Sunday, August 31, 2014

Second Impressions: Fontana and the 2014 IndyCar Season

The season that was IndyCar in 2014
After four hours of sleep, it is time to take another look at last night's MAVTV 500 and really take a look at the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season as a whole. We will take a look at each driver in championship order with Ed Carpenter Racing slipped in where they finished in the entrant's championship.

1.  I'm not sure you can find any complaints about with Will Power's season. Unlike previous seasons where Power would win five or six races but have three or four costly races, this year Power had three wins, led IndyCar in podiums, top tens, pole positions, races led, laps led and average finish. His one bad weekend was Houston but his worst finish all season was fourteenth. He began the season with eight consecutive top tens and ended it with six consecutive top tens. On the weekends Power struggled, his championship contenders also faltered, which is complete opposite from when Power was battling with Franchitti for the title and Franchitti would always capitalize if Power slipped. Despite a slew of penalties for pit lane violations or blocking, Power was able to recover when times got tough and finally took home a championship.

2. To peg where Hélio Castroneves lost the title, all you have to do is look at the final five races. He finished second in race one at Toronto and held a 28-point lead over Power going into race two. Since that podium, the Brazilian finished twelfth, nineteenth, eleventh, eighteenth and fourteenth. He lost the second-most positions from starting position in 2014, losing 66 positions. Only James Hinchcliffe lost more at -75. Add to the fact Castroneves only picked up one victory for the second consecutive year. Winning one race isn't going to be enough. The last driver to win a championship with one victory or fewer was Tony Stewart in 1997 and the last driver to win the title with two or fewer victories was Gil de Ferran in 2001. If you want to win the title, you are going to need at least three wins, something Castroneves hasn't done since 2006.

3. Nobody was on more of a roll at the end of 2014 than Scott Dixon. Eight consecutive top tens, seven of which were top fives. Even better for Dixon was out of his twelve top tens, he had eleven top fives, most in the 2014 IndyCar season. He had a terrible month of May and a terrible Houston weekend. If he corrects those two weak spots from 2014, he will be in contention for his fourth title in 2015.

4. Fourth is fantastic for Juan Pablo Montoya in his comeback season to IndyCar. He still struggles on street circuits. He entered 2014 with an career average finish of 15.5 on street circuits and his average street circuit finish in 2014 was 11.25 with a second at Houston 1 and fourth at Long Beach being his best finishes. Montoya won the 2014 oval championship. I know they don't hand out the trophy anymore but he scored the most points on ovals. Let's not forget to mention Castroneves and Power scored the second and third most points on ovals. Penske will have that going for them in 2015.

5. Simon Pagenaud rarely put a wheel wrong in 2014, which makes it surprising that he barely finished in the top five of the championship. He finished tied for second in top fives and top tens in 2014. The double points caught him out last night as he struggled with the car's handling all night. He scored the second most points on road/street circuits in 2014 but scored the eleventh most points on ovals, despite averaging a 10th place finish in the six races and scoring three top tens on ovals. He is a free agent and we know Andretti Autosport is reportedly going to try and sign the Frenchman away from Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports. If he does leave SPHM, will that be enough to get him the championship?

6. Does winning the Indianapolis 500 make sixth in the championship automatically feel like a secondary championship for Ryan Hunter-Reay? He missed out on fifth in the championship by two points after his spin while running third. Ultimately, if I offered fifth in the championship or winning the Indianapolis 500 and finishing sixth, I think we all know what we would take. If he didn't spin, I definitely think Hunter-Reay would have brought the fight to Kanaan for the victory. He won three races, including the Indianapolis 500 but you have to think Hunter-Reay left a lot on the table. He had six top fives but had six finishes of 18th or worse. Some of those poor finishes were of his doing (Long Beach, both Belle Isle race), others were mechanical (Texas, Pocono, Milwaukee) but if he can turn those dismal races that were of his own doing into top ten, he will be a championship contender in 2015.

7. Ending the season with a victory can sometimes erase all the previous let downs in a season and I think Tony Kanaan's victory does that in some sense. Outside of being caught up in an accident not of his doing at Long Beach, a gearbox issue in the "500" and a first turn spin at Mid-Ohio, Kanaan had a really good year. He had a few races get away from, Pocono and Iowa come to mind but overall, it was a really good year for Kanaan. Finishing seventh in the championship isn't that bad in this current era for IndyCar. This isn't 2005 or 2006 where there were 19 full-time cars. The field is full to the brim with talent, both young and old.

8. Rookie of the Year Carlos Muñoz finished eighth in the championship, the second best Andretti Autosport driver. I think the expectations were outstandingly higher for Muñoz entering this season than all the other rookies because of what he did in three cameos in 2013. He showed signs of being a rookie. There were a few races where he was just completely out of it (Texas and both Toronto races) and that will happen when you are 22 years old. Once again, he is 22 years old. I bet you thought he was older than that. Not a bad start for the Colombian. I think he will make a stride in the right direction in 2015.

8b. Ed Carpenter Racing finished eighth in the entrant's championship behind three combined victories from Ed Carpenter and Mike Conway. This is what I expected out of the British-American duo. Carpenter had four top tens in six races, including his victory at Texas while Conway picked up victories at Long Beach and Toronto 2. However, Conway's two victories were his only top tens of the season and his next best finish was thirteenth (Houston 2 and Mid-Ohio). Conway scored the eleventh most points on road courses while Carpenter scored ten more points than Conway in half of the amount of races. I am not sure if Conway could get away with checkers or wreckers but unless Carpenter wanted to go for the entrant's championship, I am sure he is happy with Conway's results. The question is will Conway return? He is a Toyota reserve driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship and with rumors current Toyota drivers Stéphane Sarrazin and Sébastien Buemi have been approached by Nissan for 2015, he might be in position to land a prime seat for a world championship and Le Mans victory. If Conway does leave, can Carpenter find a driver capable of duplicating his results in 2015?

9. I feel bad for Marco Andretti because unless he wins the Indianapolis 500 or the championship each year everyone will say he only has a ride because of his family. Let's ignore the fact he had as many top tens as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Juan Pablo Montoya this season and more than Muñoz, James Hinchcliffe, Sébastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson, Josef Newgarden and Jack Hawksworth. Don't get me wrong, winning races is crucial but let's recognize Andretti for his ability to be able to bring a car home in one piece toward the front of the field. He is 27 years old. When Will Power was 27 years old he had only two victories to his name and his best championship finish was fourth. Andretti has two victories to his name and his best championship finish is fifth. There is plenty of time left in Andretti's career. Plenty of time.

10. It took nearly seven years for Sébastien Bourdais to get his 32nd victory in IndyCar but he finally got it at Toronto 1. Looking at his results, you feel like Bourdais left a lot on table. Five top fives and seven top tens along with two pole positions but he had six finishes between eleventh and fifteenth. Got to give him and KV Racing credit though considering KV lost Kanaan, to bounce back with tenth in the driver's championship is respectable.

11. Ryan Briscoe's can be summed up like this: Good but not great. Ten top tens and the seventh best average finish but only one top five and led five laps. He finished tied with Bourdais for tenth in the championship but loses the tiebreaker on total victories (Bourdais' 1 to Briscoe's 0). Most races I would see Briscoe in the back half of the top ten but make nothing of it because he wasn't making waves and wasn't a threat to make waves. He is a talented driver but can he improve and become a factor in 2015?

12. James Hinchcliffe ended on a much needed high note with his fifth place finish at Fontana. This was a rough season for the Canadian. Third best average starting position but tied for the twelfth best average finish. If he can continue his qualifying success in 2015 and stay up front, he will be in up there with Power, Castroneves, Dixon, Montoya, Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay battling for a championship instead of on the edge of the back half of the field.

13. Josef Newgarden ended strong with three consecutive top tens to close out the 2014 season. The expectations should be to score a victory with the merged Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing in 2015. He started nine races in the top ten in 2014, seven of those were top five starts. He has the speed, he will be getting at least one, maybe two teammates and possibly will be moving over to Chevrolet, the manufacture that won the final six race in 2014 and twelve of eighteen.

14. This year was a step back for Justin Wilson. After finishing sixth in 2013, the Sheffield-native finished fourteenth this year. Only one top five and seven top tens, which is a respectable amount but he was never in contention for a victory, unlike last year. I am going to write this off as one bad year but if he can't turn it around in 2015, Wilson will officially be on the back nine of his career and the clock will be ticking before a full-time ride will no longer be available. It's a sad thought considering Wilson is one of the nicest and most respected drivers on the grid.

15. For someone who averaged a starting position of 16.411, it is a little surprising Charlie Kimball scored ten top ten finishes. He ended 2014 on a little slump with twelfth place last night at Fontana being his best finish in the final three races. If he can improve on qualifying, he will be in better position in races and should improve on his championship position.

16. Not a bad season for Jack Hawksworth. His highlights were really good runs at St. Petersburg and Long Beach but was taken out in accidents out of his control in each race. He ran really well on the IMS road course and at Houston. He struggled on ovals and that wasn't unexpected. On the bright side he did get a top ten on an oval with a tenth place finish at Milwaukee. I really hope he returns with Bryan Herta Autosport in 2015.

