Friday, August 24, 2012

Pack racing: Many still in hunt for IndyCar title

Sonoma, California – Honk if you’re still in the running for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship … Enough, I can’t hear myself think!

With only three races to go in the up-and-down IndyCar season, no less than 15 drivers still have a mathematical chance of winning the series crown.  That’s quite a statistic considering that driver Dario Franchitti has virtually owned the series for most of the past five seasons (with a timeout taken to go to NASCAR in 2008).

The long list of contenders likely will be cut dramatically at Sunday’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.  The twisting permanent road course in California’s Wine Country has a way of slapping down the competition, and this year probably will be no different.  Here, you can find your championship hopes vanishing amid the flying dirt of a spin in the first turn.

Team Penske’s Will Power finds himself in the familiar position of being primed to win the championship.  Incredibly, Power has seen the trophy vanish with mishaps in the pits for two years running.

Power leads surprising contender Ryan Hunter-Reay by just five points.  Huster-Reay’s midseason burst has put him in position to win the yearlong grand prize.  But three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon are likewise poised to step up with strong finishes here.

The Sonoma course has been tweaked to offer more passing opportunities, so that alone should add to the drama as the pack hustles for the top prize on Sunday.

At some point, I have to believe Power is going grab the IndyCar title that has eluded him the past two years.  He’s shown himself capable during all that time, and he’s pretty much claimed the title of best road racer in the series.  Now, if that usual Team Penske efficiency kicks in and Power keeps it between the lines, it should be a cakewalk for Power.

Right?  Well, maybe.  This is IndyCar racing, after all.

I confess that I’m already thinking ahead to next year and the promised aero packages.  I’m just hoping they don’t mess up the good thing we saw at this year’s Indianapolis 500, where the big holes punched in the air by the new cars provided plentiful passing opportunities and as competitive an Indy 500 as we’ve seen in years.

The 500 is still the jewel of the series, by far … the time when otherwise casual IndyCar fans are paying attention.  Here’s hoping the 2013 race can match the drama of 2012.

For now, things need to get settled in Sonoma.  My money is on Power to take the race, and ultimately, the series title.

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