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Indy 500’s Musical Chairs Nearing An Early End

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With a sudden boost in full-time interest in the Verizon IndyCar Series, a welcome sight is in prospect, no concerns about whether the Indianapolis 500 will feature a full grid.

Now the question is, will there be rare drama on qualifying weekend, that does not solely focus on the Pole Day Fast Nine Shootout? Bumping cars from the starting grid at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has not occurred since 2015, when 1996 race winner Buddy Lazier was the odd man out. This year, however, the possibility of a little bit nervousness exists three months away from the opening of practice.

The addition of new full-time entrants Carlin, plus part-time efforts from Michael Shank and Ricardo Juncos have boosted the interest in extra cars for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, a move that in the end could add some hijinx. However, there is one roadblock that stands in the way of any potential wild cards.

That hold-up is the two engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda, who have been a little reluctant to expand their horizons concerning providing leases to the grid. Since multiple options came into play in 2012, the most power plants offered by one entity has been 18, the total given by the latter a season ago. If both match this output in three months from now, the scenario would be a 36-car fight for 33 spots. And keep in mind, unlike NASCAR where charters protect certain teams from failing to make the show, no one is safe at Indy.

So assuming the parameters go beyond the minimum needed to fill the grid, here’s how the deal is playing out.

DONE DEALS: 27

-Team Penske (4 cars)- Newgarden, Castroneves, Power, Pagenaud
-Chip Ganassi Racing (2 cars)- Dixon, Jones
-Andretti Autosport (6 cars)- Rossi, Veach, Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Munoz, Wilson
-Dale Coyne Racing (2 cars)- Bourdais, Fittipaldi
-Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports (2 cars)- Hinchcliffe,
-Michael Shank Racing (1 car)- Harvey
-Harding Racing (1 car)- Chaves
-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2 cars)- Rahal, Sato
-Ed Carpenter Racing (2 cars)- Carpenter, Pigot
-AJ Foyt Racing (2 cars)- Kanaan, Leist
-Carlin (2 cars)- Kimball, Chilton
-Juncos Racing (1 car)- Kaiser

LIKELY TO BE COMPLETED: 6

-Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (2 cars)- Patrick, Karam
-Dale Coyne Racing (2 more cars)- Mann, Servia?
-Harding Racing (1 more car)- Daly?
-Lazier Partners Racing (1 car) – Lazier

STILL POSSIBLE: 4

-Ed Carpenter Racing (1 more car)- Hildebrand?
-AJ Foyt Racing (1 more car)- ??
-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1 more car)- Servia??
-Juncos Racing (1 more car)- Saavedra?

Among those in the likely to be completed category, the fourth seat at Dale Coyne Racing and the second at Harding appear to be the most up for grabs. While Pippa Mann is all but assured a place at DCR, a role she has held at every Indy 500 since 2014, the other option is a question mark.

Insider information says four cars for DCR is a done deal; the question is who will drive? It seemed that it was a lock that the pilot left out of the game in the full-time No. 19 ride would take the seat. However, rumors claim a veteran set of hands is what the Windy City squad is after. That would open up a shot for Oriol Servia, who was in contention for the win last May, until the big wreck eliminated him from contention. Even if Rahal offers up a third car for the Indy 500, a less likely proposition, Coyne looks like a good match-up.

As for the Harding Racing deal, team president Brian Barnhart has stated the desire of running a second car in multiple events in 2018 and Conor Daly is by far the biggest name in IndyCar who is minus a ride at this point of the off-season. The ties between Barnhart and Indianapolis Motor Speedway overseer Doug Boles, the stepfather of Daly, could accelerate a deal. Another daring option would be Juan Pablo Montoya, two times an Indy 500 champion, who was ousted from the mix at Team Penske, due to the Captain’s desire to only run four entries as opposed to the five entered in 2017.

Lazier Partners Racing is another shoe-in for the 500, unless a numbers game for engine leases forces them out. The team has the least funding in IndyCar and concerns about the future interest of its top supporter Corey Krause is also a question. Rumors crept up earlier in silly season, that Krause was looking to form his own organization. The catch though is the driver that is the focus, Baltazar Leguizamón, is only 17 and currently not eligible to seek an IndyCar Series license until just before the next to last race of the year at Portland. Could that put other organizations in front of the pecking order?

Juncos Racing could be one to take advantage, especially if Sebastian Saavedra returns with AFS money in hand. Foyt and Carpenter have also aided field filling duties in years past, but will they continue their interest in providing more cars beyond 33? That idea is unknown.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

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