17. Another guy I hope returns in 2015 is Mikhail Aleshin. His massive accident at Fontana aside, Aleshin impressed me the most out of all the rookie. I had seen Muñoz and Hawksworth run Indy Lights and knew what was coming but Aleshin was a little unknown. Other than his 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 title where he beat current Red Bull F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo and current Porsche LMP1 driver Brendon Hartley he really hadn't done much. He was stuck in the European ladder system and was having difficulty replicating the results of that 2010 season on a regular basis. He comes to IndyCar and scores a podium at Houston 2, along with seven top tens, three of which came on ovals, which he had never run before this year. He was immediately labelled a ride buyer or F1 reject but I think we unfairly label those from European backgrounds. There are plenty of talented drivers who don't catch a break. It doesn't mean they aren't good enough, it just means they are overlooked and Aleshin was one that that fell into IndyCar's lap at Formula One's expense.

18. Takuma Sato ended 2014 with consecutive top tens but does it erase the fact he had ten finishes of 18th or worse? He won two pole positions but we know he has the speed, he just lacks the consistency. Will AJ Foyt Racing put up with another year of three or four good finishes in return for a plethora of disappointing races? Honda has been loyal to Sato for years making sure he had a ride somewhere but if I was Foyt, I would want something more in return. Preferably funding for a second car to give a promising driver a shot in decent equipment.

19. After struggling to land the National Guard sponsorship at the start of 2014, Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing struggled all season and now will struggle even more as their $12 million budget is gone and the search is on for funding. A second place in Belle Isle 1 and fifth at their home race at Mid-Ohio as all they have to show for in 2014. You have to feel for all involved. You want to believe it can't get any worse but it continues to go downhill. I hate to say it but Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is the worst team on the IndyCar grid.

20. My jaw is still on the floor that Carlos Huertas won a race this year. Now sure he would have won had Graham Rahal not run over Tony Kanaan at the end of Houston 1 and the race gone green at the end or if Huertas had a legal fuel cell, but we'll never know. Huertas was never a moving chicane and other than this past weekend at Fontana, he never looked out of place on ovals. Three top tens is more than I expected out of him and I would like to see him get a second season to see if he can improve.

21. Sebastián Saavedra's career had so much promise five years ago. Now it will be head scratching if he remains on the grid in 2015. Why Gary Peterson supports Saavedra with his Automatic Fire Sprinklers sponsorship over JR Hildebrand or another young American such as Conor Daly or Sage Karam is beyond me. Saavedra has only 16 lead lap finishes in 56 starts, only one lead lap finish has been on an oval (this year's Indianapolis 500). One top ten is all Saavedra has to show for in 2014 with a pole position on the IMS road course that lasted all of less than a foot as he stalled on the grid and was then run over from behind.

Fun Facts From 2014
Will Power completed all but one of the 2395 laps run in 2014.

Carlos Muñoz and Charlie Kimball are the only full-time drivers who did not lead a lap in 2014.

There were 66 cautions for 323 of 2395 laps in 2014, meaning the pace car led 13.48% of all the laps run in 2014. On average there were 3.666 cautions for 17.94 laps a race in 2014.

There were eleven different winners in 2014, tying the 2000 and 2001 CART seasons for most different winners in a season.

Of the eleven different winners in 2014, three won in either or both 2000 or 2001. Juan Pablo Montoya won three races in 2000 (Milwaukee, Michigan and Gateway). Scott Dixon won one race in 2001, his first career victory his third start at Nazareth. Hélio Castroneves is the only won of the three to win in both 2000 and 2001. He picked up three victories in 2000 including his first career victory at Belle Isle followed by wins at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. He would go on to win three races in 2001 (Long Beach, Belle Isle and Mid-Ohio).

The average starting position for a winner in 2014 was 8.444.

The average amount of lead change for a race in 2014 was 9.777.

The average amount of laps lead for a winner in 2014 was 46.388.

The pole-sitter won three times in 2014 (Juan Pablo Montoya at Pocono, Sébastien Bourdais at Toronto 1 and Will Power at Milwaukee).

The driver who led the most laps won seven times in 2014 (Will Power at St. Petersburg and Milwaukee, Ryan Hunter-Reay at Barber and Indianapolis, Hélio Castroneves at Belle Isle 2, Sébastien Bourdais at Toronto 1 and Scott Dixon at Mid-Ohio).

The driver who set fastest lap in race won twice in 2014 (Power at St. Petersburg and Simon Pagenaud at Houston 2).

A Few Thoughts to End On
Honda has to step up their game. Only six wins out of eighteen races? Not to mention Chevrolet ending on six consecutive victories and a third consecutive manufactures' championship. Let's not forget Honda ran 12 cars at every race while Chevrolet had 10. They are going to figure out a way to take down the Bowtie Brigade.

Time is now ticking for a third engine manufacture to enter for 2016. If it's going to happen it has to been announced a year in advance, so if we don't hear anything by March 2015, it probably won't happen. We've all heard Cosworth is working on something but until it happens it doesn't really matter.

Many rides are unknown. Will Pagenaud head to Andretti, stay with SPHM or leave IndyCar altogether? Will Hinchcliffe have his option picked up? Does Gabby Chaves pick up a ride? What other rookies could be on the 2015 grid? Does Aleshin return? A lot of balls still up in the air.

Aero kits are coming. They should be unveiled this fall. At least we have that to look forward to.

Schedule news for 2015: No Houston, looks like Toronto will take place at Mosport for one year before heading back to Exhibition Place. Another thing to look forward to this autumn.

We also have the new Indy Lights car to look forward to.

I believe we already know the ABC races for 2015: Long Beach, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Indianapolis 500 and Belle Isle. Not to forget mentioning Indianapolis 500 qualifying will be covered by ABC.

Now on to the offseason. However long that may be.

First Impressions: Fontana 2014

1. Will Power has finally won the IndyCar championship. He did it by playing it smart in the final race. He didn't panic. He didn't try to stand the car on it's bloody ear. He drove an intelligent and safe race and methodically worked his way toward the front. Three victories, seven podiums, eight top fives, fifteen top tens and four pole positions for Power in 2014. After so much heart break, Power finally joins the ranks of Foyt, Andretti, Unser, Mears, Mansell, Zanardi, Hornish, Bourdais, Franchitti, Dixon and Hunter-Reay as IndyCar champion.

2. Tony Kanaan picked up his first victory with Ganassi Racing and his seventeenth career victory. It was an up and down year for Kanaan. He very well could have won three or four races in 2014 but at least he got one. He became the eleventh different winner in 2014 meaning this season ties 2000 and 2001 for most different winners in a season. IndyCar is in one of it's most competitive eras, now if only people can acknowledge that.

3. Second place vaulted Scott Dixon to third in the championship. After winning a title, anything but a repeat is a disappointed. Dixon ended 2014 strong, similar to Power ending 2013 on a very high note. Ganassi won three races in the month of August after not winning any from March through July. Let's see how they carry this momentum to 2015.

4. Ed Carpenter comes home in third and the #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet comes home 8th place in the entrant championship. A very great season for Carpenter and Mike Conway. With the team merging with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in 2014, you wonder if they can possibly better three victories and the Indianapolis 500 pole position. We'll have to wait and see.

5. Juan Pablo Montoya ends his return season in IndyCar in fourth place in the race and the championship. This is by far better than I thought Montoya would do. I expected him to be around tenth, a few top fives and that's it but he had a jaw-dropping comeback to open-wheel racing.

6. James Hinchcliffe got the result he needed to end 2014. A fifth-place finish. Hopefully the Canadian can take this result and turn it into momentum for 2015. After three victories last year, one podium is a big disappointment and he will finished twelfth in the championship.

7. At the beginning of the year I though Takuma Sato would be fired before we reached Fontana. He wasn't and finished sixth, a week after finishing fourth at Sonoma. I'm not sure if Sato is ever going to be the guy, especially since he is 37 years old. He ended 2014 with two really good results but come 2015 he could be back to a pair of 17th place finishes despite possibly being one of the fastest five drivers on the track.

8. Ryan Briscoe's season ends with a seventh place finish. Ten top tens for Briscoe but only one top five in 2014. Briscoe is a decent driver but he needs to take that next step, especially when Kanaan and Dixon are finishing first and second.

9. Carlos Muñoz captures the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year by finishing eighth in the championship with a eighth place finish in the race. He didn't win but he held his own with his veteran teammates. This wasn't unexpected considering what he did in one-offs last year and the team he is with.

10. A top ten for Josef Newgarden to round out the year. He will be entering his fourth season in 2015 and with SFHR merging with ECR, the expectations should go up for the Tennessean. He will have full-time teammates, more resources and possibly be driving a Chevrolet, which won the final six races in 2014. All the pieces are in place for him to break into victory lane in 2015, he just has to talk advantage and seize the day.

11. Marco Andretti misses out on a top ten in the race but finishes ninth in the championship. I am sure he expected more after finishing fifth in the championship last year. I think Andretti Autosport and Honda will all be going to the drawing board to figure out what they have to improve on after being outscored 12-6 in the win column.

12. Hélio Castroneves drove an Hélio Castroneves-type season. He's not going to win four or five races. He isn't going to dominant week in and week out. He is going to finish fourth, fifth or sixth and bring the car home in one piece. Will that be enough to ever get Castroneves a championship though? Let's not forget to mention he ended 2014 with five consecutive finishes outside the top ten.

