0 to start the season. Scott McLaughlin won the season opener, and Long Beach picked up back-to-back wins by Newgarden, the two-time IndyCar champion who is 0 for 10 in the Indianapolis 500.

The American – he lives just outside Nashville and his wife, Ashley, is expecting their first child any day – is was aiming for the Borg-Warner Trophy.

“I’m focused on that. I can’t do more than I’ve done in the past, I can tell you that,” Newgarden said. “You can go your whole career and not win the Indy 500, and I accept that, if that’s the case. But I’m not going to go down without a fight.

A victory for Newgarden – or McLaughlin or Will Power – would take Roger Penske’s record to 19 as an owner and occur at his first real Indy 500 as an owner of the series and the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

His first Indianapolis 500 after the sale closed was delayed and held in front of empty grandstands for the first time in racing history. Last year, crowds were limited, but the roughly 150,000 in attendance unofficially reopened America as the biggest sporting event at the time.

He now expects a full house, the return of Carb Day and its traditional concerts and the reopening of the Snake Pit party area in the infield.

There will be 33 cars in the field, Penske insisted, although 33 competitors have yet to be announced.

“Look, anything can happen, you know? But what we have on paper today has us 33,” Penske told AP, insisting that it didn’t involve him putting together some sort of entry backed by the Penske team.

“It would have to be an end zone catch or something, we would definitely fill the field if we had to, but that’s not in our plans,” Penske told AP.

Penske team president Tim Cindric immediately ended all Penske involvement: “We don’t do that. We don’t have anyone, they’re all doing sports car stuff. I don’t know how we would do that.

The 500 got a boost with a career-best sixth-place finish in Jimmie Johnson’s debut in an IndyCar oval race at Texas Motor Speedway last month. It sparked talk that the seven-time NASCAR champion could be a legitimate contender next month on his Indy debut, but that was overshadowed by a terrible weekend in Long Beach.

Johnson crashed on Friday and broke his hand, so he had to go on a casting call. He crashed Saturday and again Sunday before rushing to see a specialist in North Carolina.

Before his weekend was derailed, Johnson indicated he was considering a third season of IndyCar in 2023. The former Hendrick Motorsports driver is expected to be a contender for the Hendrick and NASCAR collaborative special entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but told AP he could ‘not make any decision on the conduct of Le Mans until he sees the 2023 IndyCar schedule.

It’s just one element of a silly season that gathered pace even before the first checkered flag this year.

Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th race of the Indianapolis 500 miles, is in a contract year with Andretti Autosport and the season is shaping up to be a long goodbye similar to that of Ryan Hunter-Reay a year ago.

In March, Michael Andretti told reporters he had informed Rossi that he could sign with another team if a good offer came along. Two disastrous races later (poor team strategy at St. Pete and mechanical failure at Texas), Andretti told AP the team failed Rossi to start the year — but his future at Andretti is still undecided. .

In fact, Andretti said, as the two sides assessed each other, Andretti twice noted that he had an exclusive window into negotiating a new contract and that Rossi wasn’t even able to speak yet. with other teams.

“We just need to get a good result and start the year. That’s the main goal,” Rossi said of his future. “All that comes is life.”

Either way, the whole paddock is aware that rookie Kyle Kirkwood is holed up at AJ Foyt Racing and putting in track performance worthy of a seat with a bigger team. Andretti developed Kirkwood but had no seat this year for the 23-year-old American. After his 10th place finish in Long Beach, the fight is on for Kirkwood, and Andretti needs to be thick in battle.

Andretti, meanwhile, remains frustrated with his bid to land a Formula 1 team. His bid is still pending to add a two-car Andretti team that would feature California native Colton Herta, who has meanwhile signed a deal to test McLaren’s F1 cars.

The plot: McLaren says he is evaluating Herta for himself while Andretti says McLaren is helping Herta earn the license points he needs to compete in F1. Either way, the push is underway to bring Herta overseas. Andretti said it would be with him if he had a team, but he wouldn’t stop Herta from leaving if McLaren offered him a ride. In 2024, Herta is a free agent and can do whatever he wants.

And then comes the curious case of Pato O’Ward, popular breakout star and supposed championship contender. O’Ward dreams of Formula 1, the whole world knows it, and its pairing with Arrow McLaren SP opens the way to its ultimate goal.

But the 22-year-old Mexican doesn’t like his current contract and started complaining about it publicly ahead of the second race of the season. This has created distractions that O’Ward admittedly struggles to deal with. He made mistakes over the three race weekends – including hitting a crew member on pit road in Texas – but an impressive practice Sunday at Long Beach rallied him to a best-ever fifth-place finish. of the season.

It moved O’Ward from 13th to ninth in the IndyCar standings. More importantly, the arrogance he displayed in last year’s breakout season was back.

“Yeah, man, I know this isn’t a win,” O’Ward said. “But we had a very difficult start to the year. We will continue today’s momentum.

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