Michael Andretti faces long road to make leap from IndyCar to NASCAR
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- One of IndyCar's biggest names could branch out to the Sprint Cup Series as Michael Andretti told SI.com that he is hoping to start a NASCAR team.
"We were looking at NASCAR real close last year, too, but it fell apart," Andretti said. "We were looking at it just as hard last year as this year and the year before."
If Andretti is able to find the right sponsorship, he could team up with Dodge and base his team out of the old Evernham Motorsports shop in Statesville, N.C.
A Dodge source told SI.com that Andretti could probably team up with the engine manufacturer for $5 million to $6 million. That's because Dodge is losing its primary team in Sprint Cup at the end of this season as Penske Racing switches to Ford. Because of that, it is looking for a flagship team and Andretti could be a good fit, especially if it were to team up with Richard Petty Motorsports -- currently a Ford team paired with Roush Fenway Racing, but has a long history with Dodge.
"I'm always looking at all options," Andretti said. "I'd be stupid not to listen to Dodge or any other manufacturers. It doesn't matter that we are a Chevy IndyCar team. It might be nice if it was all under one roof but, in our contract, we're a Chevy IndyCar team."
Though Andretti would be branching out to NASCAR, his primary focus would continue to be on open wheels. Since becoming a team owner in 2003, Andretti has fielded an IndyCar team that has won the series title twice, along with its first Indianapolis 500 victory. Andretti was also the team owner when Danica Patrick scored her historic win at Twin Ring Motegi on April 20, 2008.
This season Andretti Autosport features a three-driver team led by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who sits at second in the point standings, Andretti's son, Marco, and popular Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe.
Putting a deal together for either 2013 or 2014 would be difficult, but not impossible. Both Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi have successfully juggled dual efforts, although neither has won the Sprint Cup Series championship since becoming team owners.
"I think you would use both as role models in many ways," Michael's father, famed driver Mario Andretti said. "Look at Chip -- he is active in IndyCars, NASCAR and Grand-Am. He is capable of winning in all three series. They are solid. Roger has proven his teams can win in all the categories he is involved in. It's all about putting together the best group of people."
Penske is the most successful of the team owners involved in both IndyCar and NASCAR and has plenty of advice to offer to Andretti if he enters Cup.
"I would tell him one thing -- it's entirely different than what he has here," Penske said. "You are running 36 and 37 races. The cars may not look it, but they are very sophisticated. At the end of the day it's the workload and the number of people. We have 50 people on our IndyCar team and 250 people on our NASCAR team. Transportation is more expensive. It costs you three- to four-times more to run up front in NASCAR than in an IndyCar."
Even if Andretti can put a deal together, competing in NASCAR certainly won't be easy. Jack Roush was one of the most successful team owners in sports car racing when he came to NASCAR, first in the Busch Series in 1986 and '87 and then the Cup Series in 1988. The team was winless that first season before getting a victory in 1989 with Mark Martin.
Roush is celebrating his 25th season as a Cup team owner and has 127 victories, and a 2003 Cup title with Matt Kenseth. So, it can be done but it won't be easy.
"Michael has been around racing his whole life so he knows the challenges," John Erickson, the race strategist for Helio Castroneves at Team Penske, told SI.com. "If he has the sponsorship interest and the budget is good, it's probably not a bad time. There have been some teams that have had to shut down over the last few years so there are some good quality people looking for work in the Mooresville, N.C. area. The Evernham shop is a nice shop at the Statesville Airport. It's the same challenges of any start-up business but the good news is Michael has been around the horn so he knows what it is going to take."
And what it will take is for Andretti to first be competitive to challenge more established teams. Next would be to win races. After that, he could set a goal of competing for a championship. That entire process to becoming a legitimate championship contender could take five to seven years, especially for an IndyCar outsider.
"We've had a lot of wins and a lot of successes but we are still trying to get our first championship," Erickson said of Penske Racing. "It's a tough venue. A very tough venue. It's competitive. The way the points system is set up you have to be consistent. You have to shoot for top-10s every weekend. You can't afford to have a drop out."
So far Andretti has proved to be quite ambitious. That is why he is seriously considering this chance to add another form to an already impressive resume.
"Opportunities are there and you have to seize them," Mario said. "There is always something you can look at. You have to pick and choose. We are in this for life; we're not in it for next week. We don't have another gig. This is the only gig we know -- motor racing. This is our life."