13. It wasn't Simon Pagenaud's night. He dealt with handling issues all night and finished twentieth. It was a great season for Pagenaud, unfortunately he will finish fifth in the final championship standings. He is still a free agent. Will he stay or will he go. He has made Schmidt Peterson Hamitlon a formidable championship contender and if you throw in Ed Carpenter's team, those team each have shown they have what it takes to compete with the big three.

14. Remember last year when nine cars finished and only five were on the lead lap? This year, 20 cars finished and ten were on the lead lap. The lone retirement was Carlos Huertas for driver illness (to be honest, I think he was out of his comfort zone, did 21 laps and ended his season early). Got to give Chevrolet, Honda and the teams credit after the attrition last year. Also note, one caution tonight for a simple spin by Ryan Hunter-Reay who did a great job keeping the car from hitting anything. Only 18 cautions on ovals in 2014

15. Look for a full recap of yesterday and the IndyCar season tomorrow. Look for team-by-team reviews in the days to come. It's nearly 2:00 a.m. ET. Congratulations Will Power. Congratulations Roger Penske. Congratulations IndyCar. It was a great season. I am sad it had to end so soon.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Morning Warm-Up: Fontana 2014

When I See Something Horrible, I Put My Foot Down. Hard! Because I Know That Everyone Else Is Lifting His.
 Yves Montand as Jean-Pierre Sarti in Grand Prix

This morning warm-up starts differently from all the rest with a personal admission that I am flawed individual and I should have made that known long ago.  We start with the good news that Mikhail Aleshin is stable after his accident last night during final practice sustaining a concussion, fractured ribs, broken right clavicle and chest injuries

My prayers go out to Mikhail Aleshin on a speedy recovery. 

The same way my prayers were with him immediately after the accident but I am flawed. The quote at the top perfectly defines how I reacted after seeing an accident such as Aleshin. I saw something horrible, mentally put my foot down hard and immediately thought, who can replace Aleshin tomorrow should he be unable to go? It's just who I am with my show must go on approach. Outside of a quiet prayer, what else can I do? I can't go to the car and try to assist. I wouldn't be much use and I would be more of a obstacle for the qualified IndyCar safety team to work around.

Remember I am flawed. I believe when you get into motorsports and start following on a regular basis you have to realize that if you stay around long enough you are going to watch someone die. There is no way around. All the safety innovations in the world will not make a driver or rider immortal, if it is their time to go, it is their time to go. The safety innovations have protected those men and women who are fortunate enough to compete on a regular basis better than previous generations and that is greatly appreciated but don't hold your breath on the day where it is guaranteed no one will die in a motorsports accident. That day is never going to come. 

I am flawed. As much as I want to see the turbo boost turned up and laps closer to the 230 MPH range than 220 MPH, I know that had Aleshin been going faster, it would have been worse, much worse. There is a lot that has to be fixed. Catchfences need to be improved, aprons should be widened and these aren't issues just for IndyCar or just for Auto Club Speedway or just for engineer students at any given university around the country, these are issues for all parties who decide to participate in motorsports. Catchfence improvement is an Auto Club Speedway and IndyCar and NASCAR and Texas Motor Speedway and USAC and Iowa Speedway and Eldora Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway issue. Catchfences should not be one party taking the baton all by themselves and trying to be a superstar. This should be a collective effort to find a solution for the better of all involved. 

This shouldn't be a case where the expense gets in the way of driver and spectator safety. NASCAR is making $8.2 billion over the next 10 years. You'd think they could budget some for further research and development in the safety department. Speedway Motorsports, Inc. made $260.4 million in the first half of 2014. International Speedway Corporation made $131.8 million in the first quarter of 2014 while Indianapolis Motor Speedway just received $100 million loan from the state of Indiana. There is plenty of money that can be used to improvement catchfences, now the individuals who make six-seven figures salaries have to take the initiative and actually do something. 

After watching Aleshin's accident I wonder what would have happened had their been no catchfence and in it's places was just a continuation of the concrete wall. The car wouldn't have been shredded to pieces but would he have sustained fewer injuries? I think he would of hit the wall and just continued to slide down, he may have even walked away under his own power but we will never know. As I went to bed last night after hearing Aleshin was awake and stable I thought of what the coverage would have been had he perished. All of sudden everyone would have become a motorsports expert, oval racing for open-wheel cars would get this misconception of reckless endangerment but what bothered me the most is someone who some media outlets never mentioned before and never considered giving him the time of day was now going to give him recognition only after he had passed on. Something about that strikes me the wrong way. It tells me that the only way some media outlets will acknowledge you is if you die. Average people would know how he died and nothing else. They would not know who he was or what he had accomplished and realized this was someone doing what he loved.

Yesterday afternoon I was looking through past Fontana races and came across the 1999 race and Greg Moore's fatal accident. It is approaching 15 years since his death and I wondered, 15 years later, if a driver were to be fatally injured would the race continue? We all remember Las Vegas 2011 but that accident caused extensive damage to the catchfence. Moore's accident didn't cause nearly as much structural damage to the track. Deep down, I always want the race to go on. Why? Cause as I said before what else can I do? If it is a driver's time to go, it is their time to go. I'd like to say the fallen driver would want the race to go on but we never know. Maybe drivers should write down at the start of a season and hand to the race officials a slip saying if they are fatally injured in a race, whether or not they would want the race to continue that way we truly know. I see nothing wrong with that but once again, I am flawed.

There is plenty of things that need to be worked on but the race should go on today because though there is the possibility of death we cannot let it cripple us from enjoying what we love and we should continue to ensure ourselves it is not going to happen, even though we can't guarantee it won't.

Hélio Castroneves starts on pole position as the Brazilian looks to take the championship fight to his Penske teammate Will Power. This is Castroneves' 41st career pole position, good enough for fourth all-time. To have any shot at the title, Castroneves has to finish at least fourth but his best Fontana finish entering today is fifth. Starting second will be Castroneves' Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian finished fourth and tenth in his previous two IndyCar starts at Fontana. Josef Newgarden rounds out the first row. This is Newgarden's fourth front row start of the 2014 season.

On the inside of row two will be Takuma Sato. His previous best starting position at Fontana was twenty-first. Scott Dixon will be in the middle of row two. Dixon has finished in the top ten in all but one of his previous seven Fontana starts. Charlie Kimball is on the outside of row two. Kimball has finished tenth in each of his two Fontana appearances. 

Tony Kanaan will start seventh. Kanaan has never won a season finale in his seventeen year career. Mikhail Aleshin was scheduled to start eighth. He was the highest starting rookie. Ryan Hunter-Reay should move up to eighth position after Aleshin's accident. Hunter-Reay has finished in the top ten in each of his two Fontana starts. This is his best career Fontana start. Moving to the outside of row three will be Graham Rahal. This is the National Guard's final race as an IndyCar sponsor and final chance at victory as they have yet to be on a race winning car since entering the series in 2007. 

James Hinchcliffe will start tenth. He is twelfth in the championship and starting eleventh and eleventh in the championship is Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe was fastest in the abbreviated final practice last night and has finished in the top ten in four of five ovals to date in 2014. Simon Pagenaud starts on the outside of row four and is the final driver mathematically eligible for the championship. The Frenchman must win to have any shot at the title and his best Fontana finish entering today is thirteenth.

In thirteenth position will be Ed Carpenter. The furthest back on the grid a Fontana winner has come from is thirteenth when Adrián Fernández won in 1999. Sébastien Bourdais will be in the middle of row five. He started third and finished twelfth last year in his Fontana debut. Outside of his seventh place finish at Indianapolis, Bourdais' best oval finish in 2014 is twelfth at Milwaukee. Justin Wilson will start fifteenth. His average finish on ovals this season is 17.4 after averaging a 10.833 on ovals in 2013. 

Jack Hawksworth will be on the inside of row six. He missed the Pocono race after an accident but he scored his first career oval top ten at Milwaukee a fortnight ago when finishing tenth. He finished ninth out of a nine-car field last year in Indy Lights at Fontana. Marco Andretti starts in the middle of row six with his Andretti Autosport teammate Carlos Muñoz to his outside. With Aleshin unable to participate in tonight's race, Muñoz has clinched the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honor. Marco Andretti was the 2006 IndyCar Rookie of the Year.

The seventh row will feature two Colombians and the championship leader, Australian Will Power. Sebastián Saavedra will start on the inside while Power will start in the middle and rookie Carlos Huertas will be on the outside. 

Power entered the weekend with a 51-point lead over Castroneves and an 81-point over Pagenaud. Castroneves took the bonus point for pole position and when the green flag waves, Castroneves will hold a 30-point lead over his teammate with Pagenaud trailing by 95 points. 

In the unluckily case the #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda is repaired and the team runs a substitute driver, the car will start twenty-second. 

NBCSN's coverage of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, MAVTV 500 from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California will begin at 9:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 10:20 p.m. ET.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Final Practice of 2014 IndyCar Season Ends Prematurely Due to Aleshin Accident

Ryan Briscoe was fastest in the final practice session for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season after the session end prematurely due to an accident involving Mikhail Aleshin, Charlie Kimball, Sébastien Bourdais, Jack Hawksworth and Marco Andretti.

Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin providing a description of what happened in the accident. 

Aleshin has been put on a stretcher and been taken immediately to the hospital according to IMS Radio's Jake Query.

