IndyCar: Is Zach Veach the dark horse championship contender for 2019?

SONOMA, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Zach Veach driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
SONOMA, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Zach Veach driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) /

The usual championship contenders will likely contend once again in the 2019 IndyCar season. But will Zach Veach end up contending as well?

After spending five seasons driving for Andretti Autosport across the U.S. F2000 National Championship (2010 and 2011), the Star Mazda Championship (2012) and Indy Lights (2013 and 2014) and returning to Indy Lights in the 2016 season with Belardi Racing after sitting out the 2015 season with an injury, Zach Veach made his IndyCar debut in the 2017 season.

Veach drove in the race at Barber Motorsports Park as the substitute for the injured J.R. Hildebrand behind the wheel of the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. After starting the race in 19th place, he finished it in 19th and on the lead lap.

Veach then went on to compete in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 behind the wheel of the #40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet. He qualified in 32nd place before going on to finish in 26th after a mechanical failure with 45 of the race’s 200 laps remaining prevented him from continuing.

The 24-year-old Stockdale, Ohio native, who I spoke to ahead of the race at Pocono Raceway in August of 2017, stated at the time that he was planning to have details lined up for a ride in the 2018 season.

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As it turns out, the six-time Indy Lights race winner signed with Andretti Autosport, one of the sport’s top teams, as the driver of the #26 Honda for the 2018 season. The contract that he signed was a three-year contract to drive the #26 Honda for the team through the 2020 season.

Veach was not expected to come out and win races right away for the team, and he didn’t. The reason behind him signing a three-year deal right off the bat with Andretti Autosport was so he could use the early stages of his contract to learn the ropes and develop into a driver who can eventually win races on a regular basis.

However, Veach turned heads by recording a fourth place finish in the third race of the season on the streets of Long Beach, California after starting it back in 16th. But through the season’s first 11 races, that was his lone top 11 finish of the year.

But in the 12th race of the season, the race on the streets of Toronto, Ontario, Veach seemingly flipped a switch, something that not many people thought he would do this soon.

Veach started this race in 22nd place before finishing it seventh. He went on to start in 12th and finish in 10th in the race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course before he qualified in a then career-high seventh for the race at Pocono Raceway and finished in sixth. He even topped the speed chart in the lone practice season before this race, something he had never previously done.

In the following race at Gateway Motorsports Park, Veach kept his momentum going. After he was quick in practice once again, rain caused the starting grid for the race to be set by entry points. As a result, he started in 16th place. But after leading the first two laps of his IndyCar career and coming just nine laps shy of making it to the end of the 248-lap race on fuel, he finished in fifth.

Veach qualified in a career-high sixth place for the following race at Portland International Raceway, but his streak of four consecutive top 10 finishes, which was one of only five streaks of at least four consecutive top 10 finishes at the time, came to an end after he was involved in a first-lap incident and later spun. He ended up finishing one lap off the lead lap in 19th. He then started in 10th and finished in 14th in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Veach finished the season in 15th place in the championship standings. While he certainly made huge strides toward the end of last season to the point where he was running at or near the front of the pack on a consistent basis, is he really a dark horse championship contender for the 2019 season?


First of all, Veach is driving for arguably the top team in the sport, and as far as recording solid results is concerned, he is clearly ahead of schedule. He has the equipment to win races, and he has the confidence that he can run at or near the front of the field. He did it in a street course race, a road course race, a superspeedway race and a short oval race — all in a row.

Is he on the level where he can be counted on to be a threat to win anywhere? Not quite yet. But he rapidly elevated to the level where he can be counted on to be a threat to be fast and run up from anywhere as the 2018 season progressed. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him take the next step in the 2019 season, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him take it sooner rather than later.

Only four drivers recorded more top 10 finishes than Veach did over the course of the season’s final six races. All four of those drivers finished the season in the top six in the championship standings, and two of them were the top two finishers in the standings.

Even with his 19th and 14th place finishes in the season’s final two races, Veach’s average finish over the course of the season’s final six races (10.17) was nearly two whole places better than his second best finish over the course of the season’s first 11 races.

With all things considered, don’t be surprised to see Veach take that next step and become the dark horse championship contender for the 2019 season.

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Will Zach Veach be a serious contender to win the 2019 IndyCar championship? Where will he end up finishing in the championship standings? The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is set to get the 17-race season underway on Sunday, March 10, 2019 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, so be sure not to miss it. Be sure not to miss any of the other 16 races on next year’s schedule, either.