Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Closer Look At IndyCar’s Contenders

Here we are, five races from the end of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, and we still have seven drivers that may be reasonably considered as still part of the hunt for the Series Championship. That in and of itself is pretty exciting, but it’s also interesting to take a quick peek at the stats behind each of these challengers.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, and Simon Pagenaud have each fairly high up the mountain, but they took several different paths in getting there. Here’s a snapshot of each driver’s current championship points, wins, Top 3 finishes, Top 5s, Top 10s, average finishing position, and number of finishes at or below P20:

So what does this tell us?

-Ryan Hunter-Reay is on fire after three straight victories, but it’s the early good finishes that deserve a bit of attention as well in this championship race. Yes, he’s finished P20 or worse twice, but outside that, he’s done no worse than P12 all year. Compare that to Will Power, who just as many victories, the same number of P20 or worse finishes, but has an average finish position two spots worse than that of RHR (8.1 vs. 10.1 for Power).

-Power has the added problem of no podiums to add to those three victories. There seems to be no second place for Will; he’s either going to win handily or be somewhat removed from the very front. Hunter-Reay, on the other hand, has two other podiums to complement his trifecta.

-After a 2011 season in which he seemed to be punting more than Pat McAfee, Helio Castroneves has had a cleaner season, and has been the most consistent driver in the Series this year, finishing more laps than anyone else. The only truly “poor” finish this year was a P17 at Detroit. He hasn’t won since the opener, and hasn’t had a podium since Alabama, but he’s hit the Top 10 almost every week. The dream of his first IndyCar title is still alive for simply that reason. His average finish is a 7.3, the best of all the competitors.

-Scott Dixon has 5 Top 5s, but no additional Top 10s. Basically, there seems to be no middle ground for him this year. Either he’s on or close to the podium, or he’s out of contention. His average finish of 10.5 so far is the worst among the top contenders. That’s frankly uncharted territory for a driver with Dixie’s reputation for smoothness and consistency.

-The seasons of James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan largely mirror each other. Both have the same average finishing position, and both drivers are still in contention, despite not having won a race. Neither driver has had many poor finishes (only 2 apiece at P20 or lower), but both likely need either a host of mistakes in front of them or a string of wins and podiums to grab the championship. Both guys have been reliably good so far this year, but for the title, there needs to be a flash of something even better.

-Simon Pagenaud also doesn’t have a win, but has been even more consistent than Hinch or TK. His 7.9 average finish is second only to Helio among contenders. However, while he’s been excellent in his rookie year, the reason he isn’t higher seems to be that his highs aren’t quite as good as TK or Hinch. He’s finished P12 three times, and P16 once, which is why his point could be slightly higher than they are now. Still, it’s proper to include him with Hinchcliffe and Kanaan as three drivers that could be at the fore of this title hunt in just a weekend or two with a win.

Now let’s look at why our driver in P8, Dario Franchitti, isn’t in contention right now:

Anything jump out at you? His wins and Top 3s look ok, compared to the rest of the contenders, but his average finish is 12.1, over a spot and a half worse than the worst contender average. His finishes at/under P20 are deceptive, showing only 1, but Franchitti has P15 at Long Beach, P19 at Milwaukee, and P17 at Toronto, which haven’t helped that average one bit.

The issue is, unlike Scott Dixon or Will Power (who also have had some poor finishes), Dario doesn’t have enough other quality finishes to make up for it. You can argue he’s less than 40 points back from drivers such as Pagenaud, but that’s a big line of demarcation with five races left on the schedule.

Of course, trends can always change. The last fraction of Will Power’s 2010 and 2011 seasons looked different from the majority of it, after all. In a sense, we can tell how we got here, but it’s still up to the drivers chasing the championship to tell us where we end up.

1 comment:

  1. Ken @AbuelosDeTreceJuly 12, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    Nice read Again as usual! One thing I think we should watch is those that have climbed up the standings from the start. Tony Kanaan had a terrible start to the season, being near last after the first two races, but just like most individual races he is now in 6th and still moving forward. I guess we can call it the experience factor... something that doesn't show in most stats... an intangable. There are a few drivers that have this intangable, so as has been quoted many times... "It ain't over 'til it's over"... and I have no clue who will win the title. With the way so many parts and engines have just quit this season... his whole thing could flip-flop at any momment, and someone as far back as Ed Carpenter could win the title (Mathematically speaking of course). What a great season!