Update: 11:09 p.m. ET
From IndyCar, Mikhail Aleshin is awake and conscious. Complaining about injuries to right shoulder and right foot.

Briscoe was the fastest after running a lap at 32.9279 seconds (218.660 MPH). His Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon was second. Will Power was third fastest followed by Kimball. James Hinchcliffe was the top Honda in fifth. 

The pole-sitter for tomorrow's race Hélio Castroneves was sixth ahead of fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan. Andretti and Bourdais were eighth and ninth at the time of the accident and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top ten. 

Josef Newgarden was eleventh followed by fellow Honda drivers Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud. Aleshin was fourteenth fastest in the abbreviated session, 0.5134 seconds back of Briscoe. Ed Carpenter rounded out the top fifteen. 

Sebastián Saavedra was sixteenth with Justin Wilson in seventeenth followed by Takuma Sato, Jack Hawksworth and Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the top twenty. Colombians Carlos Muñoz and Carlos Huertas rounded out the field. The field was covered by 1.7982 seconds in this session. 

NBCSN's coverage of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, the MAVTV 500 from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 10:20 p.m. 

Castroneves Takes Crucial Pole Position at Fontana

Hélio Castroneves (left) will take the fight to Will Power (right) for the championship from pole position
When the green flag waves to start the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California the championship lead will automatically change.

Despite the power going out at the track, Hélio Castroneves picked up a crucial pole position as his teammate Will Power battled with understeer on his qualifying run, dropping the Australian to twenty-first, second-to-last. Power's 51-point lead will vanish as the difference between first and twenty-first is 83 points. The Brazilian ran a two-lap average of 218.540 MPH while Power could only manage 212.604 MPH. 

This was Chevrolet's 13th pole of 2014 and eighth consecutive to close out the season. This is Castroneves' third career Fontana pole position. His first two came in 2003 and 2004. He finished sixth and seventh in those race respectively.

Juan Pablo Montoya qualified second with a two-lap average of 217.621 MPH, a career best starting position for the Colombian at Fontana. Josef Newgarden was the top Honda qualifier as he rounds out  the front row. Remember, Triple Crown races feature rows of three. The Tennesseean was 0.021 MPH behind Montoya and this will be Newgarden's second consecutive front row start and fourth of the 2014 season.

Takuma Sato was on pace for pole but like many during the session lost time on his second lap and ended up fourth. Ganassi drivers were the next three on the timesheet with Scott Dixon leading the way. Following Dixon was Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan. 

Joining Kanaan on row three will be Mikhail Aleshin, the fastest rookie. This year's Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified ninth. Graham Rahal rounds out the top ten. James Hinchcliffe ended up qualifying eleventh ahead of Ryan Briscoe. Simon Pagenaud qualified thirteenth. The Frenchman is still mathematically eligible for the title but has to win tomorrow to have any shot of hoisting the Astor Cup. Ed Carpenter was on pace for pole position after his first qualifying lap but lost nearly seven miles per hour on his second lap and ended up fourteenth. Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the top fifteen. 

The Brits Justin Wilson and Jack Hawksworth ended sixteenth and seventeenth respectively. Marco Andretti qualified seventeenth, his worst qualifying position at Fontana. His previous worse was eighth. Carlos Muñoz leads the Rookie of the Year standings and qualified nineteenth ahead of fellow Colombian Sebastián Saavedra and the aforementioned Will Power in twenty-first. 

Carlos Huertas qualified twenty-second. The rookie Huertas was massively off the pace as he was the only driver to have a warm-up lap below 200 MPH and his two-lap average was 202.319 MPH, more than 10 MPH off Power in twenty-first. 

The final practice session of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season will take place at 10:15 p.m. ET and will be 30-minutes long. 

NBCSN's coverage of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, the MAVTV 500 will begin at 9:00 p.m. ET tomorrow with green flag at 10:20 p.m. ET

Power and Castroneves 1-2 in Penultimate Practice

Will Power was all smiles after first practice
If the penultimate practice of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is foreshadowing for what the season finale entails, look for the championship contenders duking it out at the front for the Astor Cup.

Will Power and Hélio Castroneves were separated by 0.0051 seconds in first practice as Power ran the fastest lap, 32.5220-second lap at 221.389 MPH. It wasn't just the championship contenders who were fast in first practice. Chevrolet had eighth of their ten entries in the top ten and took the top six times.

Ed Carpenter was third fastest, nearly three-tenths back of Power. He was followed by three Ganassi drivers. Scott Dixon was fourth with Tony Kanaan rounding out the top five and Charlie Kimball in sixth. The three teammates were covered by 0.0137 seconds. Chevrolet enters Fontana having won seven consecutive pole positions and five consecutive races.

The fastest Honda driver and fastest rookie in the session was Mikhail Aleshin. He has three top tens in five oval starts. Juan Pablo Montoya was eighth quickest followed by Josef Newgarden. Ganassi got all four cars in the top ten with Ryan Briscoe ending up tenth in the first session.

Ryan Hunter-Reay leads five consecutive Hondas on the time sheet in eleventh. The last driver mathematically eligible for the IndyCar championship, Simon Pagenaud was twelfth fastest, 0.4593 seconds behind Power. It was tic-tac-toe, three Andretti drivers in a row in thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth. James Hinchcliffe led Carlos Muñoz and Marco Andretti. The gap from Aleshin in seventh and Hinchcliffe in thirteenth was 0.1054 seconds.

Sébastien Bourdais was sixteenth quickest, just ahead of his former teammate Graham Rahal. Takuma Sato was eighteenth with the Brits Justin Wilson and Jack Hawksworth rounding out the top twenty. Colombians Sébastien Saavedra and Carlos Huertas round out the drivers on the timesheet with Huertas the lone driver not within a second of Power. Saavedra was 0.8660 second back while Huertas trailed Power by 1.5203 seconds. Huertas ran a session-high 49 laps while Penske duo of Power and Castroneves each completed only nine laps in the first session.

IndyCar qualifying will take place at 5:15 p.m. ET. Simon Pagenaud is the first of championship contenders to make a qualifying attempt as he is the eleventh driver scheduled to make a run. Will Power is scheduled to be the thirteenth driver on track and Hélio Castroneves is scheduled to be the last driver to make a qualifying attempt.

The final practice session of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is scheduled for 10:15 p.m. ET and will be a thirty-minute session.

Figuring Out the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series Schedule Part II

Three months ago I tried to piece together the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Since then a lot of news has broke including a new race and location for IndyCar.

To get the ball rolling with what we know. If there are international races they are going to be in Dubai and Brasilia in February and early-March.

The first open test at Barber Motorsports Park will be Monday March 16th and Tuesday the 17th.

St. Petersburg will be March 27-29th.

The news broke yesterday that IndyCar will be heading to the Bayou for the inaugural Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans, April 10-12th.

Long Beach will be the following weekend on April 17-19th.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis will be May 9th.

The Indianapolis 500 will be May 24th.

Belle Isle is going to return after Indianapolis, May 29-31st.

Texas returns the Saturday June 6th.

As for what has yet to be confirmed.

Barber should be April 24-26th, seeing how New Orleans will be the week prior to Long Beach and the NASCAR race at Talladega is May 3rd.

The Toronto turmoil continues as Texas will be the first weekend in June after it appeared that was the date Toronto was shooting for as the city hosts the Pan-American Games in July. The rumors are the race could move to Mosport but the problem is Mosport hosts IMSA July 12th, the weekend before Toronto was hosted this year. Possibly Toronto will slot in the weekend after Texas.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa is scheduled for Friday June 19, 2015. This year, IndyCar ran the Saturday night after Trucks. If that is the case for 2015, the short track will move back to June for IndyCar.

Houston has a recognizable title sponsor in Shell and despite difficulty moving the race to an earlier date with more bearable weather, I can't see the race not returning in 2015 due to Shell's involvement.

Pocono has one year left on their deal but the track does not want the race to return on fourth of July weekend in hopes that moving the race will help the event's attendance.

Mid-Ohio has been the first weekend in August for quite sometime. I don't see that changing.

Milwaukee should be back in 2015 with the race likely to take place August 22-23rd.

Sonoma should be back the weekend after Milwaukee, August 28-30th.

Fontana wants to return in 2015 but they don't want to be Labor Day weekend as the weather is less than ideal.

With NASCAR coverage returning to NBCSN in 2015 and NASCAR having released their schedule for 2015 on Tuesday, it gives us a glimpse of what IndyCar's schedule will look like.

NBCSN will be broadcasting the Kentucky NASCAR race on Saturday July 11th on NBCSN, opening the door for an IndyCar race on Sunday the 12th.

NBCSN will then show a Cup race the next five consecutive Sundays before the Saturday night race at Bristol on August 22nd and then an off weekend at the end of August. Darlington returns to Labor Day weekend and will run Sunday night, September 6th on NBC.

