IndyCar: Andretti lineup change streak set to extend

Devlin DeFrancesco, Andretti Autosport, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Devlin DeFrancesco, Andretti Autosport, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Andretti Autosport have shown more speed during the 2023 IndyCar season than in years past. But there is still at least one more change the team are set to make.

What should have been a double podium finish for the team to open up the 2023 IndyCar season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida turned into a disaster for Andretti Autosport, which failed to place a single car higher than 15th. But they have since proven that their strength on that afternoon was no fluke.

Their street course package in particular has clearly taken a major step forward from past seasons, and that has been on display on a number of occasions since then. Unfortunately, they have only been able to capitalize on their speed on one occasion, that being the race on the streets of Long Beach in April.

Kyle Kirkwood, who replaced new Arrow McLaren driver Alexander Rossi this year, won the race from the pole position in just his third start behind the wheel of the No. 27 Honda, and Romain Grosjean finished in second place behind the wheel of his No. 28 Honda. Colton Herta finished in fourth behind the wheel of the No. 26 Honda.

In the street course race in Detroit, Michigan, Kirkwood rallied from lap one incident which mired him down in 27th place to finish in sixth. Herta also made up 13 spots from a poor starting position, while Grosjean lost a potential top five finish due to a suspension failure.

The team looked like the team to beat on the streets of Toronto as well, only for a poor qualifying session to make things difficult in the race itself. Herta still managed to move up from 14th place to secure his first podium finish of the year.

Bottom line, this Andretti Autosport team has the potential to run at the front, which wasn’t always the case in recent years. While street courses have been their primary strength, they also showed it in the Indy 500, despite a rough qualifying weekend. Barring incidents, Kirkwood and Herta were poised to finish in the top five.

But as for the team’s fourth entry, a 12th place finish remains the best of Devlin DeFrancesco’s IndyCar career.

DeFrancesco joined the team as a rookie last year and struggled, as many sort of expected given the fact that his 2021 Indy Lights season was not much to write home about. Driving for a top-tier team in a series with only nine full-time drivers, he finished in sixth place in the championship standings with just two podium finishes in 20 races.

Just one race last season saw DeFrancesco finish in the top half of the field, that being the race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. He finished in a career-high 12th place.

Not much has changed in 2023, though he has twice placed in the top half of the field through 12 races. But all he has been able to do from a career standpoint, however, is match his 12th place finish from last year with another 12th place effort in Detroit.

Andretti Autosport have changed their driver lineup after each of the last four seasons. Based on a recently announced new approach they are taking to fill their lineup, that is set to become five in a row as they aim to field a roster with four legitimate contenders.

This is a top-tier team again, and they need to take advantage. It sounds harsh, but it is what it is. IndyCar is the most competitive racing series in the world.

DeFrancesco signed a multi-year contract with Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport last year, yet even with him already being under contract for 2023, there were rumblings that the team could look to replace him after just one season. They are also rumored to have looked at having J.R. Hildebrand replace him for the Indy 500.

While neither of those two situations unfolded, DeFrancesco isn’t going to be competing for this team again in 2024. There has already long been speculation as to who might replace him.

There are several pending free agents Andretti Autosport could pursue. Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist could be on his way out. Marcus Ericsson has also said that he wants to be treated like a top driver, and there is no guarantee that that will be with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports’ David Malukas is also said to be on the team’s radar, after having confirmed that he is searching for a new organization.

Will Andretti Autosport make a change before the season ends? It’s possible. Just look at Ed Carpenter Racing and Conor Daly. And you could even go back to 2020, when Andretti Autosport moved on from Zach Veach several races early, despite the fact that the major primary sponsor he brought to the sport, Gainbridge, stayed in the sport — and with the team.

Considering the lack of testing time teams have these days, teams almost have to make moves early to set themselves up for the following season. Regardless of when it happens, however, a change is coming.

dark. Next. All-time IndyCar wins list

Aside from who will replace DeFrancesco, the real question at Andretti Autosport is now about the future of the No. 28 Honda. Will Grosjean’s recent struggles result in the team making two driver changes at the end of the 2023 IndyCar season instead of just one, or has he done enough to show that he deserves an extension that once seemed like nothing more than a formality?