We arrive at one of my favorite tracks on the schedule, Kentucky Speedway. The Kentucky Indy 300 should be a great, competitive race, with plenty of chances for underdogs to show their stuff. Last year Ed Carpenter won the pole and had a shot at the win before finishing P2 to a fuel-saving Helio Castroneves. There were a lot of drivers both expected and unexpected mixing it up near the front last year, and I can only expect more of the same. Here’s a quick rundown of some big stories this weekend:
A Bumpy Ride: Word from the test at Kentucky is that the track is bumpier than last year, which could affect set-up. We should see some pretty aggressive strategies mixed in with taking a safer line.
Fall Weather: Watch the temperature at Kentucky, as middle 50s and possibly low 60s are the in the forecast. It could have an impact on qualifying, and definitely will alter race setups. It’ll be some wonderfully crisp autumnal weather, but let’s see how those Firestone tires handle things.
Championship Time: The AJ Foyt Trophy will be decided Sunday (I believe earlier in the week I earlier referred to Las Vegas as counting for the oval championship, but it doesn’t). Scott Dixon is in the lead, but Dario Franchitti, Will Power, and Oriol Servia all have a shot at winning depending on how things go. Of course, this week will also be big for the overall championship. Power comes in with the lead, but many expect Franchitti to jump back ahead with another great oval performance.
Rookie of the Year Update: James Hinchcliffe is just 14 points down to JR Hildebrand (despite contesting 1 less race than JR), but he’ll have his hands full the next two races. Panther Racing is great at Kentucky, and Hildebrand’s going to have a great chance for a great finish. The battle for Sunoco Rookie of the Year has been one of the closest fights of the season, and this should be a great start to the final chapter.
Dan Wheldon In, Tag Out: To give the team a better chance to win the $5 million GoDaddy Challenge is Las Vegas, Alex Tagliani steps aside in the #77 this week in favor of Dan Wheldon. It’s a bummer for Tag, but hopefully there are some considerations in him for it for 2012. Of course, we’ll also see Tag return for Las Vegas.
A Whole Lotta Part-Timers: One of the most exciting things about Kentucky is that so many drivers have secured seats for this race. We get to see Buddy Rice, Pippa Mann, Ed Carpenter, Wade Cunningham, and Pippa Mann rejoin the series. It’s going to be one incredibly busy track, and a taste of some of what we’ll see for Las Vegas.
Simona Shaky?: Since her earlier season oval incidents, Simona de Silvestro hasn’t seemed very confident on the ovals. Of course, her car “Pork Chop” is just gutting it through the last races of the year. A top finish probably won’t happen, but it would be nice to see her have a clean oval race here and set the right tone for 2012.
Go Pippa Go: After a weekend at New Hampshire that could only be described as nightmarish, Pippa Mann returns to the ovals at Kentucky. She showed plenty of grit at Indy this year, and she’ll be looking to put Loudon behind her and secure a good, clean result in Sparta. The Pippster’s one of the drivers looking for a good result to lead to bigger things in 2012.
A New Arrival: Would be remiss if we did not mention Sarah Fisher Racing taking their newest family member to her first track this weekend (outside the womb, that is!). Welcome, Baby Zoey Marie, and may your first race be an awesome one.
Sponsor Update: Townsend Bell fills in for Justin Wilson in the #22 Valspar machine. JR Hildebrand will have part of his car a camo pink in honor of women in the military. Dario Franchitti is in a Downy Unstoppables car, and Fuzzy’s Vodka returns with Buddy Rice. Ryan Briscoe will have the Transitions Adaptive Lenses livery, while Wade Cunningham has Air Ride Pallet (ARP) on his sidepods. Mike Conway will again have @FollowAndretti on his sidepods.
Best-Looking Car: Fuzzy’s Vodka gets the nod with Buddy Rice in the #44, but I do like the Valspar #22 for Townsend Bell as well.
Pole: I think Scott Dixon keeps things interesting in the overall title hunt this weekend…
Winner: ….but I’m going for an upset win this week. I’d love to say Dan Wheldon, but let’s save it for Vegas. How about Tony Kanaan, though an Ed Carpenter win would be most fitting.
I’ll be at Kentucky Speedway for the race, so if you see me bumming around in an IndyCar Advocate shirt, be sure to say hi! I’ll be at the INDYCAR Nation tailgate that morning as well. Have a great weekend, and if you’re anywhere close to Kentucky, I hope you decide to make the trip!