Here is what I see happening:

Sometime in February: Dubai
Either March 1st or 8th: Brasilia
March 16-17th: Barber Test
March 29th: St. Petersburg
April 12th: New Orleans
April 19th: Long Beach
April 26th: Barber
May 9th: Grand Prix of Indianapolis
May 24th: Indianapolis 500
May 30-31st: Belle Isle
June 6th: Texas
June 13-14th: Toronto
June 20th: Iowa
June 26-27th: Houston
July 12: Pocono
August 2nd: Mid-Ohio
August 23rd: Milwaukee
August 30th: Sonoma
September 5th: Fontana

I think Toronto will get squeezed in June. Remember, Toronto in June is only a one year thing as it should move back to July come 2016. The weeks off we had this year in June shift to July as Toronto and Iowa move. I think Houston is going to be a night race in 2015 before finding a better date in terms of weather for 2016. Along with two weeks off in July, the series would also have two weeks off in August. Same as Houston, I think Fontana stays as the season finale on Labor Day weekend before finding a more suitable date. Keep an eye out next week for a post where those races should try to land.

Pocono moves back a week and since NASCAR races that Saturday night at Kentucky it avoids a television conflict. Mid-Ohio on the other hand might be in a difficult spot as NASCAR is at Pocono that day and NBCSN will have coverage of that race (Can you say hello CNBC for IndyCar?). Milwaukee would be run the day after NASCAR's night race at Bristol and Sonoma runs on a NASCAR off-weekend.

With possibly only one race in July in 2015, I am hopeful there is a race that is going to be added but I highly doubt it. Although, Simon Pagenaud tested at Chicagoland on August 7th. I don't see that test as being anything other than a private Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports test, not some type of litmus test to see if IndyCar has an oval package that would make it possible to race there. If they were to run a Chicagoland, a July night race would make the most sense as NASCAR runs on all but one Sunday in July.

With the season ending this Saturday night, I do not envision the 2015 schedule being released before we close out 2014. Even though there won't be a race for sometime, at least we have something to look forward to this autumn.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Track Walk: Fontana 2014

Three drivers will fight for the Astor Cup and the IndyCar championship at Fontana

Five-hundred miles separate us from knowing who will be lifting the Astor Cup as the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. IndyCar returns to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for the thirteenth running of the MAVTV 500. Will Power enters as the championship leader, 51 points clear of his teammate Hélio Castroneves. Third in the championship, trailing Power by 81 points is Simon Pagenaud.

Time: Coverage begins Saturday August 30 at 9:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 10:20 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Paul Tracy, Townsend Bell, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast, Marty Snider and Robin Miller.

Championship Scenarios
For Will Power to clinch the title, regardless of what anyone else does, the Australian has to finish sixth and if he scores one bonus point, he can finish seventh and clinch the title.

If Hélio Castroneves wins the race and scores maximum points, he needs Power to finish seventh or worse. If Castroneves wins and scores three or fewer bonus points, he needs Power to finish eighth or worse.

If Castroneves finishes second in the race and scores maximum bonus points or three bonus points, he needs Power to finish fourteenth or worse. If he finishes second and scores two or fewer bonus points, he needs Power to finish fifteenth or worse.

If Castroneves finishes third in the race and scores maximum bonus points, he needs Power to finish nineteenth or worse. If he finishes third and scores three or fewer bonus points, he needs Power to finish twentieth or worse.

If Castroneves finishes fourth in the race he must score maximum bonus points and have Power finish twenty-second with no bonus points.

Simon Pagenaud has to win the race to win the championship. If he scores maximum points, he needs Power to finish nineteenth or worse and Castroneves to finish third or worse.

If Pagenaud wins and scores two or three bonus points, he needs Power to finish twentieth or worse and Castroneves to finish third or worse or fourth or worse if Castroneves scores three or four bonus points.

If Pagenaud wins and scores the minimum 101 points for victory, he needs Power to finish twenty-first or worse and Castroneves to finish third or worse or fourth or worst if Castroneves scores more than two bonus points.

Championship Contenders at Fontana
Will Power started from pole positions and led 103 laps on his way to victory last year at Fontana, his second career oval victory. Power's only other start at Fontana was in 2012 where he had an accident take him out of contention for the championship. He qualified third but had to serve a ten grid spot penalty for exceeding the five engine limit and started thirteenth. He completed 66 laps and finished 24th.

Hélio Castroneves has the most experience at Fontana amongst the championship contenders. The Brazilian has ten starts on the 2-mile oval. He has two pole positions, two top fives and eight top tens, however the Brazilians best finish at Fontana is only fifth and he can't finish worst than fourth if he wants to claim his first IndyCar championship.

Like Power, Simon Pagenaud has only made two starts at Fontana. In 2012, he qualified fifteenth but started twentieth after an engine change. He finished fifteenth, four laps down. Last year, the Frenchman started thirteenth and finished thirteenth after retiring due to an engine failure after completing 217 laps.

Last Chance For Victory
Thirteen drivers enter the season finale looking for their first victory in 2014, including four who were victorious in 2013.

James Hinchcliffe won three times in 2013 with two coming on street circuits and one on an oval. The Canadian has only one podium in 2014 as he sits twelfth in the championship, four spots lower than his final position in 2013. Hinchcliffe has qualified well all year but his results in races have been disappointing. While averaging a starting position of 7.75, his average finish is 12.88235 and he loses close to five positions a race from his starting position. He finished fourth last year at Fontana but he has only two top ten finishes in eight superspeedway starts.

Tony Kanaan won last year's Indianapolis 500 and while having the fourth most podiums in 2014 with five, the Brazilian has yet to ascend to the top step. He has finished third at the last two oval races and he led a race-high 79 laps at Pocono before having to pit late for fuel. In ten Fontana starts, Kanaan has four podiums, six top fives and seven top tens along with one pole positions.

Kanaan's Ganassi teammate Charlie Kimball won at Mid-Ohio last year and if James Hinchcliffe has been qualifying well and finishing poorly, Kimball has been doing the reverse. While averaging a starting position of 17.06, Kimball's average finish 12.52 and is tied for the fifth most top tens in 2014. The California-native has finished tenth in his only two visits Fontana and started fourth last year.

Takuma Sato's win at Long Beach last year appeared to be a sign the Japanese driver had finally honed in his recklessness and the speed he has shown in Formula One and IndyCar would finally make him a contender at the front of the field each week. In the 33 races since that victory, Sato has one podium, three top fives, six top tens and twelve finishes outside the top twenty. He currently sits twentieth in the championship. In 2012, Sato was up front, competing for a top five before spinning on the lap but finishing seventh as only six cars finished on the lead lap. He finished seventeenth last year after an engine failure.

After Tony Kanaan, the next driver in the championship standings without a victory is Carlos Muñoz. The Colombian rookie has raced very well on the few superspeedway races he has had the luxury of participating in. Second on debut in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, running up front and lower than anyone else last year at Fontana before pushing the limits a little too far and losing the backend. He finish fourth in this year's Indianapolis 500 and came home in third at Pocono. Despite all these top five finishes, Muñoz has only led 20 laps in his career to date.

Marco Andretti is looking for his first victory since Iowa 2011, 59 races ago. He started from pole at Fontana in 2012 before finishing eight and started sixth last year before coming home in seventh. Andretti has only combined to lead six laps in his two Fontana starts. He is tied for seventh in top ten finishes with nine, including an eighth place finish last week at Sonoma. However, Andretti has only two top fives this year with his last coming at the Indianapolis 500. He has averaged a 13th place finish in the previous five oval races.

Eleventh in the championship, Ryan Briscoe has yet to score a podium, let alone a victory in 2014. His lone top five was a fourth place finish at Pocono. He did not race at Fontana in 2013 and he started second in 2012 but was a non-factor in the race, leading only two laps before finishing seventeenth. Briscoe had completed the second most laps in 2014 behind only Will Power. Briscoe has ran all but 21 of the 2145 laps through the first 17 races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Briscoe and Power are the only two drivers to be running at the finish of every IndyCar race to date in 2014.

Josef Newgarden has four top tens in the second half of 2014 alone including a fifth and sixth in the last two races. The Tennesseean has been knocking on the door for a victory this summer. Had it not been for missing it on fuel at Pocono, running out of laps to challenge Ryan Hunter-Reay at Iowa, a poor pit stop at Mid-Ohio or missing it on fuel again at Milwaukee, Newgarden may have already picked up his first career victory. He recently renewed his contract with Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman as SFHR merges with Ed Carpenter's team for 2015 and ending 2014 with a victory would give the merged team a great shot in the arm heading into autumn offseason. Newgarden's finishes at Fontana are sixteenth and twentieth.

Graham Rahal is now only looking to set a record for most starts between victories at Fontana but he is looking to give the National Guard their first IndyCar victory in their final race. Rahal has started 113 races since winning at St. Petersburg in 2008. The current record is 97 by Johnny Rutherford between victories at Atlanta in 1965 and Ontario in 1973. He nearly won at Sonoma last week but fell three laps short on fuel. He has only four top tens in 2014 and his best finish at Fontana is sixth.

Other Championship Position Battles
While three battle for the title, many other drivers are battling to get the best position possible in the championship.

While Pagenaud has a shot at the title, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon are all breathing down his neck for third in the championship. Twenty-six points cover the four drivers.

Meanwhile, nineteen points cover seventh through tenth in the championship as Tony Kanaan, Sébastien Bourdais, Carlos Muñoz and Marco Andretti all jostle for position.

Andretti sits tenth, only fifteen points ahead of Ryan Briscoe with James Hinchcliffe 29 points back.

Josef Newgarden and Charlie Kimball are tied for thirteenth with 366 points. Five points cover Newgarden, Kimball, Mikhail Aleshin and Justin Wilson as they battle for positions in the top fifteen.

