The Frontstretch: Open Wheel Wednesday: All About Juan by Huston Ladner -- Wednesday August 21, 2013

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Open Wheel Wednesday: All About Juan

Open Wheel Wednesday · Huston Ladner · Wednesday August 21, 2013


It’s tough to write about IndyCar right now. There are a number of reasons for this problem. To start, and which has been noted frequently, the series doesn’t receive a lot of attention. Though the series tries to put out stories via press releases and its web site, none of it brings a lot of gravity. Was the story on Dario Franchitti sailing on what he called “Indy cars in the water,” interesting? Yes. But that’s about all it was.

Perhaps the biggest task in writing about IndyCar right now is that, well, nothing has been happening. The drivers have strapped in and lit it up just twice in the past month and a half. That’s a lot of time and not a lot of racing. It’s hard to find storylines in that kind of environment. Last week, Matt Stallknecht found an interesting angle by peering into the future and looking at the IndyCar of 2018. But hey, at least this weekend there will be a race.

A third issue that IndyCar has is that there’s been little in the way of drama. Graham Rahal’s team changed up some of its personnel. Ryan Briscoe will be back in the No. 4 at Sonoma. None of those things are extravagant or draw readers to the screen.

Juan Pablo Montoya will be walking away from his Sprint Cup ride after this season…could he walk right on into IndyCar?

But we can all thank Chip Ganassi for changing things.

When Ganassi released Juan Pablo Montoya from his NASCAR team, he set in motion the chance for things to be shaken up…in both series. The easy part is NASCAR, where there’s now a decent ride available – which really won’t impact IndyCar – but could shuffle some things.

IndyCar, however, must be going positively ga-ga (not the singer) over the prospect of getting a talent like JPM back in one of its cars. Hence, it didn’t take long for someone in the paddock to make overtures about signing the Columbian. The surprise was that Andretti Autosport was the first to do so.

One would have thought that Ganassi would have been the likely candidate to give JPM a ride. Perhaps the relationship had gotten to a point where a break was best for both parties. Or maybe Ganassi didn’t see JPM fitting in with Franchitti and Scott Dixon. Or maybe Ganassi knew that finding sponsorship was going to be troublesome and didn’t even bother.

There’s a bit of the problem. The Andretti offer was contingent on a sponsor being found. Let’s play the hypothetical and believe that Andretti can find a sponsor. Is it really possible that Andretti would be able to field five cars next year? Though he’s said that he could, it just doesn’t seem likely.

Perhaps Andretti is just kicking the tires to see what can happen, and by throwing the offer out he was able to generate positive PR and find out what is a possibility. It’s also possible that there’s more at play. Perhaps he’ll add JPM but won’t be going to a five-car team.

Marco Andretti is having one of his better years and, well, nepotism means that he’ll be around. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the defending champion, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be going anywhere. So that leaves two other drivers who may now be on the hot seat: James Hinchcliffe and E.J. Viso.

Hinchcliffe has been sporadic, with three wins but a number of DNFs. Viso too has been up and down but has yet to earn a win this year. That would push Viso out the door. But maybe not. The team’s contract with GoDaddy is up at the end of the year, so it could very well be Hinchcliffe that is in the same position as JPM – needing a sponsor to get a ride. And maybe GoDaddy sees something in JPM that they don’t with Hinchcliffe.

All that seems improbable, though, as Hinchcliffe has been one of the more personable drivers this year. But maybe GoDaddy isn’t finding the same return on their investment now that Danica Patrick isn’t the media darling of IndyCar, and they may pull out of the series. Once again, it’s just a possibility.

So that likely puts Viso in the awkward position of racing to keep JPM from taking over. Which is a way of saying that JPM has an excellent shot to take over that car. It’s a whole lot of what-ifs.

Now let’s add NASCAR back into the equation. Could GoDaddy be part of Kurt Busch’s possible move to Stewart Haas Racing? If KuBu ends up there, with GoDaddy picking up a few races on his car, he’s now tied back to Andretti. Andretti and GoDaddy will be able to put together the ride that Busch is looking for, either for Fontana or another race. While that scenario doesn’t directly deal with JPM’s situation, it’s all a bunch of dominoes.

Right now, speculation is all that can be played. Having JPM back in IndyCar would be a boon for the series. Though he’s been away from open wheel racing for six or seven years, it wouldn’t take too much of an imagination to see him regaining form and challenging for wins.

But who knows, maybe JPM joins F1 driver Mark Webber and moves to the sports-car series. Once again, thank you Chip Ganassi, because now there’s a reason to think about IndyCar during these summer doldrums of the sport.

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08/21/2013 10:18 PM

Maybe Montoya could be the new Number Juan at Koodo.