While the focus has been on Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson, there is one pending IndyCar free agent whom everybody should be watching this silly season.
As IndyCar silly season heats up, much of the attention has been directed toward Chip Ganassi Racing. Neither Alex Palou nor Marcus Ericsson has a contract to compete for the team beyond the conclusion of the 2023 season, and both entered silly season in very different positions.
Palou, who tried to leave the team after the 2022 season, was heavily rumored to move to Arrow McLaren before recent confirmation of the opposite, indicating that he will probably stay put.
Ericsson, whose longtime backer Finn Rausing is said to be done bringing sponsorship post-2023, believes he should be paid like a top driver, resulting in a stalemate between himself and team owner Chip Ganassi, who wants him to continue to bring funding. He is said to have received an offer, but the belief is that he will be driving elsewhere in 2024.
Bottom line, the decisions of these two drivers were always sure to have a domino effect on the rest of silly season.
But there is another pending IndyCar free agent who should be garnering just as much attention, and that is David Malukas.
Palou and Ericsson are certainly the biggest names on this year’s driver market, and justifiably so. But all things considered, neither one of them is necessarily going to improve their chances of being competitive by signing a new contract. They are both with the sport’s current top team, and to put it bluntly, any potential move would be a lateral move at best.
It doesn’t make their situations any less compelling, but it makes the trickle-down effect even more important when you consider how many competitive seats will still be in need of drivers for 2024.
And one of the drivers who should land in one of those seats is Malukas, who continues to impress in his stint behind the wheel of the No. 18 Honda.
Malukas has confirmed that he will not be back for a third season with Dale Coyne Racing next year. His openness in coming right out and saying that he will be seeking a better ride with a larger team was refreshing in an era during which such topics are often met with responses along the lines of “I’m just focused on my team and this weekend’s race”.
Malukas has competed for Dale Coyne Racing through a partnership with his father Henry’s HMD Motorsports team since the start of the 2022 season. He has secured seven top 10 finishes and a career-high finish of second place since being promoted to IndyCar from Indy Lights last year.
HMD Motorsports are not planning a full move to IndyCar as their own team yet next year, but their plans as far as a potential partnership goes have not been announced. They could very well remain with Dale Coyne Racing, or they could opt to follow “Little Dave” to a new team.
Malukas has confirmed that he has multiple options on the table for 2024. As for teams with open seats, Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti Autosport, Arrow McLaren, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing headline the list.
Chip Ganassi Racing probably won’t have three seats open like some believed they would a few months ago. With Palou presumably set to stay and Ericsson’s replacement having reportedly already been identified, the only way to bring in Malukas would be to give him the seat that part-time driver Marcus Armstrong has long made known he is aiming for.
As for Arrow McLaren, even with Palou no longer set to make the long-rumored move to replace Felix Rosenqvist, the team could still opt to move forward with someone other than the Swede.
The resurgent Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team could also be a possibility for Malukas, with Jack Harvey having already been released by the team after a disappointing stint which did not even last for two full seasons and peaked with a single 10th place result.
A move to Ed Carpenter Racing wouldn’t necessarily be a move to a bigger team, but a move to Chevrolet could potentially put him on the radar of teams such as Team Penske and Arrow McLaren down the road, if he is willing to wait.
Ed Carpenter Racing could also be a logical partner team for HMD Motorsports as the former aim to rebound from a couple of down seasons. And, of course, competing in an Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet could also make Malukas, who has become known as somewhat of an oval specialist, an instant Indy 500 favorite.
The 21-year-old from Chicago, Illinois placed second in the 2020 Formula Regional Americas Championship behind 2022 Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist, and he placed second in the 2021 Indy Lights championship standings behind Kyle Kirkwood.
We all saw how impressive Lundqvist, the rumored Ericsson replacement, was when he finally got a chance to make his IndyCar debut in Nashville for a team that had largely underachieved throughout the 2023 season in Meyer Shank Racing, and we have certainly all seen what Kirkwood has done this season in his first year with Andretti Autosport. In the wins category, he trails only Palou and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.
Let’s also not forget Malukas’s entire rookie stat line with Dale Coyne Racing. He finished in 16th place in the championship standings with an average finish of 14th, three top 10 finishes, and one podium finish.
Another rookie named Alex Palou pulled off that exact same stat line with Dale Coyne Racing in 2020, and all he did after landing a ride with a better team the next season was win three races and the championship.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver remains the heavy favorite to win a second title in 2023.
Where will Malukas end up in the 2024 IndyCar season, and what is he capable of at a top-tier team? While the major focus remains on Chip Ganassi Racing’s drivers, Malukas’ decision could be the one that influences next year’s championship battle the most.