Monday, September 23, 2013

IndyCar Mailbag: Dempsey, IndyCar Championship

I wrote a piece for INDYCAR Nation last week opining on Peter Dempsey's odds in making it in IndyCar, and I received a nice email from someone on it. I thought I'd answer over here, and that makes it an occasion for another IndyCar Mailbag! That's right, just like Robin Miller's Mailbag, but with 100% fewer people crying about the lack of Novis in the field.

Hey Zach, loved your article on Peter Dempsey. His win on Carb Day was among my favorite moments ever at the track. I know he's been in the minors/ladder for a while now, but is there seriously any openings for him in the year to come? I'd really like to see him at least at Indianapolis or Fontana. I hope we see more articles on 2014 IndyCar soon! 

-Wayne C.
Marion, IN

My buddy Steve Wittich (who is doing incredible work over at OpenWheelWorld; add it to your daily reads if it isn't already), made a great observation the other day: at this time of year, it seems like all the Firestone Indy Lights drivers have "something cooking" for 2014. Isn't that the truth? 

In reality, it's tough to peg down at this point just where someone's going to be. I expect teams such as KV Racing to possibly have a seat open (although precisely what they're doing, if anything next year, still seems up in the air), and of course, there's always the second Coyne car, which is great for getting seat time for rookies and veterans alike. I don't think we'll see more than 1-2 cars added next year, if that, but you'd think an Indy deal would be a possibility for him. I'll be honest: I don't the guy's financial status and backing, any more than you do. My gut tells me we'll see him at some point next year, but I balk pretty hard at seeing anything full-time offhand. I'd love to be 100% on the latter portion of that statement. Peter Dempsey would be great fun to watch in IndyCar, and I'd say he's earned his shot. 

Anyhow, here's one from a week ago that's a pretty good question in its own rights.

So how many drivers are still seriously in the championship hunt?

-James Kern

I've seen some confusion about this in recent weeks online, so let's go over the basics first. Technically, there are 10 drivers still eligible for the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship: Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Justin Wilson, Dario Franchitti, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power, and Charlie Kimball. Note I wrote "technically". While Will Power and Charlie Kimball are mathematically eligible, for example, they're 130 and 138 points behind Helio Castroneves, which means they'd have to sweep Houston and have most of the other competitors be swallowed by a freak Houston sinkhole to have a puncher's chance going into the finale at Fontana.

Out of the current competitors, I really limit it to the Top 5 of Helio, Dixie, Simon, Marco, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. 74 points separates these competitors, and after RHR, there's a 34-point dropoff next to Wilson (though Justin should be very good at Houston). If a driver wins a race, he'll be scoring 50 points, plus the bonus for laps led and/or pole. So, assuming guys like Helio and Dixon aren't going to completely wipe out in both races, their nearest competitors aren't going to gain 100 points on the weekend. Really, though, it's all about Helio: if he just finishes Top 10 in both races, he's probably ok, unless one of the four guys I mention go on a tear in both races.

The magic number for someone to have an arguably decent chance going into the last race is probably a 25-30 point differential--that's what I'd call "striking distance". I suspect you'll see all but 4-5 drivers eliminated by the time we get to Fontana. Look for those drivers able to close the gap enough where they don't need to both win and have Helio finish dead last at Fontana to make the victory happen.

As always, thank you for the emails. Questions, comments, concerns can be sent to mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com. Now if you'll excuse me, I just saw an email come in with the subject line "WHERE IS THE NOVI??!>!!!?!!!?". Uh oh...

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