There are years when being part of the Top 22 in IndyCar wouldn't have been as big a challenge. But in 2011, with a field that could be the strongest we've seen in some time, things should be a little different. I'm not sure as fans we've done much considering of just how tough this field could be. From top to bottom, the battle for that TEAM money should be a brutal, brutal fight.
Let's start with the entries that are a lock (barring catastrophe) to make the Top 22. We've got:
-3 from Penske
-4 from Ganssi (Kimball will have a learning curve, but should be ok)
-4 from Andretti
-1 from DeFerran Dragon
-1 from FAZZT
-1 from Foyt
-1 from HVM
-1 from Panther (I don't think it's a stretch for Hildebrand to finish in the Top 20)
-1 from Dreyer and Reinbold
That's 17 rock-solid entries right there, and we haven't touched the still-formalizing KV Racing folks (2-3), Conquest (1-2), Dale Coyne Racing, (1-2), Newman/Haas (at least 1) and the 2nd Dreyer and Reinbold seat (1).
That gets us to 25-26 entries, and that's without counting will they/won't they entries such as a 2nd HVM seat, the 2nd Newman/Haas entry, and Sarah Fisher Racing, who's already doing a majority of the races and might add more.
|Get ready for full-field competition in 2011.|
Last year Conquest Racing claimed the 22nd spot overall, in the shape of the ride piloted by Bertrand Baguette. Baguette clinched the spot despite missing two races. I don't see that happening this year--an entry missing even one race could be the kiss of death insofar as TEAM funding is concerned. Takuma Sato had DNFs (Did Not Finish) in over 50% of the races his rookie year, and managed to finish 21st. That won't happen in 2011. If KV Racing has a season like 2010 again (and I'm not sure it's even possible), at least one of their cars could be danger of finishing 23rd or lower. The same goes for any team that would have that sort of abysmal season for 2011.
The field is simply too deep already for there to be any pure field-fillers getting in on the TEAM money in 2011. Indeed, there's the very real possibility that a younger team or driver might be in danger of missing the money due to this field's depth. If veterans such as Paul Tracy, Dan Wheldon, and Oriol Servia are confirmed in rides, then that complicates things that much more for those teams hanging around the periphery.
I think the increased competition is good for the series, and I have no doubt in my mind that teams such as HVM Racing and Conquest can successfully fight their way up the standings (though I'm still waiting to see what Conquest's final roster looks like). But to the teams that saw too many missed opportunities and too many DNFs in 2010, that dog won't hunt in this new season.