Thursday, September 29, 2011

Indycar Season & Rookie Titles to the Wire

Indycar season points leader Will Power
One hundred six points. Two drivers. Eleven points. Three teammates. Two races. That's Indycar by the numbers right now with the last two races of the season looming, the first of which is at Kentucky Speedway this weekend. I'll be there shooting for American Motor Journal, blogging and sending out Twitter updates beginning Saturday morning.

Dario Franchitti
Will Power currently has an 11 point lead over Dario Franchitti for the season IZOD Indycar championship with two oval track races wrapping up the 2011 season. Only 106 points remain available in total for the top contenders to fight over, and Dario's teammate Scott Dixon is still mathematically in the title chase 59 points behind Power but if he finishes more than 53 points behind after Kentucky, he will be eliminated from championship contention. Two drivers will duke it out and three teammates could be factors:  Dario with Dixon, and Power with Ryan Briscoe (who appears to be fighting for his 2012 ride) and Helio Castroneves (who won at Kentucky last season). Everyone knows Power's strong suit is road racing, but he has gotten clean sweeps on points four different times this season while narrowly missing a fifth, while Dario has only gotten max points once with one close call of 52 points. These precious bonus points for pole and leading the most laps could well turn the tide for this year's Indycar champion. You can bet Dario and Target Chip Ganassi Racing will do everything they can to get Dario to the top step of the podium, take all 53 points available and keep Power behind him.

The Mayor of Hinchtown

JR Hildebrand
Dan Wheldon
Two other drivers are also in a tight battle these final two races, albeit for Rookie of the Year. If my pre-season pick James Hinchcliff had not missed the season opener at St. Petersburg, the rookie points battle would probably be a dead heat, as J. R. Hildebrand has earned 284 points this season to Hinchtown's 270.

Add to the mix the fact that Dan Wheldon is racing at Kentucky this weekend for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in place of Alex Tagliani in order to prepare for the finale at Las Vegas where he has a chance to win $5 million, this Indycar weekend should be a real treat for fans of the series. Indycar races at Kentucky Speedway are always hotly contested with a photo finish a distinct possibility, ala Ed Carpenter's thrilling run two years ago when he lost by a nose to Ryan Briscoe. I hate to see Tagliani sit out a race when he is on the verge of a top 10 finish in season points, but Schmidt is teaming up with Wheldon's bunch at Bryan Herta Autosport to have the best chance possible in Vegas where Danny will start shotgun on the field and have his work cut out for him. While I can't make it to Vegas, that should be one heckuva show to behold, and I know this weekend will set the stage for real fireworks two weeks later. Hopefully, some of the acrimony that has generated controversy for Indycars this season has dissipated and everyone can get down to some serious racing this weekend. Helio and Power  have earned hefty fines lately for their words or actions and while that helps generate headlines, it doesn't mean a thing once they give the command to start engines at the racetrack. 

Kyle Busch in action at Atlanta Labor Day weekend
With the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday night and Indy Lights Sunday afternoon prior to the Indycar race, the stage will be well set by the time the green flag flies. And can anyone stop Kyle Busch in trucks this year? I'll be anxious  to see how he handles this weekend or if he decides to run Kentucky or concentrate on Sprint Cup at Dover. I hope he makes it to Sparta! KyB was fast at Atlanta but got snookered by Ron Hornaday's fuel mileage gamble so who knows how this weekend's race will turn out. I'm hoping it's full of action and that the sparks fly from the first lap to the last.

One final note, and it's a sad one. Two time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. has reportedly run afoul of the law back home in New Mexico and has alcohol and dangerous driving charges pending against him. Indycar fans know of Jr.'s struggles with alcohol through the years and Indycar has suspended him indefinitely from race control and other duties associated with the series. I hate to hear it as Little Al has always been one of my favorite drivers and you would be hard pressed to find a more approachable guy in Indycar racing. His battle is with an insidious foe and I wish him Godspeed and that he gets back on the path of recovery before something really horrific happens. These charges are serious enough but thank God no one was hurt. This time.

Will Power at speed in 2010 at Kentucky Speedway
Dario Franchitti at Mid Ohio in 2011

No comments: