Around the Horn: February '14

Around the Horn is back for another installment! Around the Horn is a show that airs on ESPN, where a panel of journalists discuss sports related issues. I have assembled a panel to discuss Indycar issues once a month. Your job as the reader is to share your opinions with anyone you agree/disagree with! Please make your voice heard! Here is this month's panel (make sure to give them all a follow on Twitter):

  • Mike Knapp, @15daysinmay on Twitter, answers listed as MK
  • James Alban, @TheKing0fSwing on Twitter, answers listed as JA
  • Dylan Tilbury, @Dylan_TLR on Twitter, answers listed as DT
  • Michael Tressler, @mtressler13 on Twitter, answers listed as MT
  • Mike Six, @ILovedCART on Twitter, answers listed as MS
  • My man Gus aka @NCO61 on Twitter, answers listed as GUS
  • Mathew Gruenholz aka @IndycarSTIG, aka aka STIG
  • And I round out the panel, with my answers listed as MH

1) The First Word (opening topic)

The feud is over! National Guard-gate has come to an end, with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing being declared the victors over Panther Racing, being rewarded the sponsorship money that goes with National Guard. They will hop on Graham Rahal's car. What's your reaction to all that?

Dan Wheldon Dan Wheldon of England, driver of the #4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara Honda, during practice for the IRL Indycar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 on June 19, 2010 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.
Dan Wheldon driving the National Guard car for Panther in 2010 (Photo: Chris Trotman / Getty Images North America)

MK: I'm happy about it, actually. I hate to sound this way, but while John Barnes did a lot for the troops and their families, I've always felt that he was a slimeball who treats his drivers poorly (Dan Wheldon and JR Hildebrand as cases in point) and in the paddock is one of the guys I've referred to in my blog as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution. I think the Rahal family will be better stewards for the brand and Graham will bring a lot to the National Guard, especially in terms of stability. He's not going anywhere.

JA: I'm a wee bit surprised to see National Guard hop onboard with RLL.  But, I'm not unhappy about it.  Perhaps this new partnership can bring great results and motivation for Graham and the rest of the team.

DT: Overall I think it is a good thing for National Guard to be associated with an American driver. Graham Rahal will be a good spokesman for the Guard. However it is unfortunate that Panther lost this sponsorship, and it could be the beginning of a downhill spiral for that team.

MT: I think this is a great opportunity. A big name sponsor teamed up with a legend owned team and who I believe is one the the best young drivers. Graham is a very logical choice for me to carry the National Guard colors. An American driver with a great attitude for the sport and very likable.

MS: This is great for IndyCar, RLL and the National Guard. IndyCar and the National Guard both deserved better results for one of the series' best sponsors, RLL is much better situated to do just that. I feel bad for Panther but at least now their race results will more closely match their level of funding.

GUS: On one hand very much happy about Graham and the Rahal team. They're truly one of the flagship teams in this sport, and perhaps this one propel them back to where they were in the mid-2000's. On the other hand? Bummer about Panther,  one of my favorite teams in the series.

STIG:  I can understand the business decision and appeal with National Guard going with a full time American driver, it's not a huge surprise to me, hopefully Graham and the team can have a better showing this year for their new sponsor.

MH: John Barnes is a great public advocate for the National Guard and I think both fans and critics can appreciate all he did. Having said that, I am not the least bit sorry for him. I think he has made some shitty decisions in the last 4 years and it has come back to bite him.

2) Buy or Sell (Buy = Agree, Sell = Disagree in regards to the statement)

Carlos Munoz will finish in the top-ten in points in his rookie season.

Carlos Munoz will be racing full time for Andretti Autosport in 2014 (Photo: Autoweek)

MK: Sell. Don't get me wrong, I think Munoz is a stud with a huge future in front of him, but the learning curve of so many diverse tracks (especially the ovals) combined with the depth of the competition makes that a very tall task right out of the box.

JA: Buy!  I think everyone did see flashes of brilliant drives last year from Munoz.  If he can focus on being consistent, there is no doubt he finishes in the top ten.  Maybe even in the top five if he can get a victory or two.

DT: Sell. If you look at it though there are the two Ganassi cars plus the three Penske cars as well as three other Andretti cars. That's eight cars, plus Bourdias, Briscoe, Wilson, Pagenaud, as well as Kimball and Sato. So getting into the top ten will be a major challenge, and although he will have a good car I do not think he will be able to outperform those drivers.

MT: Can I rent and decide to buy or sell later? I think he is very talented but time will tell with how stacked the good teams are. And lets not forget that Indy Lights hasn't exactly been the greatest feeder series lately.

MS: Sell. I think Carlos is going to have a great career but the two times the series Rookie of the Year finished in the top 10 since the reunification involved drivers with a lot more high level open wheel experience. Mutoh had done a year in Formula Nippon and Pagenaud had done a year in Formula Renault 3.5 and a year in CCWS.

