Hey, you know what time it is. It's IndyCar's Championship Weekend, and there's plenty to cover for the MAVTV 500 and beyond. Let's jump right in:
The Main Event: Scott Dixon. Helio Castroneves. Only one of these guys is going to be the 2013 IndyCar Champion, and until Houston, you would have been hard-pressed to persuade me it wouldn’t be Helio. Now, he’s staring down the barrel of a 25-point deficit, and he needs a good day and a rare Scott Dixon miscue or moment of bad luck to make this happen. Unfortunately for Helio, Dixie almost always finishes the season on a strong note.
The Other Main Event: 18 year-old Indy Lights rookie Sage Karam has a 16-point lead over Gabby Chaves, as Indy Lights will finish up on the verge of a new era in 2014, as they’ll have their first full season under Dan Andersen. Will Karam take home the scholarship prize, or will Chaves have enough to get past him? With nine cars entered this weekend, one of the contenders can still be wiped out by an early miscue—something both drivers have largely avoided in actual races this season. It’s my suspicious we’ll see one of these two young men at least at Indianapolis next year, so get ready to pencil one of these guys in somewhere on your silly season worksheets.
Happy Trails: There will be plenty of partings after the finale. Sebastien Bourdais is going to KV, who in turn is losing Tony Kanaan to Chip Ganassi’s outfit. It sounds as if we’ve seen the National Guard’s last sponsorship of a Panther Racing car, as they move to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for 2014. The Ganassi organization is jumping to Chevy; the Andrettis may be jumping to Honda, and there are any number of other drivers who might find themselves in new employment (or without a ride) after the season. And of course, IZOD is also finishing up as title sponsor. One thing is for sure—the teams, affiliations, and driver locations will look very different from now at St. Pete next spring.
Additions: Of course, much has already been made of Penske Racing adding AJ Allmendinger as a third entry for this race, which if things work out right could be another position between Dixon and clinching the title. Alex Tagliani gets to show off his oval chops subbing for Dario in the #10, and Pippa Mann joins us once more for the finale in the #18 Dale Coyne Car. JR Hildebrand is also back with Team Barracuda. This is going to be a fun weekend with the additions, for sure.
Livery Watch: A.J. Allmendinger is back in the #2 IZOD car, while Graham Rahal is back in the primarily yellow-and-black Midas livery. Marco Andretti is back in one of my favorites, the Dr. Pepper car, while Helio will contend for the title in the blue-and-white Auto Club livery.
Let's Talk Scheduling: There's probably more time for this after the season ends, but what did everyone think of the schedule announcement yesterday? I like how the ovals are spaced out a bit more, and overall, compacting IndyCar's calendar year should mean there's no "barren month". The longer offseason won't be fun, but all in all, it's what we expected. Let's see how the re-positioning over the next two seasons plays out.
Completely Useless Fact: Last year's Fontana pole position marked Marco Andretti's first pole earned since 2008 (Milwaukee). He's had two since since last year's finale.
Pole Prediciton: Tag. You know he’s going to go hard with this opportunity.
Winner Prediction: Helio. I think he’ll do everything he can…but I think Scott Dixon will also be right behind him.
Dark Horse Prediction: I'm not giving up on Marco, but let's go with Justin Wilson. He’s going to make it happen.
Championship Prediction: The heart says Helio; the head can’t ignore Scott Dixon’s end-of-season performances.
I guess we’ll go over the weekend on Monday, and transition into IndyCar Winter/Offseason/Silly Season mode. Say it ain’t so…