James Hinchcliffe

Eight NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers in this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca have combined for 90 career wins, including five Indianapolis 500s, and six series championships. Yet, they do not have a win this season.

If the series will add to its total of different race winners this season – there have been nine this season, two shy of the sport’s modern-day record -- one of these drivers would be a good bet.

The list of those former race winners seeking win No. 1 in 2021: Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet), Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) and Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) of Andretti Autosport, Takuma Sato (No. 30 Panasonic/Mi-Jack Honda) and Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet), James Hinchcliffe (No. 29 Genesys Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) and Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet).

This group also comprises the largest portion of INDYCAR’s 2022 silly season, which is growing more interesting by the day.

Earlier this week, Hunter-Reay was confirmed earlier to leaving Michael Andretti’s organization after completing his 12th season with the team. Reports in media and on NBC broadcasts indicate Pagenaud is thought to be joining Meyer Shank Racing as Helio Castroneves’ teammate after seven seasons at Team Penske. Sato could continue with the team Bobby Rahal co-owns for a sixth season overall, or he could join another Honda team, with speculation centering on Dale Coyne Racing.

It’s possible Hinchcliffe doesn’t return to his ride, and Bourdais might not be back in his, per multiple media reports.

Any of these drivers would love to win one of the season’s final two races as a possible going-away present.

Also looking for their first career INDYCAR wins – and leaving their teams at year’s end -- are Jack Harvey and series rookie Romain Grosjean. Harvey has announced he is leaving Meyer Shank Racing and the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, and he is expected to join Rahal on RLL. Grosjean, who is driving the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, is expected to be confirmed to replace Hunter-Reay.

Add it up. It’s a lot of pressure building for the end of the season.

Saturday’s action begins with the second 45-minute practice at 1:45 p.m. (ET) with NTT P1 Award qualifying at 5:05 p.m. (ET). Both sessions will be live on Peacock Premium, NBC Sports’ streaming service.

Sunday, the pre-race warmup practice will be on Peacock at noon (ET) with the race broadcast beginning on NBC at 3 p.m. (ET). The green flag for the 95-lap race is expected at 3:30 p.m. (ET).

Baby Kiel ‘Small but Mighty’

Arrow McLaren SP president Taylor Kiel missed Friday’s first INDYCAR practice – for good reason.

He and his wife, Katie, celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter, Quinn Amelia Kiel. Quinn weighed 5 pounds, 9 ounces, her mother said on social media.

“She’s already proven she’s small but mighty,” the post read.

Billy Vincent, the team’s competition director, took Kiel’s place as strategist on Pato O’Ward’s pit stand Friday. Kiel is expected at the track perhaps Saturday but likely for Sunday’s race.

Odds and Ends

  • Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Carvana Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) celebrated his 46th birthday Friday. He was 24th of 27 drivers in Friday’s 45-minute practice.
  • Ed Jones, who had a strong run last weekend at Portland International Raceway, was fourth in the practice in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan.
  • Oliver Askew was sixth in the practice in his second of three races in Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda.
  • Grosjean had an adventurous start to the day while driving a Honda pace car for a film shoot. He overshot the entrance to pit road and hit the tire barrier on the right side. He was not injured, but the car suffered minor front-end damage.
  • Firestone is using the same tire compound used in INDYCAR’s 2019 race at this track.
  • Drivers with Honda power occupied 10 of the top 11 spots on the practice time sheet, but Josef Newgarden used Chevrolet power to lead the session in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske car.
  • Friday’s 45-minute practice was certainly busy, with at least 10 drivers drifting off the track and into the dirt. The only car that had to be retrieved by the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team was Castroneves’ No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda. However, the caution period was brief, and the car suffered virtually no damage.
  • Sunday’s race will be 95 laps, five more than were in the most recent INDYCAR race at this track, in 2019.
  • Assuming the series leader coming out of this weekend doesn’t lead by at least 54 points, the championship will go to the final race for the 16th consecutive year.
  • Colton Herta, a Californian who won the 2019 race from the pole, said this race and next race’s season-ending street race in Long Beach are his “favorites of the season.”
  • Actor/entertainer Alfonso Ribeiro, a close friend of Bryan Herta’s, was at the track Friday and was in the pit box of Colton Herta’s No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian during the INDYCAR practice.
  • In Indy Lights, David Malukas of HMD Motorsports has a five-point championship lead over Kyle Kirkwood of Andretti Autosport, but Kirkwood won the pole for Saturday’s first (of two) races. Malukas will start third in the 3:45 p.m. (ET) race.
  • Michael Andretti, who won a pair of INDYCAR races in Long Beach, will join Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Rai Benjamin in giving the command to start engines at next week’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Andretti drove to victory in INDYCAR in 1986 and 2002, and cars he has owned have won the race four times, including the past two with Alexander Rossi driving. Benjamin equaled the legendary Edwin Moses’ lifetime best in the 400-meter hurdles – 47.02 seconds – and is considered the second-fastest in the event in history. He also starred on the University of Southern California track-and-field team.