Few people might have predicted that the highest-placed Andretti Autosport driver at the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season-opening race – the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway – would be Zach Veach in the #26 Honda. However, that is exactly what happened on Saturday night. Veach showed consistent pace throughout the day’s running and ultimately would equal his career-best finish with fourth-place.
It is fair to say that 2019 was not an ideal sophomore season for Veach. A steady rookie season in 2018 would see the rookie finish fifteenth in the standings out of nineteen full-time runners, but the young American showed flashes of great speed during the year, including a fourth-place finish in just his third race at Long Beach and a fifth-place finish at Gateway.
Hopes for an improvement in his second season would not materialize, however. Veach would finish in the top ten on just three occasions during the seventeen-race season, with a best finish of only seventh place at Iowa Speedway. For Zach, 2020 would likely be very important, especially with many drivers likely vying for a seat in a team such as Andretti Autosport.
However, Veach himself would admit that Texas Motor Speedway – which became the season-opening race for 2020 after delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic – was hardly a happy hunting ground. After hitting the wall during both of his prior experiences at Texas, Zach admitted pre-race that he hoped just to get through the weekend unscathed.
His 2020 trip to Texas got off to a strong start, however. Tricky conditions greeted the drivers as they tried to get back into the swing of things after having not driven IndyCar’s since pre-season testing and having not raced the cars since last September. Furthermore, Texas, a notoriously intense and high-speed track, was made extra treacherous by the traction compound leftover by the NASCAR Cup Series from November. The compound had made the high-side of the corners ultra-slippery; as evidenced by incidents for Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Felix Rosenqvist and others throughout the day.
After a productive practice session to kick-off the day’s running, Veach would take the fourth-fastest time. He would back up his speed with a decent qualifying position too, with Veach securing fifth-place on the grid, just behind his team-mate, Ryan Hunter-Reay, in fourth.
Veach would lose a handful of positions during the first half of the race, but the American importantly managed to keep himself out of trouble as others around him faltered. Furthermore, he had great pace as the race began to wind down. Snapping right at the heels of the hard-charging Charlie Kimball, Veach would remain consistently in the top six throughout the race and would benefit from late incidents for both Kimball and Felix Rosenqvist to be promoted up to fourth-place at the chequered flag; just holding off a late challenge from fifth-placed Ed Carpenter.
The result would be a fantastic start to Veach’s important 2020 season. Zach would comment on the race about how happy he was to equal his career-best finish and that he hoped that the momentum would continue as the season goes on.
“Really, really good night here in the Gainbridge Honda,” Veach said on Saturday night. “I wanted to start 2020 off good because 2019 was so rough, and we came out here to Texas and got a top-four and started fifth.
“I’m just very happy. This kind of momentum will be great to go into the Indy GP and hopefully have the season we’ve been needing to have. The guys did an awesome job. My engineer Mark Bryant, the car was amazing and all my pit crew: They were awesome for everything, and that played a big part in a race with not many passes.
“I’m just happy and a big thank you to Andretti Autosport.”
The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series will continue in just under a month’s time with the second round of the season, the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit on Saturday, July 4.