Saturday, June 13, 2009

Recaping Drivers 10 through 6 in the top 10 drivers not in the IndyCar Series

IndyCar Garage recaps drivers 10 through 6 that aren’t driving in the IndyCar Series and what their impact would have done or could do to the IndyCar series. This includes drivers that have raced partial schedules in years past or in the present season.

#10 - KASEY KAHNE – AMERICAN – AGE 29 - Chances of joining the ICS = 2%
As was with some other drivers that will be featured in the countdown, Kasey Kahne was a USAC National Midget Series Champion in 2000. If you remember back to 2000, Penske and Ganassi weren’t even in the Indy Racing League yet. There was no way that Kahne was going to join open wheel racing when it was split into two leagues, when NASCAR was in full swing. Kahne hooked up with Robert Yates Racing in 2002 for a Busch Series ride and never looked back. He was a Sprint Cup Rookie in 2004 (still only 24) and won his first race in 2005. He doesn’t command the super star power that some of the other NASCAR drivers do, but he still would have been a great addition to open wheel racing had he been presented the opportunity to race in one unified series. Kahne ultimately was a casualty of the split years and is almost certain to run a full career in NASCAR. He has 18 career wins in NASCAR’s three major divisions and is one of the most appealing drivers to the female fans of NASCAR.

#9 JENSON BUTTON – BRITISH – AGE 29 – Chances of Joining the ICS = 20%
Button is one of the best open wheel drivers in the eastern hemisphere. At the age of 11 he won all 34 races of the 1991 British Cadet Kart Championship along with the title. Button continued his success in the Formula Ford and Formula three series, and by 2000 he was making the jump to Formula 1. At the age of 20 he started to steadily progress through the series, while changing teams on a year to year basis. Finally in 2003 he was teamed with former world champion Jacques Villeneuva for the BAR Team. His progress continued to improve as he led his first lap ever in the 2003 United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 2006 saw Button move onto a new team in the form of Honda Racing F1 Team, where Button captured his first career win at Hungary. Button continued with Honda through 2008 with mild success, but was clearly unhappy with his situation. In 2009 Honda was bought out and renamed Brawn GP. Button has captured a season high six wins and is currently first in the point’s race. Button is a different story than most drivers, growing up for drivers like Button, the goal is F1. Button is currently in the prime of his career and is showing that by his ability to win races. Down the road we could possibly see Button in the IndyCar series, with possibly a one race deal for the Indy 500. Another possibility is if he wants a new challenge outside of F1. Button is only 29 and has been racing in F1 for nearly a decade, so he could have the aspirations of taking on North America open wheel racing. If and when Button decides to walk away or is forced to walk away from F1, look for his name to surface in the IndyCar Series.

#8 RYAN NEWMAN – AMERICAN – 31 – Chances of Joining the ICS = 10%
Ryan Newman is an Indiana native that grew up racing on the USAC circuit and was the rookie of the year in both the Midget Series and the Silver Crown in 1996. In 1999, at the age of 22, he was the first driver to win in all three divisions while being the Silver Bullet Series champion. While winning all three series, he was attending Purdue University, where he would graduate from in 2001. Newman is only the Sprint Cup driver that has a college degree. Newman developed a relationship with Roger Penske in 2000 while driving in the ARCA RE/MAX Series for Penske. Penske then had Newman race in the Busch Series the following year. By 2002 Newman was racing in the highest level of NASCAR and beat out Jimmie Johnson for Rookie of the Year at the age of 25. Newman is a driver who took the best choice given to him at time, which was NASCAR. At the time Penske started his relationship with Newman, Penske’s open wheel program was still participating in CART. Had the IndyCar series been unified at the time, Newman possibly could have been funneled into the open wheel program at Penske. Newman rewarded Penske with 21 career wins in the top three divisions of NASCAR and put him victory lane for the 2008 Daytona 500. The likely hood of Newman returning to open wheel is slim because of his success in NASCAR. The only possibility for Newman to see open wheel time is the recent move he made from Penske to newly created Stewart-Haas Racing, and still that chance is very small. Newman is a prime example of what the split did to young American open wheel drivers coming up through the series.

#7 SCOTT SPEED – AMERICAN – AGE 26 – Chances of Joining the ICS = 25%
Scott Speed began karting at the age of 10 in 1993 and remained in that role until his 18th birthday in 2001. At the age of 18 he began a four year journey toward Formula 1 by moving up through their development series. At just the age of 22, Scott Speed became the first American driver since Michael Andretti to drive a F1 car as a test driver for Red Bull Racing. In 2006 Toro Rosso was created through Red Bull Racing and gave Speed a full time ride in the Formula 1 series. Speed would have a less than spectator two years in F1 as he would struggle to find the top ten in any capacity. Speed’s best finish was ninth at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2007. After his departure from F1 in mid 2007, he immetidaley started driving in the ARCA RE/MAX series for Eddie Sharp Racing. His success for Eddie Sharp Racing lead to ride with Bill Davis Racing in the 2008 Craftsman Truck Series. He now competes full time as a Sprint Cup Driver and has found moderate success as a full-time rookie.

Speed is the type of driver that should have joined the IndyCar series developmental series in 2001 after he turned 18 and been a full time driver by his early 20’s, similar to the route of Marco Andretti. Instead, in 2001 the split was in full-force and allowed Speed to progress through the F1 minor leagues and eventually have an unsuccessful attempt in F1. It should be noted that in 2004 he tested for the Red Bull Cheever Racing team in the Indy Racing League, but nothing else came of it.

When Speed’s F1 career hit the rocks, where else would you take your sponsorship, well of course NASCAR. The bottom line with Speed is that he is a young American driver with talent, and he really never had a good opportunity to join the IndyCar series. Don’t count out Speed to be in the IndyCar series at some point. Speed’s career is still very young and if the NASCAR thing doesn’t pan out, you possibly could see him back in an IndyCar.

#6 LEWIS HAMILTON – BRITISH – AGE 24 – Chances of Joining the ICS = 25%
Hamilton began karting at the age of 8 in 1993. He progressed through the open wheel divisions in Britain, his progress in the Intercontinental A (1999), Formula A (2000) and Formula Super A (2001) ranks, lead him to make a name for himself. His break into the F1 series finally came in 2007 at the age of 22. Driving for McLaren he qualified on the pole and finished in the exact same position to win the Canadian GP at Montreal. A week later he would go on to win the last United States GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2008 he would go on to capture the Formula One World Championship as the youngest ever to do so and as the first black driver as well. In 2008 he also signed a five-year multi-million pound contract to remain with McLaren-Mercedes. He holds numerous F1 records, and unless he has aspirations of breaking Michael Schumacher type records, he could be bored with F1 by the time he hits 30. This might lead him in a new direction towards the IndyCar series, depending on what shape the series is in. In the early 1990’s IndyCar saw many F1 drivers come over and compete full-time. Most of these drivers had considerable success, with the likes of Nigel Mansell and Jacques Villeneuve winning championships in 1993 and 1995. Hamilton is a great young talent that could possibly break many more records in the IndyCar series, along with being the best black driver available in any form of racing right now.

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