Friday, July 1, 2011

The Friday 15: Mid-Season Edition!

It’s halftime of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series, and we’ve seen winners from 4 different teams, 4 drivers earning Pole Position (plus TK drawing it at Texas-2) , and some really excellent racing. Again, it’s time for the Friday 15, where we look at the Top 15 drivers in terms of championship series points. Their number of points behind is listed parentheses, and as always, their position change from last race is listed in red. Comments below each entry offer snark in moderation only:

1) Dario Franchitti (303 points), +1
Dario’s had a great year, but that car seems to really lose some handling when he’s in traffic. It’s a good thing for him he’s running in front so often. While he’s done his share of complaining, he’s also done his share of running up front, which pretty much means we can all go fly a kite, I guess.

2) Will Power (-20), -1
Power gets another chance to get some Pole Position bonus points and return to his winning ways with three twisty courses in a row. The points just might look much different by the time we get to New Hampshire. Also, Concussion Will Power was sorta funny, but I don’t want to see him again anytime soon. Or ever.

3) Scott Dixon (-92), +1
It’s been a pretty quiet year for Dixon, but that doesn’t mean his results aren’t solid. He’ll get his victory for the year at some point. He’s another one in New Zealand’s long, illustrious line of silent ninjas.

4) Oriol Servia (-89), -1
Servia’s made this a half-season to remember for Newman/Haas. If you can’t root for him and this team to win sometime this year, you have no soul. They may not have the budget of a Penske or Ganassi, but they’ve got talent and heart by the truckload.

5) Tony Kanaan (-92), +1
Fact: When Tony Kanaan is competitive, this series is just a whole lot more fun. What isn’t fun is having my heart stop for about 10 seconds every race because I momentarily mistake Viso or Sato’s wreck for his. Either way, TK is creeping ever closer to giving KV Racing that first win.

6) Ryan Briscoe, (-110), +1
Briscoe has slowly returned to expected form, but this still has been a rough season. We haven’t heard much from him, but he’s still probably going to get his turn in the spotlight sometime soon.

7) Graham Rahal, (-112), -2
A disappointing Iowa finish after a couple of good races for Graham, but the pressure is still going to be for him to make it in the win column this year. If they could figure out their qualifying woes, they’d have a really good shot at making it happen.

8) Marco Andretti (-119), +4
Marco’s our big mover of the week, jumping up 4 spots in the standings. He gets a lot of grief from fans, but no one can deny he gave us all a race to remember. That’s the big talent his supporters always reference. I don’t think he’s done this year, either.

Can Conway, Marco, or AA grab another win this year?

9) JR Hildebrand (-134), +2
Hildebrand was a little scary at times at Iowa, but was also very racy. Panther’s going to have to hit the road and street courses with more success if he wants to keep his lead over Hinchcliffe for Rookie of the Year. It definitely seems like the series is putting him out there in the public eye as one of their new generation of stars, which is a very cool bit of business.

10) Alex Tagliani (-142), -2
The only driver to have more than one Pole Position this year, there’s been rumors that Tag and Sam Schmidt Motorsports might have some funding issues in finishing out the season. Let’s hope not, because this team has been seriously impressive, and is really, really close to upsetting some of the bigger teams in a race this year.

11) Danica Patrick (-142), -1
It continues to be a very quiet year for Danica; it seems like IndyCar has been featuring more and more other drivers. Balance is good for the series, but if Danica gets back in contention, the fireworks will come back out quickly. With the Motegi oval gone, you have to wonder which track will give her the best chance (I’m going with New Hampshire).

12) Helio Castroneves (-144), +1
Helio’s been showing more and more flashes of life, but until he wins this year, the season has to be considered a great disappointment. I’m thinking right now he wouldn’t mind a late-race pass of Dario to grab the checkered, after Dario’s post-Milwaukee comments.

13) Takuma Sato (-148) -4
Sato is still inconsistent, though he’s also clearly very, very fast. It’s making him the most unpredictable and mercurial driver to watch right now. Top 5 or crash after Lap 5? Only Sato knows for sure. He’s still way ahead of where he was last year, but he can’t afford to slow down on his pace of improvement.

14) Mike Conway (-159), (Unchanged)
Mike Conway will be extremely pleased to see any other shape than an oval the next few races. He could possibly be poised to move up the most of any driver if he can match some of his earlier finishes. Oh, and I know it’s not good to have a car without sidepod sponsors, but I sort of dug the basic black Andretti Autosport car he was driving. Classy.

15) James Hinchcliffe (-161), +1
Hinch is about to have some key opportunities to close the gap with JR Hildebrand if he continues charging hard. Could that first missed race be the difference in the Rookie of the Year battle? It’s looking more and more possible. IndyCar’s Funniest Driver? He’s about got that one locked up. It’s great to see him be a part of the Newman/Haas Renaissance.

Dropping out of the Top 15? That'd be Vitor Meira (P16) after an unlucky night in Iowa. The only other mover lower than that is Ryan Hunter-Reay (+1 to P20), who finally got a nice, confidence-boosting Top 10 under the belt going into the next three twisties. Really, everyone still has work to do, as it get a bit harder to move the needle with mid-pack results the further into the season we go.

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