IndyCar: Mid-Ohio Postscript

Following the Road America race, I spent a lot of time focusing on the championship situation. I noted that four drivers (Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward, Scott Dixon, and Josef Newgarden) emerged from Road America as the only four legitimate hopefuls for the series title. And regarding Newgarden, I noted that he had to get going soon, else it was going to be a three-driver battle.

Well, at Mid-Ohio, we saw the title contenders finish as such….

1) Newgarden
3) Palou
4) Dixon
8) O’Ward

In other words, what seemed to be the case following Road America only solidified further. Let’s briefly look at the championship situation before getting into the plethora of off-track stories to come from Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.


What impresses me so much about Newgarden is he never lets misfortune snowball. Following, heartbreak in the prior two rounds at Detroit and Road America, the driver of the No. 2 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet just got on with the program in scoring a mostly dominant win from pole at Mid-Ohio. Newgarden is going to be fun to watch in the final rounds. Sitting 69 points behind Palou, the two-time series champ is in go-for-broke mode.


Alex Paolu had good strategy and took advantage of misfortune from drivers like Colton Herta to come home third. While Palou did not qualify well enough to challenge Newgarden, he once again maximized his result.


The eighth-place finish from O’Ward on the surface seems disappointing. But when you consider he started 20th, Pato minimized the potential damage.

Pato O’Ward


Yes, Scott Dixon is Scott Dixon, so I won’t be counting him out. But we simply have not seen the top speed from the six-time champ this season that we’ve seen from the other contenders.


As we noted when Palou won the opener at Barber, Chip Ganassi Racing seems to be one big happy family. At Mid-Ohio, the team finished 2, 3, 4 (Marcus Ericsson, Palou, Dixon). Jimmie Johnson came home 22nd, and while that might not seem to be all that impressive, Johnson himself didn’t see it that way, tweeting “A solid day calls for a celebration tonight.”

Again, Team Ganassi has been one big happy family in 2021 in a way we haven’t seen since the Dario Franchitti days.

Of course, as is often the case with Mid-Ohio, the most newsworthy stuff happens off the track….

Rumor Mill

Norris McDonald reported Monday that Alexander Rossi was potentially in play for a seat at Team Penske for 2022. Of course, it’s known that Penske and Rossi have had eyes for one another, you might say. Rossi considered an IndyCar move with the team two years ago before resigning with Andretti, and drove for the team’s sports car program in IMSA. Furthermore, Penske did confirm to RACER’s Marshall Pruett on June 30 that Pagenaud’s contract was up following this season, and that all three other drivers were contracted for 2022. Putting two and two together, one could deduce that Rossi might be a natural fit for Pagenaud’s No. 22 ride.

Of course, complicating the matter is the very simple fact that Rossi remains under contract for 2022 with Andretti. And while contracts can and do get broken, I find it hard to see Michael Andretti being overly cooperative in facilitating a Rossi move to Penske. Second, Rossi’s stock is not what it was two years ago at this time. So while it’s not only near-impossible to see Andretti being amenable to some sort of deal, I don’t see Penske wanting to move heaven and earth to get Rossi either.

WIll Alexander Rossi stay with Andretti?

Now, we know Penske plays it super-close to the vest. No one, for example, saw him going and getting Juan Pablo Montoya a few years back, just like no one saw him buying IMS and INDYCAR a couple of years ago. However, while Penske has himself admitted the seat is open, if O’Ward, Rossi, Rinus Veekay, Herta, Palou and other young ‘ potential Penske-material’ studs are locked into their current deals, I don’t see somebody available necessitating The Captain to move Pagenaud aside now.

So, as things stand now, my guess is Team Penske will be status quo for 2022.


Status quo seemingly will not be the case at Andretti Autosport. In particular, it appears Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe may be on the move.

As for Hinchcliffe, his future likely comes down to what kind of commercial package he and some team can put together. And if that doesn’t happen, a very cushy broadcasting job awaits the lovable Mayor.

Hunter-Reay’s situation is far more intriguing.

As we know, the relationship between RHR and Andretti Autosport was once upon a time fairy tale type stuff. Back in 2010, Andretti took a chance on the down on-his-luck Floridian with a 6-race deal to start the season. After winning that year’s Long Beach race, the team was able to find additional funding, and they’ve been together ever since.

