As the IZOD IndyCar season winds down to its last four events, a clearer picture is presenting itself as to just who the final combatants are for the championship. The top three in points have separated themselves somewhat from the rest of the pack and they are: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and Will Power.
After the race at Edmonton where Castroneves won (source - Hamilton Spectator) - subsequent to coming in second three out-of-four times - and Power battling from 17th to fight his way on to the podium; Hunter-Reay (who was seventh in Edmonton) now has just a 23 point cushion over Castroneves with Power only another three points back. The champion will likely be one of these three drivers.
Dixon or Hinchcliffe?
There are other drivers who certainly aren't mathematically out of the running. Scott Dixon is fourth in the standings and at 61 markers back, undoubtedly could move up from that deficit as could James Hinchcliffe who is fifth and 75 points back. But inconsistencies (poor finishes) have dogged both drivers of late and that's why it appears less and less likely either can win the 2012 title.
So that brings us back to our top three. Each has won multiple times this season along with having a knack for getting to the front.
The points leader, Hunter-Reay, has been very consistent - at least up until he won three races in-a-row - launching him from seventh to the top of the point standings. Castroneves has done a marvelous job of staying near the front with only two of his 11 finishes this year outside the Top 10. Power started the season winning the second, third and fourth events and had the points lead until Hunter-Reay's streak but is still very capable of victories, especially on the street-road courses.
If you want to find a chink in the armor, when viewing the upcoming schedule, none of the three leading drivers have prior successes to lean on. They are okay at Mid-Ohio but Sonoma and Baltimore aren't shining examples on their resumes. And then interestingly enough regarding Fontana, Hunter-Reay and Power have never even raced at the facility. Castroneves has eight appearances at Fontana but other than a couple poles, he has only one top five to show for his all his work.
No Target Ganassi
Okay, Scott Dixon fans, do you want to know if your driver can win the title? If they can rid themselves of the nagging problems that have plagued most of the Chip Ganassi teams this year, there's good news. Dixon has won three of five at Mid-Ohio, he has a win at Sonoma, he was fifth last year at Baltimore and he's never finished outside the Top 10 at Fontana.
By the way, you'll notice there's one name not being mentioned. The series defending and four-time champion Dario Franchitti has essentially been out of the running all year (currently over 100 points behind in the standings), except for his Indy 500 win. Yet another Target Ganassi car that has been inconsistent all year.
My money is on the top three. Hunter-Reay needs another victory to truly grab control of this championship. If Castroneves is within ten points of the lead going into the finale at Fontana, he should be the favorite to win it all. But if Power can put together a couple wins on these next three street and road courses - which he is more than capable of - this should be his championship to lose.
Next race is Mid-Ohio on Sunday August 5th at 1:00 PM Eastern time and will be broadcast live on ABC.
Sources - Racing Reference, IndyCar
Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus for several years has blogged about every type of racing.