Friday, October 7, 2011

IndyCar Points Battles: One To Go

Wednesday, I talked a bit about the battles over TEAM positions, as a few entries are still fighting to ensure they’re in the Top 22 and eligible for TEAM funds for 2012. Going into the last race, there are many more points battles being fought on the driver side of things. Here’s a few of the key fights that will be resolved next weekend in Las Vegas:

The Battle For First
Obviously, this is the biggest one. Will Power held the lead over Dario Franchitti going into Kentucky, only to now find himself 18 points behind going into the finale. Power should still be fast at Las Vegas, but Dario has experience and usually luck on his side. Still, with a crowd field (and pit row!), this one could switch very quickly.

The Battle For Fifth
With Scott Dixon and Oriol Servia respectively locking up P3 and P4 in Kentucky, the next big battle is all about finishing in the Top 5. Tony Kanaan has suffered a late-season fade, and now sits only two points ahead of Ryan Briscoe for the spot. Both drivers have been hit-and-miss this year, with sparkling results following poor outings, and vice versa. Ryan Hunter-Reay has a chance at this spot as well, sitting only 19 points behind Kanaan and on a strong second-half kick. Marco Andretti is 29 points behind, but needs a great result and some luck to make it happen.

The Battle For Tenth
Danica Patrick currently holds P10 in the standings over Helio Castroneves by two points. Helio has certainly struggled this year, but he’s still going to be in play any time he’s on the track with Penske Racing. Only 10 points behind Helio sits James Hinchcliffe, looking to both secure Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors and squeak past for a Top 10. If he can race like he did at Kentucky, he’s got a chance at both. Both Takuma Sato and Hildebrand (5 and 6 points behind Hinch) lurk just behind in P13 and P14, still within striking distance. Graham Rahal sits in P9, 6 points ahead of Danica, and would like to ensure he stays ahead with a good final result.

The Battle For The Top 15
Things get really cluttered deep in the standings. Alex Tagliani missed a race, but is still in a tie with JR Hildebrand for P14. Vitor Meira sits only 9 points behind them. Basically, the entire situation in the back of the field is fluid. Hildebrand or Sato could make the Top 10, or they could fall out of the Top 15.

Consider this: between Patrick (P10, 359 points) and Tagliani/Hildebrand (T14, 296 points), there’s a swing of only 18 points. This is a race where 9 cars will finish 25 or worse, resulting in only 10 points earned. Just over a quarter of the field will earn minimal points. What does that mean? It means there are going to be some good drivers who end up scoring pretty poorly. They’ll have to watch from sidelines, hoping their nearest point rival follows their example. Expect a lot of folks to rise and fall down the point standings before this is all over. We’ve come all this way this season, and yet so much of the field remains within striking distance of one another. I happen to think that’s pretty exciting stuff.

Have a great weekend, and get geared up for what should be a championship week to remember in INDYCAR.

Tag missed a race, but he can still move on up.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

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