The Realistic Title Contenders

Heading into this weekend’s race at Sonoma, there are still fifteen drivers with a mathematical shot at winning this season’s IZOD IndyCar Series championship with only three races remaining. Now I didn’t stay up late last night and crunch those numbers. These calculations come from the good folks at INDYCAR to demonstrate how competitive this field is. In fact; not since the 2000 season, when twenty-four drivers still had a shot with three races to go, have more drivers still been mathematically alive at this stage of the season. Quite honestly, I didn’t remember the 2000 season having twenty-four regular drivers but I was still following CART a lot closer than the IRL in those days.

Now does that mean that Marco Andretti, who happens to occupy the fifteenth position in the point standings, should be clearing a space on his mantle for the Astor Challenge Cup? It does not. The chances are better of me landing the ride in Chip Ganassi’s No. 38 car for next year than they are for Marco winning the championship. He would have to win every race, lead the most laps and win the pole a couple of times while Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and the rest of the drivers near the top failed to qualify, much less had bad races. Sorry Marco, but the fat lady is already singing. That goes for JR Hildebrand, Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson and all of the others that are hanging by a thread. I would like to see the majority of them all have strong finishes for their seasons, but I’m sure they know they have no real shot to be hoisting the trophy at Fontana.

I can appreciate what INDYCAR is doing. They’d be missing an opportunity if they weren’t promoting how close the standings are. I applaud their efforts and hope they keep striving to draw attention to the season finale. It should be exciting to watch that Saturday night. Unfortunately, I’ll be watching it on my DVR. A couple of weeks ago, got the dreaded news that the Florida-Tennessee game would not be carried on CBS for the first time in forever. Therefore, it will be an ESPN game with a 5:00 pm Central time kickoff. The coverage for the Fontana race begins at 7:30 on NBCSN, so I’ll have to catch up with the race while zapping through the commercials. Hopefully, I’ll catch up to it live at some point.

But we hardcore fans know that bthis is not a fifteen driver shootout. There arer only four horses in this race: Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon. Heading into Sonoma, only twenty-eight points separate points leader Will Power and Scott Dixon, who sits in fourth. Dixon threw himself back into the conversation by winning at Mid-Ohio, which seems like a couple of months ago. After Dixon, James Hinchcliffe sits in a distant fifth – thirty-five points behind Dixon and a whopping sixty-three points behind Power. I guess stranger things have happened, but it would take a bizarre set of circumstances for the Mayor of Hinchtown to jump up and snag this year’s title. For now, we’ll focus on the front four.

At the risk of using a sports cliché, it’s up for grabs among those four. Obviously, Power has the edge with a five point lead over Hunter-Reay in second. The series is headed to a track that Power has completely dominated in the past two seasons. Then the schedule takes the drivers to Baltimore, where Power won last year’s inaugural event. The season finally winds down at a five-hundred mile race on the two-mile oval at Fontana. That’s where things could get interesting. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Will Power struggles on ovals, but ovals are not his strength.

Last season, Power won the road course championship while Dixon won the oval championship – proving his prowess on the ovals. Hunter-Reay has already won two oval races this season, while Helio Castroneves has a proven resume in five-hundred mile races.

There is a distinct possibility that Power could duplicate his success at the next two races and merely have to show up for the finale at Fontana. But should he stumble at Sonoma or Baltimore, things could get very dicey at Fontana. Given his history of late season heartbreaks, the pressure is definitely on Power to finally come away with the championship after handed it away to Dario Franchitti the last two seasons. Franchitti is nowhere in the running this year, but there are still many obstacles for Power to encounter along the way.

Every one of the realistic four challengers have a strong shot to win it all right now. One may drop out of contention at Sonoma or all four may go to Baltimore still bunched up. Personally, I’m pulling for Helio to finally win his first championship, but he was invisible at Mid-Ohio and he needs to regain his stride to pull it off. I’m not sure it’ll happen. Team Penske is probably going to put their efforts toward their driver they think is most likely to win. Ryan Hunter-Reay has been sliding backwards the last couple of races. His momentum is headed the wrong way. The way things have gone at Chip Ganassi’s team this season, I’m not sure Dixon can overcome that trend along with a twenty-eight point deficit.

So, even though I’m pulling for Helio to win the season championship – I think that Will Power will finally silence his critics as well as his late-season demons and claim probably the first of many championships. I just hope I haven’t jinxed him.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “The Realistic Title Contenders”

  1. Well George, this has perked me up and now I am back to looking forward to the rest of the “season.” I have Will Power followed by RHR.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    The biggest reason that 24 drivers still had a mathematical chance at the IRL championship with 3 races to go in 2000 was because they had only run 6 races prior to that point. Not a lot of time to put many regular drivers 150+ points out of the lead.
    In fact, Juan Montoya’s Indy 500 victory that year earned him 54 points, placing him within mathematical striking distance of Eddie Cheever’s standings-leading 176 points with three races to go.

  3. is this the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013? did I miss the All-Star game? When’s the China race? Before or after Japan? Somebody threw a shoe at Danica? How many push-to-pass do I get? Delayed what? Owners buying WHAT? I’m a little confused.

    Hey, what happened to the highly touted oval/twisty Foyt/Andretti trophy presentations? Had those yet? Who won?

    I’ll take Dixon. Sorry to even mention Japan, George.

  4. Power is going to check out this weekend, and maybe have this thing wrapped up by Baltimore.

  5. George, I think you have your priorities mixed up. Watching the race has got to be more interesting than seeing the Gators whup up on Tennessee again. (I’m an FSU fan, so don’t call me a damn Gator!)

    I do have some fond memories of Tennessee football though, from the seven years I spent living in Hendersonville. One was the year after the Gators won the national championship, and Tennessee lost to Memphis. I was traveling south on the Florida Turnpike, took a detour into Gainesville to get a cup of coffee, and saw a sign over the highway….”The 1996 (?) National Champions welcome the Knox County Champtions to Gainesville”. Ya gotta admit, that’s funny!

    And then there was the time I pulled into a convenience store east of Nashville, just off I-24. I had an FSU license plate on the front of my van. A customer in the store told me I had a lot of nerve driving around like that. I said, in a light-hearted manner, well, I guess we’ll see on New Years Day.( The Noles were playing the Vols for the Nat’l Championship) His next remark was “Be a shame if you weren’t around to see it…..uh, yeah, OK.

    Like I said, fond memories……

  6. It’s interesting to note that of the 4 championship contenders, 3 have past wins at Sonoma. Only RHR has not won previously at Sonoma.

  7. Power again swept the three bonus points by nabbing pole position and leading the most laps. This time, the weather was his biggest foe. Power missed his first radio call to pit, then made the mistake of taking on rain tires when the track was already drying. An additional stop for tires bogged him down in 17th place, and while he drove well to move up to an eventual sixth-place finish, Michael Andretti ‘s strategy calls for Hunter-Reay were absolutely perfect and RHR went on to score his series-leading fourth victory of the season, cutting Power’s 36-point championship lead nearly in half in the process.

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