In 2011 DHL and Sun Drop came aboard to sponsor RHR full-time. Hunter-Reay would win the series championship a year later and the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. In total, Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport have won 15 races together.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

In recent years, however, the results simply have not been as good. Whether that is the team struggling, RHR struggling, rotten luck, a combination, I don’t know. But what has by all accounts been an enormously successful partnership between team and driver appears to be in its final months.

Now, we know the relationship between Hunter-Reay and DHL has been very good for a very long time, but DHL is an Andretti sponsor, not an RHR Sponsor.  AutoNation has close ties to RHR. Presuming, that relationship is still strong, RHR probably has the ability to find himself a home if not at Andretti, then elsewhere in the series. My question is: What appetite does Hunter-Reay have to continue?

If, for example, Hunter-Reay were able to land at say Penske or Ganassi (this is only a hypothetical), it would be easy to see him re-energized. But assuming such an opportunity doesn’t materialize, RHR will be 41 when next season begins. With three kids, presumably plenty of money in the bank, and seemingly an idyllic life in South Florida, does RHR have the appetite to come back to a less than ideal situation?

Here’s my guess: 100% we’ll see RHR in the Indianapolis 500 next season, probably with AutoNation sponsorship, and probably with good equipment. Perhaps, with his backing from AutoNation, he is able to cherry-pick a few more of his favorite events such as Long Beach. But I struggle to see Hunter-Reay coming back full-time unless the circumstances are right. Furthermore, judging by recent seasons, the situation at Andretti seems to have run its course. And judging from the amount of available seats, there don’t seem to be a ton of options screaming for RHR.

More on the 2022 Silly Season

I am surprised to see the level at which Romain Grosjean is supposedly being regarded as a potential candidate for open seats next season. Yes, Grosjean has seemingly taken to both IndyCar and America well. But he has still shown a proclivity for silly mistakes, as we saw in Detroit. Plus, we still don’t know if he is willing to race ovals.

Anyway, all due respect to Romain Grosjean. But if a road/street course only guy with two top-5 IndyCar finishes is really the most prized free agent on the market, this doesn’t set up as much of a Silly Season.

Romain Grosjean

Other Notes…

I think a traditional drive-thru type penalty would have been overly harsh, so I’m not sure what could have been done. However, I think Dixon could have left Will Power more room going into turn 5 when they crashed on lap 4 Sunday. Yes, that was a bit of an awkward place to be running side-by-side, but Power was well on the curb, and I’m not sure where else Will could have gone.  Dixon was clearly ahead, the gas pedal works both ways. Power should have lifted and given the corner to Dixon. He had the entire race ahead of him to get the position back.

I know we talked about him a lot already, but I felt sick for Hunter-Reay after getting punted on lap 1 through no fault of his own. While he’s never won at Mid-Ohio, RHR has long noted it to be one of his favorite tracks. He did of course, earn his podium way back when running for American Spirit Team Johannsson in CART. That finish was the first of 13 top-10s and 6 top-5 finishes at the track. Starting eighth Sunday, you had to like RHR’s chances of scoring a season-best finish. But right now, the 2012 series champ just can’t seem to buy a break.

Chip and NASCAR

News broke late last week that Chip Ganassi will sell his NASCAR team to Trackhouse Racing following the 2021 season. My immediate reaction was to think back to Ganassi firing Kyle Larson last season after Larson used a racial slur while iRacing. I simply have to wonder: would Ganassi be selling his NASCAR team if Larson had not used the racial slur?

Of course, there’s been some revisionist history with Ganassi’s decision, given Larson’s performance in 2021. To those who say, it would have been strategically prudent for Ganassi to suspend Larson instead, such thinking very conveniently overlooks the incredibly charged cultural and corporate climate Ganassi was forced to make a decision in.

However, to all these people criticizing Ganassi for his decision, do you really think he WANTED to fire Kyle Larson? Do you think Ganassi WANTED to fire a driver he signed at a very young age and invested vast time and resources in to bring along? Do you think he WANTED to fire that driver, when he was on the verge of truly breaking out?

The truth is it had to kill Chip Ganassi to fire Kyle Larson. And it has to kill him now to watch Larson dominate NASCAR.

Kyle Larson is dominating NASCAR since being sacked by Ganassi and being hired by Hendrick, which proves the Ganassi cars were holding Larson back from showing how great he is.

Anyway, to consider what degree the decision to sell the team related to Ganassi firing Larson would be to enter in a word of crazy hypotheticals that we’ll probably never get an answer to. But from where I’m sitting, it is very difficult to not see the two as at least in some way connected.

Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for He can be contacted at

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