It really happened. America's great hope for glory in IndyCar has landed on the best team after years of "will he, won't he" speculation. Roger Penske made the call, and Josef Newgarden will be in the deuce for the foreseeable future. One of the best drivers the last two seasons in IndyCar, Newgarden is the fresh face that IndyCar can build around. Here's hoping the two flourish together.
JR Hildebrand has been very patient since the 2013 season, where he was fired from Panther Racing, and it has finally paid off. Hildebrand has been running part-time with Ed Carpenter Racing since the 2014 season. With Newgarden off to Penske and Hildebrand's close ties with the team, the decision to promote JR to full-time was easy. Hildebrand should be an instant threat to win races.
While Takuma Sato was a bit of a enigma at AJ Foyt Enterprises, the Japanese veteran can be a force to be reckoned with at Andretti Autosport. While he still has the potential to be rough around the edges during a race, Sato was still plenty fast the last couple of seasons. Can he keep it together at one of the best teams in IndyCar?
While many of us IndyCar faithful understand how cool James Hinchcliffe is on and off the track, many Americans got a chance to witness the awesomness of James as he took part in Dancing With the Stars. While he finished just short of winning the Disco Ball, Hinch managed to captivate audiences with his story, personality, and dance skills. Hinch managed to put another notch in the "drivers are athletes" belt. The community of Hinchtown is growing.
The only "bad" news this offseason came at the expense of KV Racing, a team that started back in 2004. Jimmy Vasser, 1996 CART Champion, and Kevin Kalkhoven, owner of Cosworth, decided that the 2017 season would not be in the cards financially. The team sold its cars to Juncos Racing, while an auction is coming up to sell-off the remainder of their assets. Never good to see a team leave, especially in the fragile state of IndyCar.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya got "fired" from Team Penske. Despite looking for a ride elsewhere in IndyCar, Montoya ultimately resigned with Team Penske for the Indianapolis 500 and potentially other races in Penske's fifth car. So while he's still in the show with the best team, his loss of a full-time ride has to hurt the ego.
This might be the last time I ever mention Jack Hawksworth in my blog, unless I'm referencing his historically bad 2016 season or a "how to" guide on how to throw your team under the bus. He was put out of his misery by AJ Foyt Enterprises this year and now is probably going to have a modestly-average sports car career.
The aero-kit freeze came at an inopportune time for Honda, who played catch up with Chevrolet for most the season, especially on road courses. Honda proved equal on ovals for the most part, but without any development of the kits in the offseason before moving to a universal kit in 2018, Honda could have a tough year ahead. They swapped the Foyt cars for Ganassi cars, which will boost their competitive levels.
Cone of Shame
It would be one thing for a sponsor to leave a no-name team after a couple seasons for financial reasons. It's another thing to see Target leave Chip Ganassi Racing after 27 years of service. Both sides are healthy and had a thriving relationship. Over the years, both sides yielded multiple championships and Indianapolis 500 wins, while the exposure Target had is immeasurable. People don't forget those cars anytime soon, especially when the winning car is plastered all over television, newspapers, and social media. But what's most frustrating about it is the direction Target is taking. Flashy 120 second commercials with millennial rap stars costs about as much as a half-seasons work for Scott Dixon. I tried watching the whole thing but I got concussed halfway through after bashing my head into a cinder block. I appreciate Target's support through the years as well as their impact on IndyCar, but I've lost so much respect for them.
Let me know what you think!