Welcome to championship week! In five short days the checkered flag will fall on the 2012 season and new, first time champion will be crowned. Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California will be the site of the final battle that the drivers will contest this year, and it is shaping up to be quite the nail biting season finale we always wish for when the season kicks off. Unsurprisingly, Will Power will be fighting came-from-nowhere opponent Ryan Hunter-Reay for the championship in yet another patented indycar season finale. The two-part super preview will cover the contenders of the various honors to be decided this weekend, and Thursday will have a more straight forward race preview.
Ryan Hunter-Reay – The better oval driver? Possibly, but there is more to this tale than meets the eye. RHR only has seven top five finishes in 49 starts on ovals whereas Will Power has eight. Not to mention, Power got there in 31 races. But Power has done all of this with Penske power. Hunter-Reay has pushed through a career of lack luster teams and subpar equipment before finally landing his ride at Andretti. And for the first time, he may be relaxed and confident in his abilities. RHR has claimed two oval victories in the new package and looks to finally be settled into his new home and ready to take a championship. But this weekend is a must win; a finish outside of the top two really opens the door for Power to clinch by just surviving.
Will Power – The Penske driver sits a handful of points ahead of Hunter-Reay and the 2012 championship race has shades of 2010 written all over it. That year, a good finish could have clinched the championship for Power. It was not to be and a wrecked racecar was all that Power had to show for himself. Two years later and Power is in survival mode again, but the style of oval racing will play more into his hands than ever before. An entire season of learning and development has put him in as best a position he could ever want to be in. I am one who believes the Texas two-step races deserve an asterisks and this weekend would be the perfect time to legitimize himself in the oval racing ranks. Survival will nearly ensure the championship if RHR misses the podium, but a win would make it so much sweeter.
Lots ‘o contenders – There are eight drivers in mathematical contention for the Oval honors assuming Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan, who are both tied for P1 with 136 points, score a maximum of 12 points each. Barring minimum points scored for both of those guys, James Hinchcliffe is the only other driver with a real shot at the championship. The Canadian sits 15 back, but a podium would almost be needed to grant any realistic shot at winning the honors.
The other guys: Helio -23, Wilson -24, Dixon -27, Broscoe -28, and Rahal -31, would need multiple miracles to usurp season championship hopeful Ryan Hunter-Reay in this side quest. Point’s co-leader Kanaan could easily take the honors, but his KV Racing ride isn’t always consistent and the Brazilian will definitely not want to help decide the main champion by racing too hard for the oval championship. If RHR win the main championship, he will win the oval trophy as well. A lose-lose situation is the only other outcome for Hunter-Reay’s probable checkers or wreckers run on Sunday.
Chevy – The American manufacturer clinched the honors more than a few races ago and now they are powering the two championship hopefuls and will almost certainly be powering the oval champion. All in all not a bad year, but in some execs eyes could be seen as a failure for not winning the Indy 500. We should not forget why everyone is really competing in the series.
Rookie of the Year
Simon Pagenaud – Not much to say here other than: are you really surprised? The guy has a second place overall finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a second overall finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring, an LMP2 win at Petit, two Spa 1000km overall wins, an ALMS championship, and an Atlantics championship. The guy is legit and doesn’t even have to show up to clinch ROTY honors considering he sits P5 in the championship and his closest competitor, Josef Newgarden, sits P23. The other possible rookie, Rubens Barrichello, sits P11 and would not have been a threat if he had been classified as a rookie; no asterisks needed here. A win would be the perfect way to end a remarkable sophomore freshman year in American open-wheel racing indycar racing.
EJ Viso – The third KV Racing driver sits P20 in the championship, and if I was a betting man I would say this is the TEAM money cut off line. Collecting 234 points across the 14 events thus far there isn’t much chance that James Jakes, 20 points back, will be able to outscore Viso enough to pass him in the hunt to be in the top 20. I’m not sure how much finishing in the money affects Viso’s 2013 plans considering he is thinking about team ownership, but missing TEAM money will most likely spell the end of James Jakes poor indycar career. There are other possibilities to how TEAM money could be distributed in 2013, but without more to go on everything is speculation.
The manufacturer’s championship and Rookie of the Year honors are all sewn up and all that is left is a race for the final two championship trophies. No matter how deep the talent pool is, or how lopsided the championship may seem throughout the year, it amazes me that we can have such incredible and down to the wire championships year in and out. And the fact that it is mostly filler free racing only adds to the luster of our championship. Five days followed by a six or seven month offseason it a tough reality only made bearably by the championship coming down to the wire. This is why I love indycar racing.