The speculation out there today is that Danica Patrick is close to signing a deal that will land her in the NASCAR Nationwide Series full-time next year. While she may come back to run in the Indy 500, this is certainly her last full-time year in IndyCar.
While I don’t think losing her will hurt the series, I think it could actually help Michael Andretti keep some of his hair over the next few years.
With the loss of Danica, and the GoDaddy sponsorship for the No. 7 car, people have already begun the discussions of who should get her ride next year. While there are plenty of viable options out there at the moment, I believe that keeping the seat empty could really benefit the Andretti Autosport team.
Michael tried to get all five of his cars in this year’s Indy 500, and two of them were left out. The team is a four-car full-time operation, with no serious championship contender.
One of those drivers that failed to make the field at Indianapolis, Mike Conway, is the only Andretti Autosport driver in the top 10 (10th) in the Championship standings.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti do have contracts for next season with the team, but Conway and Danica’s contracts expire at the end of this year. Would it actually be better for the team if they were to stay a two-car operation? I believe that trying to get so many cars competitive for every race is wearing them too thin.
Look at Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske, and what they have done with teams smaller than Andretti’s. The dynamic duo in the Target machines have dominated the last few years, as have Will Power and Helio Castroneves in Penske’s camp.
Look at the success of other teams like Newman/Haas Racing. With a proven veteran like Oriol Servia and a rookie sensation in James Hinchcliffe, they have the perfect combination of youth and experience. Servia is third in the overall championship standings, while Hinchcliffe has two top-ten finishes, as well as a top-five finish in just four career starts.
If the team could put the same amount of focus and hard work into two cars instead of four or five, I think the performances on track would be greatly improved. Marco Andretti has the talent, not only on the ovals, but the road/street courses as well. Ryan Hunter-Reay has also proven that he is a great talent no matter what circuit they are at.
Speculation is that Ryan Briscoe could be finished at Penske after this year, but I don’t see him pulling the plug on him. Obviously if there were no other openings, that would be the best situation for both parties, but like I said before, I think Roger is confident enough in Ryan that he will stay with the team.
Other people have also mentioned the possibility of Tony Kanaan returning to the team, but I don’t think that will be happening either. Others have questioned if Sam Hornish Jr. is ready to come back to Open Wheel Racing after his struggles in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. I wouldn’t bet on that one either.
The most logical choices to fill the ride, if they choose to do so, would be a driver from the Indy Lights Series.
In the end, the best choice for the team in my opinion would be to run just two cars, three at the most. Just going forward with that could really cut down a lot of the stress within the team, and could provide Marco and Ryan with better quality rides.