Michael Shank releases Jay Howard from potential ’500′ ride

In what is becoming a bigger storyline seemingly by the day, Michael Shank Racing has been trying to land a competitive engine for their Indianapolis 500 entry. That was the only missing component from the program, as sponsors have apparently been lined up and English veteran Jay Howard was slated to drive the car.

Shank had been initially slated last year to be a Lotus-powered entrant, but with their current troubles, you figure that a Chevrolet or a Honda engine would be more ideal, right? Unfortunately for him, both manufacturers have already gone beyond their expected duties as engine suppliers — and with the exodus of Bryan Herta Autosport and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing from the Lotus camp, their “families” are set to expand again in short order.

This saga has potentially major importance because if Shank is unable to find a motor for his Indy program, there will only be 32 cars on the entry list for the ’500′, which has started 33 cars in every race since 1947. Nobody wants to see that tradition go away.

Now, Shank has another problem: Word has come out from the team that they’ve released Howard, a former Firestone Indy Lights champion, from his ’500′ contract.

“We are working every possible opportunity to make this happen and continue to hold our entry for the Indianapolis 500,” said Shank in a team release. “But at this point, we’ve not made the progress that we need to in terms of having our package finalized and having an agreement with a motor manufacturer.

“I know first hand how hard it is to have the opportunity to race in the Indianapolis 500, and the last thing in the world I want to do is to hold Jay back from getting the chance to do that.”

Shank hasn’t thrown in the towel, but time is now very short for him to land a solid powerplant and get a chance to cement Indy’s magic number of 33.

The story has become strikingly similar to what Sarah Fisher had to go through before she got a Honda for her team after Rahal Letterman Lanigan decided it wouldn’t use its second full-time engine. And sure enough, just as there was outrage over Fisher’s engine woes, there’s getting to be plenty of the same over Shank’s problems.

But for now, all he can do is keep plugging away.

“This is what I do, and there isn’t an ounce of give up in me,” Shank also said in the release. “But we also have to be realistic about the calendar and what it takes to properly prepare for a race like the Indianapolis 500. I’m not done trying to make something happen, but I don’t want to keep Jay from realizing his dream, either.

“I’ve burned up every favor I could think of, called anyone who would be willing to listen, and been trying to work with [INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard] to just be able to get a motor. But the hole in the back of my DW12 is no closer to being filled than it was when we filed the entry.”