A Battle for the Championship, A $5 Million Challenge, and More as IndyCar Wraps Up Its Season
To start, there's the battle for the championship, which for the second year in a row is between Will Power and Dario Franchitti. Going into the penultimate race, it was looking good for Power, who led Franchitti by 5 points and held the pole. However, a pit incident left him with a hole in his sidepod and a 19th place finish. Dario finished 2nd by a yard over Ed Carpenter, and as a result took an 18 point lead. These two have been battling all year, both on the track and in words. After this incident in Toronto, Power accused Dario of dirty driving. It was one of multiple incidents involving Will's temper, most notably his famous double bird salute at Loudon towards Race Control (I'd link, but that's against the CoC). These two have developed a real rivalry this season, and both teams will pull out all the stops to try and win this title. Dario, though, must be considered the favorite. He has the points lead, more oval experience than Will, and has been there before. If Dario wins the title, it'll be his fourth title in as many years competing in the series (the gap being his 2008 abortive NASCAR attempt).
While the championship battle remains hot, that's one of many stories at Vegas this year. At the beginning of the season, IndyCar announced a challenge to drivers of other series. If they came to Vegas, raced, and won, they would win $5 million. While there were three drivers (Kasey Kahne, Alex Zanardi, and Travis Pastrana) were believed to show interest, nothing materialized. So, to pivot, IndyCar turned to reigning Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who hadn't raced since that victory. While Wheldon has to start in the back of the field as part of the deal, if he can win this race, he will win the $5 million and split it with a fan. While coming from the back will be a tall order, Wheldon will be the #77 Sam Schmidt car for the race. While that's not his Indy 500 winner, it was the 500 pole-winning car, so we know it'll probably be fast on this 1.5 mile overall. It won't be easy, but with $5 million on the line, it shouldn't be.
There's the out with the old, in with the new subtheme going on as well. This is the final race for the old Dallara chassis, which has been in use since 2003. Next year there will be all new cars (see this album from blogger pressdog for a preview) with three engine manufacturers- Honda, Chevy, Lotus. With the current car about to be put to pasture, every team appears to be using their spares. As a result, there are a whopping 34 entries for this race. This car has gotten a lot of flack, and certainly was around way too long, but it's served the series well and at Vegas will get a proper swansong.
Also, yes, this is the final race for Danica Patrick as a full-time IndyCar driver. If she doesn't race at Indy next year, it could easily be her final IndyCar race period. At this point, most IndyCar fans are ready to see her go, and for the race Sunday, expect the usual: a middling qualifying performance, followed by a low-risk drive that ends up at the end of the top 10 or just outside of it at the checkered flag.
Those are the main stories coming in to Vegas. With a very full field and a 1.5 mile oval, IndyCar racing will be showcased at its best. Thanks to a big promotion effort by IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, the crowd should be big and ready for a great race. A championship will be decided on Sunday, and some lucky fan could win $2.5 million. We'll find out what happens starting at 3:00 PM on ABC.