In last year's final race of the Izod IndyCar Series season, Ryan Hunter-Reay capitalized on a crash by Will Power to win the championship by three points after Power entered the race with a 17 point lead.
On Friday, the 2013 season kicked off with practices for Sunday's season-opening race at St. Petersburg. Power was atop the speed charts. Hunter-Reay was second; the two drivers who battled for the championship through the final weeks once again at the top of the heap. Doesn't that sound an awful lot like the Sprint Cup Series?
For Power, it was the second straight year he's come up just short in the final race. In 2011, it was to Dario Franchitti. Power is a monster on the series' road and street courses. Hunter-Reay is no slouch himself, but where he and Franchitti have kept up with Power is on ovals. When Hunter-Reay made his summer charge with three straight victories, two of them came at Iowa and Milwaukee, tracks where Power finished 23rd and 12th.
Is this the year for Power? I certainly think so. Here's a guess as to what the top 10 will look like in the points standings at the end of the year.
1. Power: The third time will finally be a charm. After losing by 18 points in 2011, the deficit was 3 in 2012. No, it doesn't mean that Power will win by 12 in 2013, but Power will enter the season's final race with enough of a cushion to not have to worry about deja vu happening all over again. And he wins on Sunday.
2. Hunter-Reay: I know, I know, I'm really going out on a limb here with the top two, but there's no reason to think Hunter-Reay won't win multiple races again. And he's now the de-facto American face of open-wheel racing. His continued success is important for the series.
3. Helio Castroneves: Castroneves only finished outside of the top 10 three times and was one of just four drivers to win multiple races, yet he was fourth a year ago. That's because he finished on the podium just three times compared to six apiece for the top three.
4. Scott Dixon: This is going to be Dixon's 11th season in the IndyCar Series and he's amassed 28 wins in his first 10 years. Yet he's only 32 and just signed a contract extension with Ganassi. He's got a title or two still in his future.
5. James Hinchcliffe: Sorry dude, you're never going to get the ubiquity as the IndyCar face of GoDaddy that Danica did. (I wonder why?) But you are going to win a race for the first time in your career. And what if it happened at Toronto?
6. Dario Franchitti: This is actually one spot above where Franchitti finished last season. and his only win was at Indianapolis (not a bad place to get your lone victory). You want a staggering statistic? Franchitti started first five times. Those five races he finished 15th, 19th, 25th (engine expired before the race began), 17th and 6th. Crazy.
7. Simon Pagenaud: Given how well Pagenaud performed last year, it's only a matter of time until he gets his first victory too. But given the series' 19 races and the monopoly that the top four had on victory lane last season by winning 13 of the 15 races on the schedule, Pagenaud may have to wait another year.
8. Graham Rahal: He's moved from Ganassi after a year to his father's team and hasn't won since he won his first ever IndyCar race in 2008. Whether or not he wins again may depend on how far off Rahal-Letterman Lanigan Racing is from Penske and Ganassi.
9. Marco Andretti: Last season was Andretti's first finish outside the top 10 since 2007. The reason? His average finish was three spots lower than his average start.
10. Simona de Silvestro: She's not saddled with the lemon that was the Lotus engine any longer. In her first season with KV Racing, she will be the team's highest finishing driver.