Andretti Global still technically have a seat open for the 2024 IndyCar season, even though they may not run a fourth car. If they do, who gets it?
Before the 2023 IndyCar season reached its conclusion, Andretti Global (formerly Andretti Autosport) made clear that they were changing their driver lineup approach moving forward, eliminating the possibility of signing a “pay driver” to drive the fourth entry amid continued struggles and inconsistency.
For some context, Devlin DeFrancesco brought funding and joined the team in 2022. Piloting the No. 29 Steinbrenner Honda in 2022 and 2023, he failed to finish a single race higher than 12th place.
He had more than twice as many DNFs as he had finishes in the upper half of the field in 34 starts. Even for as inconsistent as his teammates were during those two seasons, he was nowhere near their pace.
Andretti Global signed Marcus Ericsson, who was unable to come to terms on a new deal with Chip Ganassi Racing for 2024, and opted against re-signing Romain Grosjean amid his disappointing second half of the 2023 season.
There are rumors that they will stick with just three cars in 2024, with the departure of longtime primary sponsor DHL surely not doing them any favors in their quest to operate without a pay driver, but they still haven’t ruled out a fourth.
The question is who would that fourth driver be? The driver market is largely settled, and all of the big-name free agents have signed contracts that run through at least 2024.
One driver not signed? Carlos Munoz.
Carlos Munoz hasn’t been in IndyCar since 2018, and the former Andretti Autosport driver hasn’t competed full-time since 2017.
So the odds of it happening are slim to none at the moment. And admittedly, this isn’t the first time (or even, like, the second, third, or fourth time) I have personally advocated for somebody to sign him.
But if funding truly isn’t an issue, a reunion should be seriously considered.
The Colombian is still just 31 years old, and Andretti Global are a team that recently made a move to welcome back a driver who had been out of the sport full-time for an extended period of time when they signed James Hinchcliffe for 2021.
Signing Hinchcliffe didn’t exactly work out for the team, as he had by far the worst season of his career in 2021, but he still scored a podium finish. That third place effort in August 2021 remains the No. 29 Honda’s most recent top 11 finish.
They had also signed Dan Wheldon to a contract to make a similar move for 2012, but he was tragically killed in a wreck during the 2011 season finale, leading to Hinchcliffe’s first stint with the team.
As for Munoz, it’s not like he disappointed during his Andretti Global stint; his post-2016 departure largely boiled down to funding.
While he is most known for his Indy 500 speed, it’s not as if he failed to perform elsewhere. Finishes of eighth, 13th, and 10th place in the championship standings, spearheaded by a win and five non-Indy 500 podium finishes, place him right around where the team’s drivers (minus DeFrancesco) finished in both 2022 and 2023.
And yes, most importantly, he did have notable success in the Indy 500.
Munoz has made five Indy 500 starts with Andretti Global, including one in 2018 in a one-off entry. Two of those starts resulted in runner-up finishes, including a major heartbreak in 2016 when he initially thought he had won.
He also finished in 10th place for what was a totally a non-competitive A.J. Foyt Enterprises team at the time in 2017, an achievement that doesn’t get nearly the recognition it deserves.
Now that Josef Newgarden is an Indy 500 winner, it’s hard to argue against Munoz being the single best non-Indy 500-winning driver of his generation, in terms of speed and raw talent at Indianapolis Motor Speedway specifically.
Michael Andretti is a team owner used to winning the Indy 500, having done so three times from 2014 to 2017, so the fact that 2024 will mark seven years since his team’s most recent drink of milk should not sit well with anybody in the organization.
Adding 2022 Indy 500 winner Ericsson, who came closer than anybody to winning back-to-back editions of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since Helio Castroneves actually pulled it off in 2001 and 2002, is a major deal in their efforts to end the drought.
But bringing in a driver with Munoz’s raw speed — and experience, despite his extended absence from the sport — would be arguably just as important.
Yes, Andretti Global do still field a one-off entry for 18-year veteran Marco Andretti. However, and I hope (as I have for the last several years) I’m wrong, I simply don’t see him as much of a factor anymore, given the fact that he hasn’t finished in the top five since 2014 or top 10 since 2017. Even as the polesitter in the infamous August 2020 race, he didn’t lead a lap and placed 13th.
But Munoz is a driver who has always been a factor when given the chance, even in the face of major — borderline disrespectful — doubters.
When he showed up at Indy in 2013 as a 21-year-old with zero IndyCar starts to his name, there were figurative over/unders on what lap he would wreck on. Instead, he played it cool when he needed to and aggressive when he needed to all race long, and he placed second behind Tony Kanaan — and, quite frankly, probably would have won under 2022/2023 standards of what warrants a red flag.
Yes, longshot is a major understatement, but if Andretti Global opt for a fourth car in 2024, they can’t go wrong with giving Carlos Munoz another shot, especially given his incredible Indy 500 upside.