I know, I know, it's been a while. The latter half of this summer, distractions have kept me from blogging, reading other blogs, or getting bogged down in discussions of the more contentious news developments in the Indycar series. Don't worry, however, as the weather is cooling and there will be plenty to talk about as we face what may be open-wheel racing's most important season in a long, long time.
If I haven't blogged or kept up with my fellow internet commenters, I have kept up with the series. In what may be a minor miracle, I've been able to watch every race in its entirety since Indy. It's certainly a letdown knowing that Sunday will mark the end of the season. And what a season it's been. Pegged by many as a lame duck, interim season that would only serve as a placeholder until the new cars arrive in 2012, I feel that 2011 has been one of the more fascinating seasons on record.
Once again, the two dominant drivers of the past half-decade go into the season finale with the championship up for grabs. Said dominators don't have any competition for the championship, but not for want of trying. Both have suffered from bad luck and made puzzling mistakes. A number of other drivers and teams have come on strong, and some of the usual suspects have faltered. Oriol Servia, Graham Rahal, and Tony Kanaan have produced far more than had been expected of them. Scott Dixon looks to be a lock for third place, but that doesn't reflect on his mediocre (for him) season. Two of the three Penske teams have yet to win this year, and at least one will end the season shut out. There is more to discuss on that front, and I will, but I want to focus on the championship battle that will overshadow the rest of the weekend.
Late in the season, Will Power overcame a 50 point deficit to take the lead from Dario Franchitti thanks to his own strong road course performances and poor results on Dario's part. With the oval monkey kicked off his back in Texas, Power went to Kentucky looking to maintain or build on that lead and make himself the favorite in Vegas. An ill-timed pit exit by Ana Beatriz changed that. Franchitti finished second and came away with a solid lead.
Conventional wisdom holds that Power dominates on road courses, while Franchitti excels on the ovals. Despite a win at Texas this year, Power still seems to struggle on the ovals and has a history of making mistakes under pressure (Homestead, 2010). Franchitti runs as well as anyone on the ovals, despite uncharacteristic mistakes there and elsewhere this year. The Versus broadcast crew thought that Power's momentum would be the deciding factor, but I'd submit that Beatriz' nose cone pierced that thought.
My pick: Dario Franchitti for his 4th and third consecutive championship. Not that Power wouldn't be a deserving champion, but he needs improved (consistent) performance on the ovals and better luck to do it.
For the race win: That's the subject of another blog post.
I don't plan to leave you out in the cold like that again. Look for another post or two from me this week, plus some post-season thoughts next week and beyond,