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INDYCAR Season Preview: Scott Dixon Chasing History; Stacked ‘Rookie’ Class; Highly Competitive Field

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Photo: Karl Zemlin

BIRMINGHAM, AL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The green flag drops on the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season Sunday with the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park and the season is full of storylines race fans are going to want to watch and follow until the checkered flag falls at Long Beach in September.

PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, the reigning and six-time Series Champion, is seeking a record-tying seventh title in 2021. A seventh title would tie INDYCAR legend AJ Foyt for the most Championships in the history of the sport. Foyt won the last of his championships in 1979, which means his mark has stood unmatched for 42 years.

Dixon started 2020 with three-straight wins to propel him to his sixth title.  Speaking of wins, Dixon sits third on the all-time wins list with 50-career wins.  Mario Andretti is 2nd all-time with 52-wins so Dixon could pass Mario this season.  Foyt is first with 67-career wins so ‘Super Tex’s’ win record is safe, for now.

“Building on 2020, we had a pretty good start,” team owner Chip Ganassi told Pittsburgh Racing Now about Dixon’s start in 2020. “With his fast start of the season, it was a fast start for our team. If we can do that in ’21 I’ll be stunned. Fingers crossed.”

In addition to Dixon, CGR has Marcus Ericsson returning in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda.  Alex Palou joins the team in 2021 taking over the No. 10 Honda and a rookie is going to splitting time with Tony Kanaan in the No. 48 Honda.

The 2021 INDYCAR rookie class is deep, talented and loaded with all kinds of experience.  Joining the series in 2021 are seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson, who is driving the road and street course schedule for Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing; three-time Australian Super Cars Champion Scott McLaughlin, who is driving the full schedule for Team Penske with sponsorship from Pittsburgh-headquartered PPG Paints; Long time Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean is competing for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing.

“This might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing that we see something like this,” said INDYCAR President Jay Frye. “We’re really excited. The good thing about these three is they’re great people on and off the track. They’ve taken this very seriously. It’s going to be amazing to watch their progress over the course of the year. Really excited to have them.”

“Any team owner would want Jimmie Johnson on his team,” said Ganassi. “He’s a damn hard worker. He set the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in and my hats off to him. He’s always on the simulator, on the computer, on the phone making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team.  The guy doesn’t slow down.”

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES isn’t slowing down either as Team Penske returns with a 4-car lineup featuring former Series Champions Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud along with the rookie McLaughlin.

Andretti Autosport returns with a 4-car full-time lineup led by former Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The pair will be joined by Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe, who returns to full-time competition in 2021. Marco Andretti will run a fifth entry in the Indy 500.

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Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will field two full-time cars for two-time 500 winner Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal.  RLL will field a third car in the 500 with Santino Ferrucci behind the wheel.

Arrow McLaren SP is on a mission in 2021 to join the ‘Big 3’ (Ganassi, Penske, Andretti) as one of the teams to beat week in and week out.  Pato O’Ward returns for his second season with team and starts on the pole position Sunday.  O’Ward will be joined at AMSP by former CGR driver Felix Rosenqvist.  AMSP will field a third car in the 500 for two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s 10th season of competition finds Conor Daly running the road and street courses and team owner Ed Carpenter in the cockpit for the oval events.  Rinus VeeKay remains the team’s full-time driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet. The trio will again make up ECR’s three-car lineup in the Indianapolis 500.

Four-time Champion Sebastien Bourdais leads AJ Foyt Racing into 2021 as the affable Frenchman returns to full-time INDYCAR competition in 2021.  Joining Bourdais all season long will be second-year driver Dalton Kellett, who made eight starts in 2020.  Veteran Charlie Kimball will be joining the team for the GMR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500.

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan will field a car for Ed Jones, who returns to INDYCAR full time in 2021. In addition to Grosjean, DCR with RWR will field an additional entry in selected events in 2021.  Cody Ware participated in the recent Indy 500 open test for the team.

Meyer Shank Racing begins its second full-time season with Jack Harvey behind the wheel of the teams full-season entry. Helio Castroneves will be competing in six events including the Indy 500, an event that Castroneves has won three-times.

The schedule is packed with action as the global pandemic has moved a couple of events from their traditional dates to new dates.  The season starts with six races in seven weeks.

“I get particularly excited about the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule,” said Mark Miles, Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO. “I think it’s a really, really potent start that will get our fans refocused on the INDYCAR SERIES. Can’t wait to be in Alabama at Barber this weekend, but we go from there in consecutive weekends, as everybody knows, to St. Pete. That’s going to be really terrific to be back there, to the Texas Motor Speedway. We have a weekend off, and then we’re at May. We know what May brings. We’ve got the two races and the time trials in between, and all the exciting practice, Fast Friday, Carb Day, all the exciting things in between.”

One addition to the schedule is the inaugural Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee.

“I hear every day from fans who want to know how they get their tickets for Nashville,” said Miles. “The anticipation there is fantastic. We think it’s going to be a great event, a terrific addition to the series.”

The green flag drops on the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBC.  The race can be heard on the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Jimmie Johnson to run the full 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series Season for Chip Ganassi

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Jimmie Johnson is adding the full 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule to his racing activities for the upcoming year.

