Thursday, October 13, 2011

IndyCar World Championships Preview

With an extended schedule in place for the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships at Las Vegas (cars will practice today, qualify Friday), I decided to release our Las Vegas Preview a day early this week. Simply put, we’re in for a great weekend, by all accounts. Great storylines, a fast track that should allow for passing, battles all over the place, and a packed field with veterans, rookies, and journeyman.

Really, whether you’re at home or in Las Vegas, this is a great weekend to just celebrate INDYCAR. It’s definitely the most hype we’ve seen for an event since Indy, and whether you love or hate the outgoing Dallara, this is the farewell song for IndyCar’s old workhorse. There will be multiple teams fighting for the win, and every underdog will be thinking “maybe, just maybe, I can do what Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter did…”.

Hope springs eternal. This is a great time to celebrate being an INDYCAR fan, and to introduce someone to it—although I still say a trip to Pole Day or Bump Day, if not the 500, is always the clincher. Enjoy what we have, and enjoy watching some of the faces in this field get their one shot at glory, others potentially close out their careers, and still others aim for closing out the year on a high, promising note.

Here are some other items on this week and weekend’s action:

There Can Be Only One: Obviously, the big fight this weekend is for the IndyCar championship, with Dario Franchitti coming in with an 18 point lead over Will Power. Both drivers should be fast, but 18 points is a big deficit to come back from. A single incident on track or in the pits, though, and this one could change in a hurry.

There Can Be Only One, Junior Edition: JR Hildebrand. James Hinchcliffe. One of these two drivers will be Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Hinch has a 6-point lead, but Hildebrand is on Panther Racing, who knows a their way around a 1.5 mile oval. The ROY  winner will be whichever driver acts least like a rookie out there.

$5 Million Challenge: So, can Dan do it? That's the question we're all asking. Although it's going to be tough, it'll be exciting to see what sort of run he gets early in the race coming from P34. Avoiding early incidents as he moves up through the back of the pack will be big; no one wants to see his day (and the promise of a cool $5 mil) end on Lap 4 due to a one-off entry careening off a wall. Wheldon doesn't have to do a thing to cement his status as an Indy Legend--but pulling this off would put him in Epic territory.

Danica’s Farewell: At Kentucky during driver announcements, Danica was greeting with a mixture of cheers and boos. One of the most polarizing figures in American open wheel history is leaving the sport. Will she challenge for the lead, as she did at last year’s season finale? Will she keep her no-DNF streak alive and snag another Top 10? The time to analyze what her departure and tenure means to INDYCAR is for a later time, but if ABC inexplicably yet again cuts away to her car in mid-pack during an intense 3-way battle for the lead, just breathe and remind yourself “one more race…”. Either way, this is it for Danica full-time in the series.

Sarah Fisher Racing Returns: Coming off that INCREDIBLE win in Kentucky, Sarah Fisher Racing has reloaded for Las Vegas, with Tomas Scheckter in the #57 Angie's List special car as Ed Carpenter's teammate. This should be a fun duo to watch on track.

Still Looking For That Win: Teams from KV Racing to Newman/Haas to Panther Racing are still looking to gain a victory this year. The exciting thing is, all three teams mentioned are completely capable of making it happen. There have been times this year when drivers such as Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, James Hinchcliffe, Oriol Servia, and JR Hildebrand have all been fast enough to win. It hasn’t happened for them yet, but they aren’t quite yet finished.

Andretti Finishing Strong?: Marco Andretti looked to be in contention last week until his pit incident. Ryan Hunter-Reay almost grabbed another podium at Kentucky. Can this team find enough to make it 4 victories on the season? You have to think Marco and RHR will at least be strong, and Danica should have enough for at least a Top 10.

TEAM Battle: As I mentioned last week, the battle for the Top 22 spots is anything but finished. Keep a close eye on EJ Viso, Simona de Silvestro, Charlie Kimball, and Ana Beatriz. An early exit by any one of these drivers could decide their fate as far as their entries' TEAM funding next year is concerned.

Simona and HVM: Still not in the clear.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Iron Man Mike: The Series will be honoring 6 year-old "Iron Man Mike" Michael Wanser during the Las Vegas race. For those of you who haven't heard, Iron Man Mike is a the brave young son of Target Chip Ganassi Team Manager Barry Wanser. He's given leukemia a tremendous, inspirational fight, and his story has touched a lot of lives. If you've got kids this weekend, spend some time with them, tell them you love them, and maybe watch the race together.

Resources: If you’re looking for a nice illustration of precisely what’s at stake and where different drivers can finish, check out this page over at indycar.com. Also, this thread at TrackForum will come in handy for visitors and viewers alike.

Best Livery: Paul Tracy’s #8 Motegi Wheels ride and Mike Conway’s #27 Grime Boss cars are both really nice designs as well as examples of what you can do with a black base on a car. However, as regular readers may know, nothing compares with the glory that is the Dad’s Root Beer livery of the #22 Dreyer and Reinbold car. Be worthy of those colors, Townsend Bell. Be worthy.

Let's Make It 36: Bertrand Baguette and Martin Plowman, you are not forgotten.It'd be great to have them both in the field for this one. 2012, guys (virtual fist bump).

Pole: Will Power had a wickedly fast car at Kentucky, and he should have the same at Las Vegas.

Winner: I like Scott Dixon's odds. He won last year's finale, and I don't see why he can't do the same here.

My Sentimental Pick: As you might have guessed from my article yesterday, I’d like to see Oriol Servia or James Hinchcliffe bring this one home. Newman/Haas has been in the mix all year, and it’s time to see them at the top of the podium again.

Champion: Since before Kentucky I’ve been preaching how Dario’s veteran experience and luck will likely win out in the points battle. That said, every time we think we have this season figured out, something happens to surprise us (See: Long Beach, Indy, Iowa, New Hampshire, Kentucky). The head says Dario, the heart says Will. We’ll see what those crowded pits and Lady Luck say about who walks way as this year’s champ.

Let's enjoy the weekend, make it a quality one, and meet back on Monday to talk about how it all went down.

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