Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Chicagoland IRL Points Battle Looms; Power Out - Phillipe Lucky

Dario Franchitti had them all covered at Sonoma this past weekend and jumped past teammate Scott Dixon into second place in the season points standings behind Penske rival Ryan Briscoe. Penske's stellar stand-in Will Power survived the scariest crash of the season with broken vertebrate but the really lucky driver was Nelson Phillipe, who had a one-off ride on the road course for Conquest Racing. With only three races left, all on ovals, it's a shame that Power won't be able to take part as he has been a more than capable team player for Penske this season. And even though they don't typically come anywhere close to 200 mph on the road courses, Power's accident cresting a blind turn goes to show just how dangerous these IRL events can be; no one should ever take driver safety for granted as anything can happen. With the series heading to Chicagoland this weekend, that will be even more true since three-wide Indycar racing and close quarter battles up and down the field are almost assured if past history is any indication. Crashes are a part of the sport and you better believe that Ryan Briscoe knows a thing or two about the dangers on the fast Chicagoland oval. Let's hope for a safe and competitive weekend. At least there are no blind corners!

The other big news heading into the home stretch of the IRL season is that Danica won't be waving goodbye to the Indycar series as she is reported to be close to signing a deal with Andretti Green Racing, and next year Michal Andretti will be the sole owner, as his partners in AGR are going to focus their efforts on the Andretti Green Promotions company that promotes IRL events in Toronto and elsewhere. I was wrong a month or so ago when I guessed that Danica might jump to Penske but regardless, having her stay in the IRL is an essential element for the series to grow in popularity as far as I am concerned. Just judging from the number of people at the tracks (men, women, little girls - it doesn't matter) wearing Danica gear, it is obvious that when speaking of the IRL, they know about Danica. We really can't afford to lose her, and especially not to NASCAR. While AGR hasn't done much for her on the track this year, the team seems to be getting its act together, so maybe she can repeat in Japan or steal a win at Chicago or Homestead.

Scott Dixon, on the other hand, is almost too cool for his own good sometimes, but man does he know how to peddle it and save fuel on the ovals. Third in the standings doesn't mean he is out of contention by any means, and I'm hoping this weekend has a similar fantastic finish as they had at Chicagoland in 2007 when the race wasn't decided until the last turn of the last lap. And it was fuel that made the difference that time, with Dixon sputtering and Dario flashing by to take the win and the season title. After getting punted by Marco Andretti on the last lap at Sonoma this past weekend, I'm sure Scotty D will have something up his sleeve for everyone this weekend. Dixon apparently took a look at jumping to Gil de Ferran's new team for 2010 but that was probably just for bargaining leverage. Lord knows with the success he has had at Target Ganassi, that would be awfully hard to match with a new team. He's in the best seat in the house right now and he's still the man to beat for the season title. I know he won't go down without a fight.

And the fight could come from inside the Target team, as Dario has done a fantastic job this year after his NASCAR "vacation" and he clearly knows how to win races and season titles. He has looked really relaxed all season long and seems to be enjoying his return to open wheel. Certainly his results warrant the show of confidence that Ganassi provided by bringing him back to the IRL when the taxicab money went poof. His Chicagoland win of 2007 was the capper to an awesome season for Dario and the new long, curly locks contrast sharply with the high & tight look he had that year. No one should doubt Dario's willingness to take chances to win these last three races and he appears to be as fearless as ever, despite the aerial shows he put on at Michigan and Nashville in 2007 during his championship season. We'll have none of that this weekend, if you please. I've always liked Dario and I just wish they would leave Mrs. Franchitti out of the broadcasts as I really think she'd much rather just let Dario have the spotlight. Why else would she wear the same floppy hat every race?

Which finally brings me to the man everyone is chasing: Ryan Briscoe. He's been strong all season and he has certainly resurrected his career with his results at Penske Racing. Most IRL fans will remember the awesome wreck he was in at Chicagoland a few years back driving for (guess who?) Chip Ganassi, during the season of crashes for the team when he and Dixon wadded up a number of underpowered Toyota-engined Target cars trying to stay with the leaders. And after his tangle with Danica at the Indy 500 in 2008 followed some early season struggles, a win at Milwaukee last year sure righted his ship and Captain Penske has been unwavering in his support of Ryan. That's good news for the team but bad news for anyone not driving a red and white car this weekend, I'm afraid, as he snookered Ed Carpenter at Texas in June in the closest finish of the year and he will surely be part of any photo finish this weekend at Chicagoland.

This track has a history of many of the closest IRL finishes ever, so I am really looking forward to getting back there for my fourth IRL race in a row at the track. The Indy Lights are also on the agenda Saturday, following ARCA and the Camping World Truck series Friday night which I will probably miss due to other commitments. I expect to be posting from the media center at various times Saturday and I will save my prediction for the IRL race winner until I've had a few whiffs of ethanol exhaust. Stop by again soon, or come find me at the track if you make it out. I'll be accompanied by my able assistant this weekend so it should be a blast!

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