Former Andretti Autosport driver Takuma Sato might not receive his customary Christmas card from Marco Andretti after an opportunistic lunge late in Sunday’s season finale flattened Andretti’s right-rear tire and ruined his chances of earning the final $1 million Leaders Circle contract for 2021.
Having the best race of his year, Andretti was in the middle of a miraculous drive from a lowly starting position of 23rd to hold seventh in the latter stages of the race. Ahead of Sebastien Bourdais and Conor Daly, the other two drivers locked in an entrants’ championship points battle to finish 22nd or higher in the standings and deliver the big payout, Sato’s attempt to pass Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey ended up costing the No. 98 Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb Honda as the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver failed to slow his No. 30 Honda without spearing into Andretti’s tire.
An innocent bystander in a pass taking place behind his car, Andretti spun on the flat tire, and later, after having the No. 98 deposited with the rest of the damaged cars, the Indy 500 polesitter was denied the opportunity to have the car restarted in order to salvage the day and keep the Leaders Circle fight alive.
Entering St. Petersburg 23rd in entrants’ points, Andretti needed to overhaul A.J. Foyt Racing’s No. 14 Chevy driven by Sebastien Bourdais, who was seven points ahead in 22nd, or Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Chevy driven by Conor Daly, who was fairly safe in 21st.
With the hit and failure to finish, Andretti’s No. 98 Honda closed the year in 23rd with 176 points, missing out on the $1 million payout for next season, which also accounts for 15-20 percent of an annual budget.
Thanks to his impressive drive to fourth for Foyt in the No. 14 Chevy, Bourdais moved the car forward one position in the entrants’ standings to claim 21st with 205 points. And Daly, whose day also ended with contact when he clobbered the Turn 3 wall, fell to 22nd with 192 points.