Monday, June 26, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: IndyCar Expansion Draft

Scott Dixon is getting into his groove. Formula One went full IndyCar and something happened for the first time since the day Michael Schumacher clinched his seventh and final world championship. Fernando Alonso and McLaren finally got its first points of the year. There were a handful of first time winners at Road America and a new manufacture ended up on top. MotoGP saw a fierce battle at the most historic circuit on the schedule. NASCAR had a unique sweep of the weekend. The World Touring Car Championship needed more walls at its street race in Portugal. A familiar race won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

IndyCar Expansion Draft
If you are a hockey fan or a very observant sports fan, you know the National Hockey League has added a 31st team, the Vegas Golden Knights. A tradition in North American sports is any time a league expands, it holds an expansion draft, where the newest team gets to take one player from each of the existing teams to build a roster. It isn't a free for all though as the existing teams are allowed to protect key players from being taken but it is a limited amount of protections and more players are going to be exposed to the expansion team than are going to be protected.

After Thursday night's NHL Expansion Draft, I started wondering what an expansion draft would look like in IndyCar. Obviously, the structure of a North America sports league and IndyCar are very different and this would never actually take place but let's just do this for fun. How could it work?

I broke it down this way: The expansion draft would be for a new two-car team. Up for selection in the expansion draft are drivers, engineers, strategists and pit crews. Like the other expansion draft, you are only allowed to make one pick from each team. So you can't raid say Team Penske and take a driver, engineer and pit crew.

As for protecting assets, I thought teams should be allowed to protect one driver, one engineer, one strategist and one pit crew. However, since Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is a one-car team, they would only be allowed to protect two of the four areas. For the two-car teams of Ed Carpenter Racing, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Dale Coyne Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing, each could only protect two areas from each entry and still had to have at least one unprotected asset from each area. So for example, if SPM protected "Driver A" then it had to leave "Driver B" unprotected and if it protected the pit crew for "Driver A" then it had to protect the engineer and strategist from "Driver B."

For the four-car teams of Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport, they were only allowed one protection per entry. If Ganassi protected Scott Dixon than it had to leave his strategist Mike Hull exposed and had to protect one of the other three strategists on the team.

Who would each team protect? Let's start with Ganassi. You would have to think it has to protect Scott Dixon because he has won 41 IndyCar race, the fourth-most all-time. The rest of the team's protections would be Tony Kanaan's strategist Barry Wanser, Charlie Kimball's engineer Eric Cowdin and the #8 pit crew.

Andretti Autosport doesn't have the slam dunk driver protection like Ganassi and I think it would protect Alexander Rossi because he is only 25 years old and has a long future ahead of him. With that said, the other protections would be Ryan Hunter-Reay's engineer Ray Gosselin, Marco Andretti's strategist and fuel saving wizard Bryan Herta and the #26 pit crew.

Regardless of whom Penske protects, there are still a lot of high-grade options to select and it won't be an easy decision of who gets left exposed. I think the team has to protect its most recent champion in Simon Pagenaud. As for strategist, I think Roger Penske leaves himself exposed to protect Tim Cindric and Penske protects Hélio Castroneves' engineer John Diuguid and the #12 pit crew, which won the Carb Day pit stop competition this year.

Ed Carpenter Racing has a difficult situation but it has to protect the young stud that is Spencer Pigot and his engineer Matt Barnes, meaning the #21 pit crew and strategist for the #21 car Woody Harvey are the other protections.

SPM has two quick drivers but one is much more unpredictable than the other. That is why James Hinchcliffe would be protected and the #5 pit crew would be protect, as it finished runner-up in the Carb Day pit stop competition. This means engineer Blair Perschbacher and strategist Nick Snyder are protected from the #7 Honda.

Dale Coyne Racing has a much more difficult decision on its hands at the position of driver than it would have been five months ago. However, after all the team did to bring the band back together, it has to protect Sébastien Bourdais and his engineer Craig Hampson meaning Dale Coyne has to protect the #19 pit crew and himself because he is the strategist for the #19 Honda.

A.J. Foyt Racing hasn't had one driver stand head and shoulders above the other but I think it would protect Carlos Muñoz and his engineer Will Phillips and then protect the #4 pit crew and strategist George Klotz.

That leaves Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which can only protect two areas and I think they would protect the driver in Graham Rahal and engineer Eddie Jones.

Now onto selections. There are a lot of great options out there in terms of drivers. Three former champions are out there and so is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. You can either set this up for immediate success or plan a little bit more into the future and I decided you got to go young.

From Team Penske, I would take Josef Newgarden because why wouldn't you take Newgarden? He is 26 years old, he is already succeeding with Team Penske, he found success with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and ECR. You take him and you have a driver for the next ten to 15 years. While you take Newgarden, from Andretti Autosport you take Jeremy Milless, who was Newgarden's engineer at ECR. Since I have down two of three big teams, let's get Chip Ganassi Racing out of the way and take the obvious pick of strategist Mike Hull. The guy is a genius and putting him with Newgarden and Milless you have to be wondering how this team would ever lose? As for the pit crew for this car, I take the #15 pit crew from RLLR, which made the semifinals from the pit stop competition.

As for the second team, I take from Dale Coyne Racing driver Ed Jones. Jones is 22 years old and he is all business. He doesn't seem to be easily distracting like other millennial drivers who have come through IndyCar in recent years. Jones is something special and he will be winning races soon. I really wanted to take Jones' engineer Michael Cannon but as with Newgarden, Jones is a driver you could have for the better part of two decades. Since I can't have Cannon, from SPM I take engineer Allen McDonald, who won the 2007 IRL championship with Dario Franchitti and he has won two Indianapolis 500 pole positions with two different Canadian drivers. We are down to the final two selections and it is slim pickings but I will take the #20 pit crew from ECR and from AJ Foyt Racing I have to take strategist Larry Foyt.

I think this is a strong two-car team. One car is clearly a little more stacked than the other but on paper I think both this cars could finish in the top ten of the championship. Of course, when has paper ever won a race?

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon but did you know...

Daniel Ricciardo won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from tenth position on the grid. He is first winner from tenth on the grid since Kimi Räikkönen won the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix.

Valentino Rossi won the Dutch TT. Franco Morbidelli picked up his fifth victory of the Moto2 season. Arón Canet won in Moto3.

Adderly Fong and Patrick Long split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Road America. Ian James swept the GTS races for Panoz.

Matheus Leist and Zachary Claman DeMelo split the Indy Lights races from Road America. It was DeMelo's first career victory. Victor Franzoni and Anthony Martin split the Pro Mazda races. Rinus VeeKay swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Charles Leclerc and Norman Nato split the Formula Two races from Baku.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race from Sonoma. Harvick also won the NASCAR West Series race from Sonoma. William Byron got his first career victory in the NASCAR Grand National Series from Iowa. John Hunter Nemechek won the Truck race from Iowa, his second consecutive victory.

The #8 Bentley Team M-Sport of Andy Souček, Vincent Abril and Maxime Soulet won the Blancpain Endurance Series 1000km Paul Ricard.

Mehdi Bennani and Norbert Michelisz split the WTCC races from Vila Real, Portugal.

Romain Dumas won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for the second consecutive year and third time overall.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR returns to Daytona.
IMSA is back on track for the first time in a month at the 6 Hours of the Glen.
DTM heads to the Norisring.
MotoGP makes is a busy motorsports weekend in Germany as it returns to the Sachsenring.
The World Rally Championship will be in Poland.