INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 5: Daytona Dreamin’

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There’s a long list of INDYCAR SERIES drivers who have competed in the Daytona 500, the marquee event of the NASCAR Cup Series.

A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti remain the only full-time INDYCAR drivers to cross over and win NASCAR’s blue-ribbon race. So, with the 2021 Daytona 500 set for this Sunday, Feb. 14, this week’s question for the INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable will feature a hypothetical involving open-wheel cars and stock cars.

Today’s question: Which current NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver without a Daytona 500 start would you like to see race in NASCAR’s biggest event?

Curt Cavin: This is a difficult one, but I lean toward Josef Newgarden.

For starters, he and Will Power have won the most INDYCAR races (18) since 2014, and Newgarden has twice won the series championship, finishing second on a charge in 2020. Newgarden has expressed an interest in trying stock car racing, and the way he has transformed his body in recent years shows he is built to hustle the 3,500-pound beasts.

Like Power, Newgarden would drive for Team Penske, which means he would have a competitive car. Roger Penske’s organization has twice won the Daytona 500 (with Ryan Newman and Joey Logano) and always seems to be in the hunt on the last lap.

Zach Horrall: I have to follow in Curt’s tire tracks a little bit here and pick a driver from a team that competes in both INDYCAR and NASCAR – Scott Dixon.

Defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon is truly one of the best open-wheel drivers of our generation with 50 wins and six championships, and he’s clearly not afraid to branch out with runs at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 at Daytona and even Australian V8 Supercars. As one of the best, it only seems fitting that he branch out to NASCAR.

The greats that he’s ranked alongside like A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti did it, so why not, Dixie? Plus, he has a new teammate this year in seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. Aside from the stock car legend offering some tips, maybe that infectious energy Johnson is bringing in his new adventure could inspire Dixon.

Chip Ganassi Racing only fields two of the maximum allotment of four in the NASCAR Cup Series, so there’s definitely room at the inn.

Paul Kelly: While the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has seen a few drivers in the last decade who have specialized in road courses, only one has stayed out of the cockpit for left and right turns and eagerly hopped into his Dallara for oval races only. For that reason, I would love to see Ed Carpenter race in the Daytona 500.

While Daytona and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are both 2.5 miles, the similarities end there. Daytona features corners banked at 31 degrees, while the four turns at IMS are banked at just 9 degrees.

Still, a deft touch and knowing how to work the draft are common bonds between both circuits, and few in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES know those skills better than Carpenter.

Finding speed at both tracks requires the least movement of the wheel possible in the turns, especially during qualifying, and Carpenter has used that skill to win three poles for the Indianapolis 500.

Carpenter’s three INDYCAR victories have come on – you guessed it – superspeedways, with triumphs on the scary fast 1.5-mile ovals at Kentucky and Texas and another on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway.

It would be fascinating to see Carpenter translate those skills to a stock car. And he has plenty of experience driving a high-horsepower car with the engine in minimal aerodynamic downforce due to his background in USAC open-wheel competition before climbing to Indy Lights and then the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

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