Jack Hawksworth and Graham Rahal are only thirteen points apart for seventeenth.

Carlos Huertas is only two points ahead of Takuma Sato for nineteenth. Twenty-nine points behind Sato is Sebastián Saavedra as he looks to crack the the top twenty.

And let's not rule out Ed Carpenter. With 191 points he sits 61 points behind Mike Conway and 74 points behind Sebastián Saavedra for twenty-first.

Last year, nine cars were running at the finish as the heat and dirty conditions caused four engine failures and many teams dealing with over heating. It should be noted all four engine failures were Hondas and Honda struggled at Texas earlier this year with the heat as three cars retired due to engine issues.

Only five cars finished on the lead lap and the year before that only six completed all 250 circuits. Reliability will be key in the championship battle as a few extra laps in the pits to clean out the air ducts will cost a driver many positions on the track.

Fun Facts
This will be the first race on August 30th since 1992 and the last two races on August 30th have been won by Andrettis. Mario Andretti won at Road America on August 30, 1987 while Michael Andretti won at Vancouver on August 30, 1992.

The pole-sitter has won at Fontana twice, Dario Franchitti in 2005 and Will Power last year.

The furthest back on the grid a winner has come from at Fontana is thirteenth by Adrián Fernández in 1999.

Should Will Power win the IndyCar championship, he would become the first Australian to win the title.

Should Hélio Castroneves win the IndyCar championship, it would be the 7th time a Brazilian has won the IndyCar championship and the first since Tony Kanaan won in 2004.

Should Simon Pagenaud win the IndyCar championship, it would be the 6th time a Frenchman has won the IndyCar championship and the first since Sébastien Bourdais won in 2007.

There have been ten winners this season in IndyCar. Should there be an eleventh winner it would match the record for most different winners in an IndyCar season. There were eleven different winners in 2000 and 2001.

The drivers who won in 2000 weere Max Papis, Paul Tracy, Adrián Fernández, Michael Andretti, Gil de Ferran, Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves, Roberto Moreno, Cristiano da Matta, Jimmy Vasser and Christian Fittipaldi.

The drivers who won in 2001 were da Matta, Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Kenny Bräck, Papis, Dario Franchitti, Andretti, Patrick Carpentier, Bruno Junqueira, Moreno and de Ferran.

In twelve IndyCar races at Fontana, the average amount of lead changes in a race is 31.8333. The most lead changes is 78 in the 2001 race won by Cristiano da Matta. The least amount of lead changes is 13 in the first race at Fontana in 1997, won by Mark Blundell.

The last two IndyCar races at Fontana have featured seven cautions. The average amount of cautions for a Fontana race is 6.083 for an average of 42.5833 laps.

Chevrolet has won five consecutive races and won eight consecutive pole positions this season.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 180 laps to become the eighth driver to reach the 4,500 laps led club.

Juan Pablo Montoya needs to lead 148 laps to become the twenty-third driver to join the 2,000 laps led club.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 65 laps to become the twenty-seventh driver to join the 1,500 laps led club.

Carlos Muñoz won the last two Indy Lights races at Fontana.

The three Penske drivers are 1-2-3 in oval points. Juan Pablo Montoya has scored 275 points on ovals while Hélio Castroneves is second with 266 points and Will Power is third with 240 points. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Muñoz round out the top five in oval points with 221 and 212 respectively. Simon Pagenaud has scored 201 points on ovals while Ed Carpenter has scored 191 points.

More facts can always be found at the Telemetry Center.

Will Power does learn from his previous missteps, plays it conservation but doesn't play prevent defense and comes home with a top ten finish and his first IndyCar championship.

We will see the eleventh different winner in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season at Fontana and it will be a first time winner. Josef Newgarden takes the MAVTV 500 with his future teammate/co-owner Ed Carpenter in tow. Andretti Autosport puts three cars in the top ten. Carlos Muñoz wins Rookie of the Year. Simon Pagenaud comes home in the top ten. Fourteen cars are running at the end. Sleeper: Mikhail Aleshin.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Regardless of Who Becomes IndyCar Champion, One Narrative Will Live While Another Will Die

Hélio Castroneves (3) looks to jump Will Power (12) for the title with Simon Pagenaud (77) lurking
Back in July, when Germany and Argentina qualified for the FIFA World Cup Final, the Total Soccer Show podcast made a valid point that regardless of who won, one major narrative would be put to rest while another would continue for at least another decade.

The first narrative was the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, would win the World Cup and join the Pantheon of greatest of all-time with the likes of Pelé and fellow Argentine Diego Maradona. The second narrative was a European team having never won a World Cup in the Americas would come to an end.

As the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the championship contenders put major IndyCar narrative vs. major IndyCar narrative where one will finally be changed while the will continue into 2015.

First, Will Power finally closes out a championship. After entering three of the last four season finales as the championship leader and leaving the runner-up, will this be the year Power is finally able to avoid a catastrophic event and wins his first championship? Whether it be brushing the wall, getting run into on the pit lane or simply over driving the car at a time he didn't need to, misfortune has followed Power each time he has had the championship within his grasp. Last year, Power drove an sensational race at Fontana, winning from pole position and leading the most laps at 103. He appears he has learned from his previous failures but his spin at turn seven at Sonoma after dominating the race up to that point and dropped him from contention for a victory to barely a top ten finish makes you wonder if the pressure is getting to the Australian and if he is repeating the missteps that have cost him previously. The spin saw the Australian go from having 80-plus point advantage heading to Fontana to 51 points. While still a significant margin, 51 points is anything but a safety blanket with Fontana being worth double points.

Second, Hélio Castroneves finally wins a championship. The Brazilian has finished runner-up for the title on three occasions but this weekend will mark the sixth time he has entered a season finale with a shot at the title. Can Castroneves chase down his teammate? Last year, Castroneves' lack of aggression arguably cost him the title as he pussyfooted as the schedule started to dwindle down only to have a relentless Scott Dixon take the championship with a victory and second at Houston and a top five at Fontana. In 2008, despite having his back against the wall entering the season finale at Chicagoland and being put further behind the 8-ball when he dip below the white line during qualifying, dropping him to the back of a 28-car grid, Castroneves was able to put together arguably the best race of his career, going from 28th to 1st in 78 laps and leading a race-high 80 laps on his way to victory but fell short in the championship as Scott Dixon would finish second in the race and take the title by 17 points. If Castroneves can replicate the aggression from six years ago, the pressure might be enough to break Power and finally get the Brazilian a title on his résumé next to his three Indianapolis 500 victories.

There is one other narrative that is in play. Penske's failure to win a championship. Simon Pagenaud sits third in the championship, 81 points back. The Frenchman is anything but out of it. This is the seventh consecutive season finale Team Penske has entered with a shot at the title. In the previous six, The Captain has walked out without any silverware. His last title was Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006 and before that was Gil de Ferran in 2001. Whether it be Castroneves or Power or Ryan Briscoe at Chicagoland or Homestead or Fontana, Penske just hasn't be able to hoist the trophy after the final checkered flag has been waved. It finally appears to be lining up for Roger Penske. He has drivers lined-up first and second in the championship and logic would state two bullets are better than one.

What if it doesn't work out for Penske? What if this Saturday night at Fontana is the pinnacle of letdowns and the little team that could, Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports with one of the most under appreciated drivers on the grid, Simon Pagenaud where to nick one from the mighty empire?

Let's look at what has to happen for that to be a reality.

Pagenaud has to win the race. Second place is not enough for the Frenchman. Even if he wins, he is going to need results to fall in his favor. If Pagenaud scores the maximum 104 points at Fontana, he needs Power to finish nineteenth or worse and if Power leads a lap, Pagenaud needs Power to finish twentieth or worse as Power owns the tiebreaker, which like Indy Lights would come down to most second place finishes as the former Team Australia teammates would be tied with three victories. Power has three runner-ups to Pagenaud's naught. Along with Power finishing either nineteenth or worse, with maximum points, Pagenaud would need Castroneves to finish third or worse to clinch the title.

If Pagenaud scores the minimum amount of points for a victory, 101, he would need Power to finish twenty-first or worse with no bonus points and Castroneves to finish third or worst as long as Castroneves does not pick up more than one bonus point. If Castroneves picks up multiple bonus points, Pagenaud would need him to finish fourth or worse.

For Power to win the title regardless of what anyone else does, he has to finish at least sixth. If Power picks up a bonus point at Fontana, he can finish seventh and win the title. The worst Castroneves can finish with no bonus points and win the title is third. Castroneves could win the title by finishing fourth but he would need to score the maximum four bonus points and have Power finish last with no bonus points to his name.

Should the great train robbery that would be Pagenaud and Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports lifting the Astor Cup occur, someone at Penske is going to be fired. I just can't imagine Roger Penske, the guy who fired Tom Sneva after back-to-back championship, albeit 36 years ago, is going to keep his cabinet unchanged after having the top two in the championship entering the season finale only to walk out for a seventh consecutive year empty handed. If the pressure of winning a championship wasn't enough for the #3 AAA and #12 Verizon teams, add the pressure of championship-or-bust from The Captain himself.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: The Red Bull Day Care System

Hard racing was the theme of the weekend. From the high banks of Bristol to the rolling hills of Wine Country, the German tarmac to the slippery conditions outside of Sydney, Eau Rouge to Oak Tree. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

What if You Couldn't Race Until You Had a Driver's License?
Motorsports has seen an influx of younger drivers in the last fifteen years. From Kyle Busch, Casey Atwood and Joey Logano in NASCAR; A.J. Foyt IV, Marco Andretti, Nelson Philippe and Graham Rahal in IndyCar; Sebastian Vettel, Danill Kvyat, Jaime Alguersuari, Jenson Button and now we can add Max Verstappen to that list. Verstappen is currently 16 years old and will turn 17 on September 30th.

