Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Projecting The Course: IndyCar's Title Fight

With four race weekends left in the IZOD IndyCar Series 2013 campaign, there are three drivers we can reasonably assume still have a solid shot at the title. Helio Castroneves is in the driver’s seat, leading second-place Scott Dixon by 31 points, and third-place Ryan Hunter-Reay by a margin of 65 points.

Usually, we can look at a driver’s history at a track or tracks, and get a reasonable projection of how they may fare on a given race weekend. What makes looking at this year’s title fight so unique, however, is that we’re fairly starved for data when it comes to that. We have no usable data for Houston, and only a single recent race at Fontana to attempt to parlay into a reasonable projection.

Still, let’s have a go at it. I’ve looked at the last three years of finishes for Sonoma, the last two years for Baltimore, and last year’s event for Fontana. Here’s the average finish at each event for each contender:

Sonoma: Castroneves 4.3, Dixon 6.7, Hunter-Reay 12.0

Baltimore: Castroneves 13.5, Dixon 4.5, Hunter-Reay 4.5

Fontana: Castroneves 5.0, Dixon 3.0, Hunter-Reay 4.0

If each driver nets their average finish at each remaining race, the points would look like this, with only the Houston results to add in:

1) Castroneves 32 (Sonoma-P4)+16 (Baltimore-P14)+30 (Fontana-P5)+453=531
2) Dixon 26 (Sonoma-P7)+30 (Baltimore-P5)+35 (Fontana-P3)+422=513
3) Hunter-Reay 18 (Sonoma-P12)+30 (Baltimore-P5)+32 (Fontana-P4)+388=468

Essentially, if the Houston races are fairly even points-wise and averages hold true as above, Dixon nudges a bit closer, RHR stays pat, and Helio wins the title.

Lets’s see what happens to the points, however, if each driver were to match their best finish at each track of the last three years, again with only Houston not added in:
1) Castroneves 40 (Sonoma-P2)+20 (Baltimore-P10)+30 (Fontana-P5)+453=543
2) Dixon 40 (Sonoma-P2)+32 (Baltimore-P4)+35 (Fontana-P3)+422=529
3) Hunter-Reay 24 (Sonoma-P8)+50 (Baltimore-P1)+32 (Fontana-P4)+388=494

In that scenario, Dixie moves even closer, Hunter-Reay closes the gap, but Helio still wins.

So what does this tell us, if anything?

-Even if he has some awesome finishes, Hunter-Reay still needs a lot of help when it comes to closing the gap.

-Helio needs to just keep on bringing those Top 5s to keep Scott Dixon at bay.

-Dixon is at least in striking distance, though he can’t afford any miscues, either.

-Every race is important, but factoring in a possible max of 100+ points from the Houston weekend is huge—and we have no idea how that’s going to go. That could be a big comeback weekend for someone, or a doubleheader that spells doom. That is not the weekend to be lost on setup.

Don’t forget, Marco Andretti is only 11 points behind Hunter-Reay, as well. He can’t seem to quite close the deal this year, but he’s been as consistent as nearly anyone in the Series. He would likely need an unprecedented string of victories to head into Fontana with a chance, but you never say never.

Ultimately, we can look at stats and numbers all day, but we’ll just need to see which drivers can finish strong. As we learned last year, an IndyCar title fight can be full of surprises.


  1. Great post. I think another way to view it is to ignore the drivers and focus on teams. Which teams are strong on road courses versus teams that excel on long oval races like Fontana. In that context, I like Penske for reasons of consistency (they run well on long ovals). Andretti would need all of its drivers working together at Sonoma, which is a very tight circuit (cost RHR mightily last year). Ganassi seems to run well on street and road courses, although Honda's Pocono form should make Chevy nervous at Fontana.

    1. Thanks, SB. That's true--very easy to get into a lot of potential modifiers of upcoming performance!