Johnson competed in 12-road and street course events for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 and finished the season by testing on the ovals at Texas Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The 2021 experience and oval tests only served to ignite Johnson’s passion to compete in ‘The Greatest Spectacle In Racing’.

“I’m really excited about this next chapter of my career,” said Johnson. “The safety of these cars has come so far, and after I tested the ovals at Texas and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I realized this was a challenge I wanted to undertake.”

Online automobile retailer Carvana returns to sponsor Johnson and will be on the No. 48 Honda for the Indianapolis 500 and every race except Iowa, where associate sponsor the American Legion will be featured.

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“I can’t wait to be part of the Indianapolis 500, it’s a childhood dream come true,” said Johnson. “Last season was so incredible for me and I made a lot of progress, so I know I can be competitive on tracks that I have experience on.”

Team owner Chip Ganassi is equally fired-up to see Johnson get back behind the wheel of one of his race cars.

“I am looking forward to seeing Jimmie get back on the track after having a year under his belt,” said Ganassi. “With all the experience he has on ovals from his NASCAR career and adding it to his 2021 experience in an Indy car, we think the IndyCar ovals will play right into his strength. I can’t wait for the 2022 season to begin.”

An announcement on the role of Tony Kanaan, who drove the No. 48 Honda in the oval races in 2021, is expected after the Holidays.

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou Wins NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship

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Chris Owens/INDYCAR

LONG BEACH, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – In just his first year with the team Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou is your 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion.

Palou’s 4th-place finish in Sunday’s season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach guaranteed the 24-year-old native of Spain his first INDYCAR Championship in his second season and the Ganassi team their 14th title since 1996.

“This team is amazing,” said Palou. “I’m super proud to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing, all our partners. I’m super proud to be a champion and for the opportunity these guys gave me. What a race, what a year, what a season.”

“People win Championships,” said team owner Chip Ganassi. “The driver, the team, and especially the people behind the scenes, leaving the shop in the winter when it’s dark out and snowing, that don’t get the notoriety.”

Palou started the race in tenth position in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda.  Palou’s closest Championship rival, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, started the race in eighth position.  Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden started on the pole position with Palou’s CGR teammate Scott Dixon alongside in second place in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.

Newgarden took the lead in turn one with Dixon in tow as the field took the green flag.  The race wasn’t even 2-laps old when Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan’s Ed Jones made an ambitious attempt to pass James Hinchcliffe, but made contact with O’Ward with Palou right behind Jones!

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O’Ward brought out the caution flag a short time later on lap 20 when the right rear driveshaft failed on the front stretch.

The caution flag shuffled the field as some cars went to pit road for service while other cars stayed out to gain track position, giving the lead to Helio Castroneves, who took a turn at the front of the field until he went to pit road on lap 34, giving the lead to Colton Herta.

Herta earned his turn at the front as he was making moves through the field throughout the race and following the last restart, it was Newgarden and Dixon giving chase.  Palou was behind Dixon in fourth doing what he needed to get the car to the checkered flag in one piece.

Herta pulled away in the end to a .5883-second victory, his ?? win of 2021.  Newgarden finished second to jump O’Ward for second in the Championship, 38-points behind Palou.

Dixon finished third followed by Palou in fourth. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud rounded out the Top 5.

Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Sebastian Bourdais, Takuma Sato and Will Power made up spots 6 through 10.

Honda claimed the Engine Manufacturer’s Championship for the fourth straight year.

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Josef Newgarden wins pole position for INDYCAR Acura Long Beach Grand Prix

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Chris Owens/INDYCAR

LONG BEACH, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is on the pole position for Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Newgarden’s fast lap of 1-minute, 8.2241-seconds around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit was .2181-seconds faster than Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon’s best lap in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.

The pole position and valuable Championship point is exactly what Newgarden needs to do to win his third series title.  Newgarden enters the race in third position in the standings, 48-points behind leader Alex Palou, and must win, lead the most laps and hope Palou finishes 25th or worse.

“It’s very improbable for us to win this championship,” Newgarden said. “So, our goal is to win the race tomorrow. Let’s finish our season on a high note, and we’ll see what happens. I think it’s pretty unlikely, but you never say never in this sport.”

The only other driver with a shot at the Championship is Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, who will start eighth in the 28-car field.  O’Ward also needs to win and hope for Palou to finish 25th or worse.

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“Our car has been good,” said O’Ward. “We didn’t roll off the best, but I think we made some really good changes, just kept improving. We had enough for the Fast 6.”

Palou will start 10th in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.  Palou and O’Ward were on flying laps when they were forced to slow for a local yellow for Will Power, costing both valuable lap time which eventually cost both the ability to advance to the final round of knockout-style qualifying.

“That yellow flag didn’t help us at all,” said Palou. “I think we were going to be easy through, but racing stuff, right?  I’m happy because the car’s good, a bit better than yesterday and this morning.”

“Kind of sucks to get hosed by a very odd call,” added O’Ward. “We should have been in the Fast 6.”

Palou must finish 12th or better – or 13th or better if he leads a lap – to clinch his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship and CGR’s 14th title since 1996!

Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network. A 30-minute warmup starts at noon (ET), live on Peacock Premium.

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