Whether Verstappen is ready for Formula One or not has been a highly debated topic in the past week but I have always wondered what motorsports would look like if a driver couldn't do major circuit racing until they received their actual driver's license, meaning a driver couldn't do full car racing until they obtained the full, unrestricted road license. Karting and I guess quarter-midgets would still be allowed but running Formula Ford, Formula Three, Late Model Stock Car or breaking into a series such as NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, etc. could not happen until licensed for the everyday roadways.

Would we see more drivers competing in karting? Would it be cheaper to go racing? Would their be a more structured ladder system from karting to junior formula racing? Or would guys just be getting these rides in top series a year or two later? We'll never know but I've always wondered.

Of course the age for obtaining a full unrestricted driver's license varies from country to country and state to state, which would put certain individuals at a disadvantage and would make this rule difficult to enforce.

Verstappen appears to be a very talented driver but there is no need to rush the kid into a car. He is in his first season of car racing and while he sits second in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship, that doesn't mean he is the next Kimi Räikkönen. The Finn and current Ferrari driver was given a seat at Sauber after just under two dozen car races, all in the British Formula Renault Championship but every impressive teenager in junior formulas isn't Räikkönen.

Red Bull has this tendency to take the newest driver on the scene and throw them in the deep end but they have done it while ignoring all their other young drivers. While Verstappen is slated for a seat at Toro Rosso, they are jumping Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Pierre Gasly, who are first and third respectively in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series and Alex Lynn, who leads the GP3 Series standings, the same series Daniil Kvyat won last year that ultimately got him his STR ride. Let's not forget drivers developed by Red Bull such as António Félix da Costa, who finished third in GP3 and FR 3.5, couldn't get a sniff at Formula One and is now in DTM and Mercedes DTM driver Robert Wickens, who finished second in Formula Two and GP3 and who won the FR 3.5 title over current lame duck Toro Rosso driver Jean-Éric Vergne and current Red Bull Racing stud Daniel Ricciardo.

Then there are the drivers Red Bull rushed through the system. Sébastien Buemi debuted at 20 years, 149 days old and was out of F1 at 23 years, 28 days old. Jaime Alguersuari became the youngest driver to start a Grand Prix at 19 years, 125 days old when he started the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix in place of Sébastien Bourdais. He was 21 years, 8 months and 5 days old when he last started a Grand Prix. While Buemi has found success in Toyota's World Endurance Championship efforts, Alguersauri has not raced anything since his final Grand Prix in 2011 and has his first job since leaving STR three years ago in Formula E driving for Virgin Racing. Buemi will also be on the Formula E grid driving for e.dams Renault.

Of all the Red Bull development drivers, the only ones in Formula One are currently driving for Red Bull owned teams. Vettel has won four championships, Ricciardo has won three times this year and is third in the championship but outside of those two there has been no staying power for the drivers that have come through STR. Vitantonio Liuzzi did have a few opportunities with Force India and the now defunct HRT team after STR but is now out of F1. Scott Speed was gone in a flash and let's add to the list Robert Doornbos and Christian Klien of Red Bull developed drivers on the sidelines.

To be fair, Liuzzi is now making a living running Super GT and Super Formula in Japan, Doornbos did find success in Champ Car and Klien has found a solid home in European Le Mans Series while Scott Speed slouched around in NASCAR before finding a home in rallycross. All were respectable drivers but were far from the next great thing.

Verstappen to STR gives us a look at the hard reality of racing. While Verstappen will make his debut after a year in Formula Three, fellow Dutchman Robin Frijns has won three junior formula titles including the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 championship ahead of current F1 drivers Jules Bianchi and Kevin Magnussen but all he can get is a reserve role with Caterham. Fabio Leimer won the GP2 title last year and never was on Formula One's radar and is now with Rebellion Racing in the World Endurance Championship. Other successful young drivers still hoping for a shot at Formula One are Sam Bird and Davide Valsecchi, the former finished at the top of both FR 3.5 and GP2 and the latter was a GP2 champion.

With how developed the ladder system is in Europe, you'd think it would be possible, the same way most European soccer leagues have promotion/relegation, for a driver who has won titles at the lower levels to eventually find a way into Formula One. Unfortunately, that system isn't in place yet and probably never will be.

Verstappen sits at the fork that is Vettel-Ricciardo Way and Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Hindsight says the Dutch kid is more likely to head toward the Boulevard than follow in the footsteps of the German and Australian. The question is if he is 20 and out of Formula One, where does he go? Because everything else is down hill for the youngest driver to ever start a Formula One race.

Lotterer Debuts and Rossi Denied
André Lotterer made his Formula One debut this weekend at Spa driving for Caterham. The 32-year old, three-time Le Masns winner. To think twelve years ago, two days prior to his 21st birthday, Lotterer scored on his CART debut driving for Dale Coyne Racing at Mexico City against former Formula One drivers Tora Takagi, Shinji Nakano, Christian Fittipaldi and Michael Andretti and then-future Toyota F1 driver Cristiano da Matta.

Lotterer has made a fine career for himself. Along with the three Le Mans victories, he has an LMP1 World Championship, two Super GT titles and a Super Formula championship. This year alone for Lotterer has to be a dream year for a Formula One driver who are barely allow to ride bicycles, let alone race in another discipline. The German won Le Mans, is running Super Formula and is still in the title fight despite missing this past weekend at Motegi and got to race the Spa 24 Hours. His debut lasted only one lap but he out qualified his teammate Marcus Ericsson and hopefully he gets another opportunity with Caterham.

At Marussia, it appeared American Alexander Rossi was going to make his Formula One debut at Spa only to be denied after first practice by Max Chilton retaking the seat. When it was announced Rossi was going to replace Chilton I felt bad for Chilton because he had finished all but one race in his career. He might not be the fastest guy out there but he has been reliably bring the car home and I think that is worth something. However, I was gut wrenched when Rossi had the ride taken away from him after one practice.

The same way I hope and pray the United States wins a FIFA Men's World Cup in my lifetime, I hope and pray that someday I get to see an American competing at the front of the Formula One grid. The only American to race Formula One in my lifetime is Scott Speed and that was disappointing. I was young and got my hopes up when Speed was going toe-to-toe with Nico Rosberg and Heikki Kovalainen and thinking that was our new hope to finally get The Star-Spangled Banner playing on the podium for the first time since Mario Andretti. It was a painful reality when he not only lost his Formula One ride but when he completely abandoned the European scene and followed the Red Bull money to NASCAR.

Each American that heads across the pond I have prayed will catch a break. Whether it be Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, Michael Lewis, Gustavo Menezes or Santino Ferrucci, I pray they catch the eye of someone in Europe and it all falls into line for them. More and more though I wonder if they are making the best decision. Newgarden did well in Europe driving Formula Ford but came home and has done well in IndyCar. Lewis won a few Formula Three races and nearly won the Italian Formula Three title but is now driving IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup USA. Menezes and Ferrucci are in European Formula Three and each have had a few good races but nothing to turn heads like Verstappen.

Rossi and Daly are on the fringe of Formula One. Rossi won the Formula BMW World Final, has won in GP3, Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2 and has jumped around trying to get to Formula One. He left the Caterham development program for Marussia and it nearly paid off this past weekend. Daly won in the American ladder system, he has won races in GP3, scored on his debut GP2 weekend last year but has struggled in GP2 this year and is currently being outscored by his teammate Nathanaël Berthon 16-2. Daly's struggles finding funding has also been very public.

The more I think about Rossi or Daly breaking into Formula One, I wonder if it is even worth it? Is that drive for Marussia really heading anywhere? And if that doesn't work out is Sauber, Force India, Lotus or Williams going to give them a second shot, or really will Rossi or Daly have to funding to get a Sauber, Force India, Lotus or Williams seat? Haas Formula is still supposedly two years away from getting on the grid but if that were to even happen, what is the likelihood of that being a competitive team in it's first season or second season or fifth season? Look at Marussia and Caterham. Both have been on the grid for five years and Marussia got their first points at Monaco and Caterham is no closer to scoring.

I just got to stay positive. I got to believe it is going to work out for Rossi or Daly or Menezes or Ferrucci or someone else looking toward Europe. It's eventually going to work out. I think Rossi will be in the car for United States Grand Prix but that might be it for the Californian.

Random Thoughts
Through five oval races for IndyCar there have been 17 cautions for 127 of 1198 laps. Maybe IndyCar should turn up the boost on ovals to road/street course levels on ovals to make it a little more challenging. The current boost level on ovals is 140 kPa and on road/street courses it is 150 kPa. With the Honda and Chevrolet engines going into their fourth year, I think (at least I hope) they have developed enough that they could handle the extra boost on ovals.

