By Tony DiZinno NBC Sports
Occasional Verizon IndyCar Series competitor Jay Howard will make his comeback to the series for the first time in six years, having been confirmed Monday as driver of the Tony Stewart Foundation Team One Cure-supported No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
“I can’t begin to tell you how honored I am to have this opportunity,” Howard said in a release. “I’m not one to give up on a dream and I have every bit of determination to make this a successful effort for Tony, Team One Cure and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. I’m in the best condition both mentally and physically, and my race craft is on point. We will be more than ready when IMS opens for practice this May.”
Stewart added, “I have every bit of confidence in the skills of Jay behind the wheel. Growing up 45 minutes from the Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 is an important part of my racing history. Participating in this year’s race with Jay and Sam through Team One Cure, we will be making a difference in both the 500 and the race against cancer.”
SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt said, “We are pleased to have Jay competing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports once again. Given our impressive winning record together in the past, we have high expectations for the 101st Indy 500. Jay is extremely talented in the car as well as being a great advocate for the Team One Cure initiative.”
Howard, the 36-year-old Englishman, won the 2006 Indy Lights title for Schmidt but had a bit of a roller coaster career in IndyCar over parts of three official years (2008, 2010, 2011) and two years where he was supposed to drive but didn’t (2012, 2015).
Despite being hired by Roth Racing in 2008, he was unceremoniously dispatched prior to that year’s Indianapolis 500, replaced by John Andretti, and made only one more start later that year.
A comeback occurred with Sarah Fisher Racing in a second car in 2010, also part-time, although he missed the field that year, and then was not retained into 2011.
In a jointly entered RLL/Schmidt Honda, Howard finally made his Indianapolis 500 race debut in 2011, qualifying 20th and finishing 30th after an incident. He made two other race appearances that year, at the dual Texas race and the ultimately canceled Las Vegas finale.
Two other would-be comebacks stopped before they even had a chance to begin. Howard was Michael Shank’s driver choice for 2012 but Shank was unable to secure an engine lease. Then after being announced for a second Bryan Herta Autosport car in 2015, a sponsor pulled out.
This gives Howard a quirky career stat line of 12 race starts, one race he started that doesn’t count in the record books, four other races where he was entered but didn’t start the race and two races he was announced but the car didn’t show up to drive.
His best career start (13th) came in a race where there was no qualifying, instead just a blind draw (Texas race two, 2011); his best career qualifying effort (14th) came in a race where the field was split (Motegi 2008, where IRL raced at Japan and Champ Car signed off at Long Beach on the same weekend), and his best finish (13th) he’s achieved twice (Motegi, and Kansas the following week with a full field).
All of this background makes Howard’s latest comeback all the more interesting, especially as he’s never driven the new base Dallara DW12 chassis and has been out of full-time driving for six years, instead having focused on coaching and go-karting in the interim.
Howard joins the other two confirmed entries of James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin, and is SPM’s fifth different third driver in as many years (Katherine Legge, Jacques Villeneuve, Conor Daly and Oriol Servia since 2013).