INDIANAPOLIS – On Saturday, two drivers were bumped from the Indianapolis 500 field. One of which, is a popular fan favorite full-time driver. That is a big problem for the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself. When James Hinchclifffe isn’t racing in the May 27 race, it’s a problem.
But, there is a rule in place to which Hinchcliffe can actually get back into a car for the ‘500. See, nothing stops a team from bringing Hinchcliffe onboard to race their car for the 102nd Running. It’s not uncommon for a team owner to hire another driver to replace their qualified driver. Dale Coyne Racing did it a few years ago when Carlos Huertas was replaced by Tristian Vautier.
In 2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay failed to qualify his Andretti Autosport entry, but Andretti and Hunter-Reay’s sponsors bought one of AJ Foyt Racing’s rides. Out was Bruno Junqueria even though he did his job and qualified, in came Hunter-Reay.
We know that SPM is shopping around. Unfortunately, options are limited and drying up.
The logical option for Hinchcliffe is for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to take Jay Howard out and put Hinchcliffe in. Howard, is with the team already and a one-off. The ‘500 pays double points, so for a driver like Hinchcliffe who sits fifth in the standings and needing all the points he can get, if he misses the double points race next Sunday, his championship hopes are as good as done.
So, it’s in SPM’s best interest to have Hinchcliffe race over a one-off driver not going for points. Plus, nothing against Howard, but who gives you the best shot to win the Indy 500, Hinchcliffe or Howard?
But, before they go down that road, it’s been confirmed that SPM has reached out to other car owners and drivers in the current field. A call was made on Saturday night to Conor Daly to see if he’d give up his car.
Daly, had an emotional day on Saturday and was in tears after qualifying his way into the field of 33. Would he really give up his car?
“I think the whole Hinch team has to figure out a way to get this thing to work,” Daly told myself and Jim Ayello. “They’re after a championship. I don’t know man. They have to be a Honda. It’s got to be a Honda situation. Hinch is in every Honda commercial across the land. It’s just tough. I’d hate to be in that position and had to be in that situation. They were looking to do something but it’s not enough for me to give up this opportunity.”
Daly said the interesting twist with him is that his sponsor US Air Force has to have an American driver. Hinchcliffe is Canadian. If he were going to hop out willingly, Daly said “it would have to be enough to change my life to do a tradeoff.”
Dale Coyne Racing has two other cars, but neither of those drivers are American either. Plus, Coyne said that neither car is an option to put Hinchcliffe into.
“We’ve got too many commitments,” Coyne said of any of his other cars. “We can’t do that. No an option (because of PaySafe) regarding Hinch going into fellow countryman Zachary Claman DeMelo’s car.
Coyne said that in order to make it work for Daly’s car, it would be way too much in such a short amount of time.
“We’d have to break a lot of contracts. We’d have to come to agreement. It’d be an incredibly expensive if every part agreed to do it. So it’s not realistic. We’d have to Burns’ approval, the Air Force’s approval, Conor’s approval and my approval. It would be a very large number of people.
“Some do (have ‘out clauses’). It won’t be enough money. If you’ve put up a half million dollars to run a car, and you get half of it back, that’s going to be enough to go buy a ride. For $250,000. The team takes it in the shorts. They take in the shorts on that, and they lose $200,000 prize money. So the team takes the wrap.”
Coyne said that he did have conversations with Howard and knows what his contract entails. In turn, that could make it tough too. He said that if it were going to happen it has to be with SPM.
“I think I know how Howard’s is written, because he came to us before. The guy brings you whatever he brings you. If he brings you a million dollars, he’s gotten that from someone. He’s put the money up. That guy is going to want that money back. And he put it up, so he’s going to want more. And the driver’s going to want something. I think it’s going to be a $2 million check, if you can even get every single party lined up to say yes. Everyone’s going to want to make a little money or at least get back to square. It’s not realistic. If he can’t do within his own team, I don’t think it happens.”
Howard said that no money would take him out of his No. 7 Honda. Michael Shank has said that his car isn’t for sale. That leaves Robert Wickens, but he’s full-time and that wouldn’t be a smart idea.
So, it’s really down to Daly, Howard and Harvey and all three sides are pretty much saying hard no’s.
“What are those gonna really do for you,” Daly told us on selling his car off for enough money to race more events in the future? “If no one really cares and you’re just being put out there and like yeah we just had to trade this out so can you put an extra car to get through a few races? That doesn’t sound very good for me. If they’re offering you actual money to be made that’s going to help your life, which I need because I’m not scheduled to make any money out of this deal unless I finish in the top four, that’s something you then think about. You obviously hope this relationship with US Air Force, Lilly and everybody we brought on board develops on to something. You can’t just drop that and go away because I obviously want to have US Air Force as a full time sponsor for the whole year but we don’t know that until after this month.
“I love James and I wish there was someway to help him without a crazy turn of events. It would be. I have a lot of friends and family coming in town next week. There’s too many people getting involved now. The price would have to be high.”
“I think I could still qualify today and make a decision but I think I’m leaning towards no and move on with my decision.”