The weekend at Sonoma will go down as one of the craziest across the board. The second Pro Mazda race might be the race of the year. Each race saw a comeback, a championship leader in trouble as well as a finish to the IndyCar race that had an old school Formula One vibe. Cars falling short on fuel, cars running out a corner or two after the checkered flag. All we needed was someone trying to push their car across the line like Nigel Mansell in Dallas and collapsing.

I had this thought the other night when I was watching the NFL Network at a restaurant. Kurt Warner is to the NFL what Arie Luyendyk was to IndyCar. Both were great on the biggest stage but will never be considered an all-time great on what they did outside of the bright lights and there is nothing wrong with that.

Reading From the Week
A few stories I thought were really good this weekend.

R.J. O'Connell defended Luca Badoer from his label as one of the worst drivers in Formula One history.

Will Buxton on how the new Indy Lights car could revive the series.

Will Power might have finished tenth this weekend but's David Malsher wrote about how he gave a teenage boy the thrill of a lifetime at Sonoma.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon, Daniel Ricciardo, Jack Harvey, Kyle Kaiser, Jose Gutierrez, R.C. Enerson and Florian Latorre but did you know...

Joey Logano won the NASCAR race at Bristol.

Mike Skeen and Anthony Lazzaro split Pirelli World Challenge weekend. Jack Baldwin and Lawson Aschenbach split the GTS class. Johnny O'Connell leads the GT championship by 42 points over Skeen. Lazzaro is 160 points back, Andy Pilgrim trails his teammate by 218 points and Andrew Palmer rounds out the top five, 252 back. Mark Wilkins leads Aschenbach by 80 points in GTS, Jack Baldwin is 194 back, Dean Martin is 307 back and rounding out the top five is Nic Jönsson, trailing his Kia teammate by 320 points. The final round for Pirelli World Challenge will be at Miller Motorsports Park on September Friday September 12th and Saturday September 13th.

Raffaele Marciello and Felipe Nasr split the GP2 weekend at Spa. Dean Stoneman and Alex Lynn split the GP3 weekend.

Thierry Neuville won Rallye Deutscheland, Hyundai's first World Rally victory. Neuville won after Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke all had to retire while at the front of the field.

Dominik Baumann and Thomas Jäger won the Blancpain Sprint Series at Slovakia Ring. Laurens Vanthoor and César Ramos won the qualifying race.

Shane van Gisbergen won the first two races of the V8 Supercars weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park. Scott McLaughlin won the third race.

Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer won the GTLM race at VIR, their second consecutive victory. Dane Cameron and Markus Palttala won in GTD, their second consecutive victory and third of the season. Luis Díaz and Sean Rayhall won in PC.

João Paulo de Oliveria won the Super Formula race at Motegi.

Ryan Blaney won the Nationwide Series race at Bristol and Brad Keselowski won the Truck race becoming the 25th driver to win in all three NASCAR national touring divisions.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar season finale at Fontana.
MotoGP is at Silverstone.
NASCAR is at Atlanta.
Asian Le Mans Series is at Fuji.
The NASCAR Truck Series is going to Mosport.
Super GT will run the 1000km Suzuka.
Stock Car Brasil heads to Curitiba.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

First Impressions: Sonoma 2014

1. It wasn't a great race but it was a great finish. Cars were running out of fuel and stopping on course like marathon runners dropping after crossing the line. Scott Dixon was able to take advantage of Graham Rahal and Mike Conway being short on fuel to take the victory. Second win of the year for Dixon and second in the month of August. Too little too late for the New Zealander to retain his championship but he has had a much better final month and a half of the season.

2. Ryan Hunter-Reay finally gets his first career top five at Sonoma with a second place finish but it's not enough to keep his championship hopes alive. He needed to win but it's a big step forward after a disastrous Milwaukee weekend.

3. Simon Pagenaud barely kept his championship hopes alive with a third place finish. He is 81 points behind Will Power meaning he will need to score maximum points at Sonoma and hope Power repeats his 2012 Fontana race to win the title. What a great run though consider the Frenchman was struggling all weekend and was able to get a podium.

4. How about Takuma Sato with a fourth place finish? He worked strategy well, didn't get caught in anyone else's problems and it paid off for him. It's been a rough season for Sato and AJ Foyt Racing but that should sour this result.

5. Juan Pablo Montoya has had a great comeback in IndyCar. A top five finish here at Sonoma. I didn't think Montoya would be doing this well in his first season back in IndyCar. I was expecting a season similar to Rubens Barrichello in 2012. A few really good results and a respectable season but not the cream of the crop. It's been great having Montoya back in IndyCar. It feels like he never left.

6. One of these days, Josef Newgarden is going to get a break. He had a great car all day, started second and has been really good most of this season. He will stay with the merged Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing next year. If he doesn't win at Fontana, you got to peg him to get one in 2015.

7. Great day for Mikhail Aleshin although to be honest, I didn't hear his name be mentioned once. Seventh place for the rookie. He keeps his Rookie of the Year hopes alive. He has done really well on the ovals, three top tens in five starts. Maybe he can challenge Carlos Muñoz for the honor.

8. Marco Andretti with a solid top ten. Solid top tens have been Andretti's season. He gets top tens but he hasn't been as challenging as he was last year where he finished fifth in the championship. He has run well at Fontana. A win there would be a great way to cap off this season.

9. Justin Wilson gets ninth after it was ruled Will Power passed him under a local yellow on the final lap. Not a bad run for Wilson. Another top ten at Sonoma. This season was a step back for Wilson from 2013. He is getting up there in age. If only he was given a prime seat right after the merger, what could have been.

10. Will Power finished tenth but he could have had the championship in the bag. At one point, Power was in line for maximum points while Hélio Castroneves was nineteenth. But a slight mistake, a spin and it nearly cost him dearly. He recovered. He has a 51-point championship lead over Castroneves who had a day from hell finishing eighteenth after front wing damage on the first lap but Power has left the door slightly open and he has done that plenty times before and come out empty handed.

11. Quick breeze through a few other driver. Sébastien Bourdais hit a half dozen cars today and went off course once and still managed eleventh. James Hinchcliffe started fourth and finished twelfth. Goal for 2015 for Hinchcliffe should be to stay up front. He has the third best average starting position but the results don't reflect that. Tony Kanaan missed out on at least a top five after needing to make a late stop for fuel. It's been a so-so year for Kanaan. Results have been good but I bet he expected better.

12. Mike Conway finished fourteenth. In twelve starts, Conway had two wins but those were his only top ten finishes. He ends his season with an average finish of 12.91 and average start of 14.6363, not great numbers by any means. Will he return to split the ride with Carpenter in 2015? That's uncertain but the question is what were the expectations for Conway? Was it checkers or wreckers for the Brit? I am sure Carpenter wants to see his car at the front more but if Conway had ten top tens and zero wins, would be as happy as two wins and ten finishes outside the top ten?

13. Another quick breeze: Jack Hawksworth ended up fifteenth but was barely mentioned. Sebastián Saavedra had a Sebastián Saavedra type day in sixteenth and caused one full-course caution. Ryan Briscoe ended up seventeenth after going off on lap one. His season has gotten better as the year has gone on but this wasn't the day he was looking for.

14. Hélio Castroneves should be thanking his lucky stars. He could have been all but out of it. The question is can he finally go out and take it? He hasn't been the driver to chase down championship like Franchitti, Hunter-Reay or Dixon. Last year proved that. Can he chase this down? Can he forced his teammate Power to have to drive the car harder than he has ever had to before if he wants to keep the title? Castroneves has done well on the ovals but next week at Fontana he will have to drive the race of his life.

15. Carlos Muñoz ended up nineteenth. He fell back and was never heard from again.

16. Graham Rahal nearly won this one but fell three laps short on fuel and a penalty for pit lane speeding dropped him to twentieth. Just like the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where Oriol Servià had one slip away, RLLR had another one slip away. It's been a rough year for RLLR but this race was really good for them all around. If they can replicate this across 18-plus races in 2015, the Ohioan will be a much happier man.

17. Charlie Kimball ran out of fuel and fell a corner shy of finishing. Carlos Huertas was the only retirement. Got to give Honda and Chevrolet credibility for their reliable engines and Dallara for a reliable chassis if only one car retires.

18. Think about this: Sonoma could end the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season. I love Sonoma. It's a very nice circuit and facility but I am not sure what can be done to improve this circuit. Unless millions and millions are spent to alter the circuit and make it wider, I don't see a simple fix to make the racing better.

19. From U.S. F2000 to Pro Mazda to Indy Lights to IndyCar to even Pirelli World Challenge, this was a crazy weekend. Championship leaders just couldn't avoid trouble. What seemed like sure things one second were completed flipped over the next. What an emotional roller coaster for many.

20. Hard to believe IndyCar has one race to go. Fontana has put on great races the last two years but things have to change. The track isn't happy about their Labor Day weekend date because it is hotter than the face of the sun and no one want to suffer heat stroke and even worse the race is starting at 10:00 p.m. ET. The championship will be decided at about 1:00 a.m. ET Sunday morning. That has to change. IndyCar has to keep Fontana on the schedule but realize Labor Day weekend isn't the weekend for that race. I've said open the season at Fontana the Sunday after the Super Bowl with a 500-miler. It would be cooler, chances of rain would be higher but I'd rather be dodging rain drops that risking skin cancer. The two parties have to make this work.

21. Look for a championship preview in the week to come as well as some reviews on the 2014 season.