THE DREAM RACE
The IndyCar Points Chase in Fontana
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Thu, Sep 13, 2012
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Brian Kennedy The Izod IndyCar World Championship. That’s what they call it, and this weekend at Fontana, it all comes down to what happens Saturday afternoon in a 500-mile race that begins at 4:30 local time. Other than Indy, it’s the longest race of the year, the longest oval race in a decade, in fact, aside from that at the Brickyard. It almost didn’t happen this way. A couple of weeks ago, Will Power had a handy lead in the points chase, being clear of second-place Ryan Hunter-Reay by enough that a win in Baltimore, where the teams last raced, would have wrapped things up. That would have been too bad, in a way, for fans who want to see a meaningful race at Fontana, one where everything is on the line. Now, that’s exactly the case. In Baltimore on September 2nd, Hunter-Reay won while Power came in sixth. This netted the winner 50 points, while Power gained only 31 for his finish and a bonus for getting pole. Thus the points total stood, and stands today, at 453 for Power, 436 for Hunter-Reay. Their next nearest competitor is Helio Castroneves with 401. He is thus mathematically eliminated form the possibility of the title. Right behind him at 400 is former winner Scott Dixon. Going into Baltimore’s raceday action, Power had 423 points to Hunter-Reay’s 386, a margin of 37. Had he outpointed the American by a couple of spots at the front of the grid, say by winning while Hunter-Reay placed third, he would have locked up the championship. For instance, had he won, he would have had 473 points. If Power had come in second, he would have stood at 426, a difference of 47, insurmountable. Had Power won while Hunter-Reay placed third, it would have been lights out, because the lead would have been 473-421, a 52-point margin. The points in IndyCar are not like those in NASCAR, by the way. The dropoff is steep, with the winner gaining 50 and every driver down to last place gaining at least 10. But even that’s better than in the old days, when the points stopped after the first half-dozen or so places. That system gave a driver no incentive to limp to the finish or struggle along a few laps down. The new system does, and thus fields are more full at the end of races, a benefit to fans. And Power locking things up in Maryland is what should have happened. Power had pole. Hunter-Reay was tenth on the grid. Anyone who watches street course racing, like that at Long Beach every spring, knows that positions are hard to make up. Ten spots is nearly impossible. The contrary to that is that without a major mechanical disaster, the front-runners at the start are usually on the podium at the end. What happened? Power began at the front, but rain played into strategy. His team pulled him into the pits at what turned out to be a somewhat inopportune time, and he went out 17th, working his way up to the aforementioned sixth. Meanwhile, Hunter-Reay roared past leader Ryan Briscoe on a late-lap restart. It was a move that had the then-leader puzzled after the race. He questioned the tactic, noting that there are cones placed to show drivers when they are allowed to accelerate. Tradition and rules have it that the leader controls the restart pace. IndyCar upheld Hunter-Reay’s actions as legal, citing the fact that the starter and the green flag, not the leader, are in control of the restart. All of this redeemed Hunter-Reay’s disaster the week before at Sonoma, where he was spun into the wall by Alex Tagliani, nearly ending his hopes to gain his first championship. He ended that race 18th, while Power finished second after gaining the pole. Briscoe, he of the restart woes in Baltimore, won the race in Sonoma. Of further intrigue is that of the two types of racing, twisty circuit and oval, Hunter-Reay is far the master at the ovals, Power of the other kind. So to add a layer of drama, check this out. This season, the leader of the Izod IndyCar series on ovals is Hunter-Reay, with 136 points so far (Tony Kanaan is in a mathematical tie with 136 also). Power is second. Check that. Third. Nope. He’s seventeenth! He’s gained only 74 points on tracks which exclusively ask for left turns. On the contrary, Power leads the league in road course points, with 379, whereas Hunter-Reay is second with 300. Power has won 18 times in his career, an impressive record, but he has just one triumph on an oval track. What does that say about his ability to close things out Saturday? You decide, but in any event, it all comes down to one race, and the fact that it’s on an oval could mean everything. This might be especially true since, on an oval, right to the end, traffic and backmarkers could play a role. As it stands, Power can help himself the most, obviously, if he wins the race. If he does that, he can’t lose the points total. He would have 503, and the most Hunter-Reay could land on is 479, and that would be with second plus all the bonus points available. But anything less than first for Power, and what Hunter-Reay does can make the difference. For instance, if Power is second, he gains 40 points. That gives him 493 (bonus points aside). If Hunter-Reay is first, he gains 50, for 486. Power wins. But if Hunter-Reay wins to land at 486 and Power is third, Power is at 488. But if Hunter-Reay also gets pole (1 point) and leads the most laps (3 points), then he wins. And if Power wins and Hunter-Reay has a mediocre day, then he’s in trouble. Fourth gets him 32 points, for a total of 485, meaning his competitor would have to win, but not necessarily get pole or lead the most to gain the championship. In that case, Power would have 485 and Hunter-Reay 486. It comes down then, to who gets the 2 points and 1 point bonuses. Should they go to yet another driver, then it’s head-to-head and Power wins. So rather than fans seeing a fast, exciting, but in some sense meaningless race because things are all sewn up already, they can expect action, passing, and risk in service of something. The points championship, especially if one of these guys gets the pole in Friday’s running of qualifying, will be neck-and-neck down to the final lap. What better thing to ask for, whether you’re a casual fan or a die-hard? For information on tickets, visit www.autoclubspeedway.com. There’s qualifying and other entertainment Friday, and racing action with this series and Indy Lights on Saturday. West Coast fans note that www.indycar.com lists the start as 7:30, but that’s Eastern time. So show up at noon, take in the adventure, and then sit tight as day turns to night and the IndyCars fire up. Follow Brian on twitter @growinguphockey. Read Brian Kennedy's Hunter-Reay, Power Play: IndyCar qualifying creates more puzzles Read Brian Kennedy's Culture Club: When does car culture equal IndyCar culture? For more information about Auto Club Speedway events, go to autoclubspeedway.com For more information about the 2012 Izod IndyCar schedule, click here