GUS: Buy. He's this generation's Juan Montoya. What luck for Andretti to add another talent to their already great line up.

STIG: Buy.  It's a definite possibility considering Carlos' talent and abilities. He's young, but he's aggressive and catches on quickly, see him to prove his worth.

MH: Sell. Sure Carlos has just a load of talent but there will be growing pains with him in his rookie season, especially when it comes to being patient and realizing when it is better to finish than to go with the win. He is phenomenal but with the talent in the field and some risky moves, I see him as P12-14 this season.

3) Out of Bounds (Topic outside of Indycar that has an impact on it)

The search for a title sponsor for Indycar continues. How important is a title sponsor for Indycar?

Verizon inbound? (Photo: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images South America)

MK: I think it's important so long as the sponsor is a great partner in terms of activation and advertising. Izod never seemed to be a good fit because they always seemed to run their golf side as their priority (and yes they are good at that), but if the sponsor is Verizon, like has been bandied about, I'd be excited because they are really committed to IndyCar already and a bigger financial commitment would be huge.

JA: Very important in my opinion!  If you look at almost every other racing series, they seem to have a major sponsor associated with them.  Hopefully IndyCar can secure a sponsor with a long term contract, and the sponsor is willing to be more vocal and involved with the series.

DT: A title sponsor is very important because it adds money to the series (which claims to be low on money) and because the title sponsors will likely help market the series. In America NASCAR's three series plus their sports cars all have title sponsors. Getting a title sponsor would be beneficial for the series, its teams, and the tracks.

MT: Very important. The series needs the funding. But this time let's get a sponsor more relevant to racing. Something more fans can relate to.

MS: A title sponsor is extremely important for IndyCar. Not because IndyCar needs money to achieve profitability (I suspect they'll lose money in '14 no matter what) and not because they need the prestige of having a big name in the title of the series. It's important because IndyCar needs a sponsor that believes in them and will ACTIVATE to help the series grow and hopefully achieve profitability through growth in 2015 and beyond.

GUS: I'll go very.  If someone like Verizon were to be the title sponsor, it could very well be a game changer for the series, and allow it to have some of it's talent promoted better.

STIG: It's important, but the sport is not in desperation of a title sponsor. It would be fantastic if the Verizon rumors come to fruition though, just think of the exposure it could produce!

MH: We need someone who can bring eyes to Indycar. In my opinion, the only realistic candidate that can do that is Verizon. It would be kick ass and they would do a far better job than IZOD, who showed that they didn't give a rat's ass about Indycar... Sorry, that's insulting to rats' assess everywhere. 

4) Showdown (concluding topic)

Who's one driver not signed yet that we will see in St. Petersburg?

Conor Daly is a near consensus (Photo: Marshall Pruett / RACER)

MK: Whoever brings the biggest check? Kidding! My head says Oriol Servia but my heart says Conor Daly. Servia is a good pro who is consistent and low-maintenance, and when given good equipment keeps the car in one piece and provides solid results. But if I were starting a team, Daly would be on my radar. We all know he's going to be pretty good, and hopefully he gets the chance to display those skills in an Indy car someday.

JA: I like this chap Luca Filippi to secure a ride.  As of now, there are a few slots still open with a few teams.  I know he can drive and showed that in his cameo appearance last season.

DT: I guess it depends on what you mean by signed. had an article recently which suggested that there will be twenty-four cars running the full season. If that's the case then most of those drivers are signed or we already know who they likely will be. I will be an optimist and say Simona de Silvestro will end up with a ride somehow.

MT: This one is a hard one to answer every new season. In my opinion, I think we could see either Alex Tagliani or Conor Daly in St. Pete.

MS: I think one of several unsigned drivers we'll definitely see in St. Pete is James Jakes, unfortunately for him, probably in a Coyne car with his driver announcement taking place sometime just before the race actually begins. I'm beginning to think we won't see Simona e Silvestro this year and I'm hopeful we'll see Conor Daly in at least several races in '14, he deserves a full time ride.

GUS: I'll go and be a homer, but I'm going with Conor Daly. Awesome guy, and someone who I believe deserves a chance within the series..

STIG: Simona de Silvestro. It would be a terrible decision not to pick her up or sponsor her, she has the abilities and fan base. Side note: Conor Daly would be a fantastic addition to the paddock, if he finds financial backing I'd put money on him.

MH: Oh I would love to say Conor Daly or Simona de Silvestro, but we all know that a guy like Sebastian Saavedra will weasel his way into a ride he doesn't deserve because he has deeper pockets than everyone else. What else is new?

Make sure you share your opinions!

-Matthew Hickey