The strength of Meyer Shank Racing, which won the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge with Helio Castroneves and has Jack Harvey frequently running in the lead pack of NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, has been one of the bright stories of the 2021 season. And yet, there would be an even better story to tell had the Ohio-based team received a break or two from the racing gods.
Harvey, MSR’s full-time driver, has been one of the series’ best qualifiers this season, averaging a starting position of 9.4 (good for eighth-best among INDYCAR regulars). Unfortunately, almost every kind of trouble has dogged his No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda in races, which is why Harvey is not where he wants to be in the overall point standings.
Positioned between one-time Indianapolis 500 winners and Andretti Autosport veterans Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay might ordinarily be considered a good place to be, but the three drivers rank 13th, 14th and 15th in the standings heading into this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the HPD Ridgeline at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the 10th race of the season.
They all seek more, especially Harvey.
“I look at our season one the whole and think it’s got so much potential there,” he said this week before traveling to the Lexington, Ohio, circuit. “Like, we’re really on pace and where we’ve been running (in races) this year, if things had gone a bit better we really could be top seven in points.”
Harvey stood fifth after the third race of the season, a seventh-place finish in the opening race at Texas Motor Speedway on May 1. But he had a mechanical failure in that weekend’s second race while running fourth and has had an assortment of setbacks in many of the races since then. The team has tried numerous strategies to improve Harvey’s track position, but it seems even the best of intentions have not been converted into podium finishes, much less a win.
Harvey said he is ready for a clean, normal race weekend at Mid-Ohio, which MSR considers its home track. Harvey is similarly fond of the 13-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course, having scored his first two Indy Lights wins there in sweeping the series’ 2014 doubleheader. He finished seventh and 12th in last year’s NTT INDYCAR RACES and believes the team has the momentum it needs to score its first race win.
But it could use some good fortune. On average, he has finished five positions lower than he has qualified.
“I would say we don’t often repeat mistakes, (but) we have an uncanny ability at the minute to find new ones, which I’m hoping that we kind of stop doing,” Harvey said with a smile. “But just from a sheer pace perspective, we’ve got that at the minute.”
Another factor in Harvey’s Mid-Ohio optimism is that Andretti Autosport, with which MSR has a technical alliance, swept the top-three finishing positions in last year’s second race (Colton Herta won with Rossi and Hunter-Reay finishing second and third, respectively). Rossi finished third in the weekend’s opening race and won the 2018 race. Hunter-Reay finished third in the 2019 race.
“You look at the people around us in the championship and it’s an unusual year because there’s a lot of really great drivers who have been on the receiving end of not necessarily bad luck but just unfortunate events,” Harvey said. “I was talking to (team co-owner Michael Shank) this week and we started the season well, we’ve had great pace everywhere but the last six races for us, I mean, have been pretty not awesome.
“I started thinking about it more and at Road America, the last three starts we’ve had there we’ve been P2, P3, P9 (in qualifying) and the best (finishing) result we have is (17th). It’s not like a bad day; it’s a really bad day.
“I think the thing we’re headed into (today), we just want to execute. I said to the guys, there’s no need to get in our own way. Let’s not try to be too smart. Let’s not roll the dice for all-in (for a chance to win) unless we have to be all-in.”
If that goes to plan, Harvey could become the fifth driver this season to score the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory of his career. He knows he and the MSR team are close to accomplishing that.
“Honestly, I really believe that we’re on the brink of it,” he said. “We just need the pieces to come together on a smooth weekend, and I think we can do it.”
The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio opens today with a 45-minute INDYCAR practice at 2:30 p.m. ET (live on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service). Saturday’s action features another 45-minute practice at 9:05 a.m. (Peacock) followed by NTT P1 Award qualifying at noon (Peacock and NBCSN) and a 30-minute final practice at 3:30 p.m. (Peacock). Sunday’s race is at noon (live on NBC). All of the action can be heard live on the INDYCAR Radio Network.