Jun 27, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
Yesterday my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I took a look back at some of the key players from this 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, in examining the goods and bads this year. Today, we pick our top five stories of the year to date, in no particular order:
Tony DiZinno’s Top Five:
Andretti’s assault on the season: There is no question who the best team has been thus far this year: Andretti Autosport is firing on all cylinders. Defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay has come out motivated and determined to silence the critics who said he “lucked” into last year’s championship and is driving like a man possessed – he has six podiums when no one else has more than four, a pair of dominant wins and his qualifying has improved.
Engineering changes in the offseason have actually played to their benefit; renewed with Craig Hampson after his rookie season in 2011, James Hinchcliffe has a series-high three wins and is poised for title contention, Marco Andretti’s offseason work has come to fruition with a solid start to the year, and E.J. Viso and Michael Cannon, together again, have produced some outstanding qualifying efforts that haven’t yet borne fruit in the race. Even rookie Carlos Munoz stunned at Indianapolis by qualifying and finishing second.
Parity early ceding to “big team” rise: Through the seventh race of the year at Detroit, 13 different drivers from eight different teams had scored podium finishes. In the last three races, those numbers have dropped to five and three, respectively. The manic stretch of six races in five weekends has been the ultimate strain on crews and the underdogs who starred early in the season are starting to slip back, if slightly. The authoritative nature of the Andretti Autosport and Team Penske squads, in particular, has started to emerge.
Ganassi more than Honda struggling: Honda hasn’t had the easiest first half but on the days that they have come good, it’s been other teams – Foyt, Coyne and Schmidt – delivering the goods rather than Target Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s not as though Scott Dixon or Dario Franchitti have forgotten how to drive, but adjusting to this year’s 2013 Firestone tire compounds has been a challenge, as has nailing the setup. A year with only one podium finish and no wins through 10 races is nothing short of a shock.
KV’s changing fortunes: KV always seems on the verge of entering IndyCar’s “top team tier,” but its form is so erratic that it can never truly be mentioned in the same breath as an Andretti, a Penske or a Ganassi. Tony Kanaan’s been revitalized with Simona de Silvestro there to push him, as ever, his oval form has been stellar – including a popular and overdue first Indianapolis 500 victory. But man, for de Silvestro, she needs the road and street courses to come back up. A relatively promising start to the year saw her score three top-10 finishes in the first four races, and feature more regularly at the sharp end of the leaderboard. But on the ovals, she’s been a disappointment, and I’m not sure how much of it is driver versus her car and engine. Regardless, her fast start has fizzled, and she needs to recapture it in the second half.
“Turbo” or bust?: There’s undoubtedly going to be more to come on this front when it premieres July 17, but much of the second half of the season will revolve around how well DreamWorks Animation’s “Turbo” will do at the box office, and the impact it has to a broader sphere of potential viewers. In the first half of the year, we’ve seen the Sunoco/ “Turbo” car on track on several occasions – Kanaan picked up the backing for a four-race deal and has two podiums in his first two races in these colors. Townsend Bell ran the livery for Panther Racing at Indianapolis. Helio Castroneves also had “Turbo” on at the start of the year in an associate sponsorship role. Stay tuned for more.
Chris Estrada’s Top Five:
Tony Kanaan finally wins the ‘500’: We had seen Tony Kanaan come so close to winning the biggest race in the world on numerous occasions. In 2004, he was running second to Buddy Rice when a severe thunderstorm ended the race with 20 laps left. In 2009, he was running third when he suffered a drive shaft failure and slammed into both the backstretch and Turn 3 walls. The next year, he charged from 33rd and last all the way to second before having to pit for fuel with four laps left. But in his 12th Brickyard start this past May, the fan favorite finally got to drink the milk after getting past Ryan Hunter-Reay on a Lap 198 restart. To say it was a well-deserved victory for Kanaan is a vast understatement.
Small teams have their days: With the level of talent as high as it has been in a long while, any victory in the IZOD IndyCar Series these days is a serious accomplishment. In the first half of the season, we saw several of the series’ smaller teams come up big – none as big as KV Racing Technology, who won the Indy 500 with Kanaan. But let’s not forget A.J. Foyt Racing’s first checkered flag in over a decade at Long Beach with Takuma Sato, Dale Coyne Racing’s triumph at Detroit (Race 1) with Mike Conway, and Sam Schmidt’s win in the second Detroit race with Simon Pagenaud. Sato and Pagenaud’s wins were their first in their IndyCar careers.
Ganassi off-Target: After a mixed 2012 season for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, I think we all figured a year’s worth of experience on the Dallara DW12 would enable them to find the “sweet spot” and get their drivers, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, back to their normal, dominant selves. But the turnaround hasn’t come in the first half of 2013. Granted, Honda could be doing better but it’s been really surprising at times to see how far off the pace Franchitti and Dixon have looked. Still, no one is going to count this first-class team completely out, not with their resources or pair of “all-world” drivers.
Let’s race two: When former INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard (now with ‘rural lifestyle’ TV network RFD-TV) unveiled the doubleheader format last year for Detroit, Toronto and Houston, the usual “gimmick” charges got thrown around a bit. And there were concerns about how the teams would grind through two full races in one weekend. But the first of those doubleheaders on Detroit’s Belle Isle Park went off smoothly, even if some of the on-track proceedings were cringe-worthy (see my Worst First-Half Race Award). The event also pulled in a hefty three-day weekend crowd as well. Perhaps Bernard was on to something with these doubleheaders.
An emotional issue: INDYCAR took some heat following the Detroit doubleheader for fining Sebastian Saavedra $30,000 after he flipped off Marco Andretti, and putting Will Power and Sebastien Bourdais on probation – Power for throwing his gloves at Bourdais following an accident and Bourdais for comments toward officials on pit road. It all led to questions about INDYCAR muzzling their drivers’ personalities, and with the series fighting for any public attention it can get outside of the Month of May, those questions may be valid. “If a guy gets upset and throws a glove or something like that – it’s a glove, it’s not going to hurt anybody,” Helio Castroneves told the Associated Press at Texas on the subject. “…You can’t just start throwing fines just because the guy had a bad day.”
Apr 24, 2014, 11:06 PM EDT
Ryan Blaney and James Buescher topped Thursday’s two practice sessions for Friday’s ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond International Raceway.
As NHRA closes in on 100 wins by female racers, it all started with one of the greatest, Shirley Muldowney
Apr 24, 2014, 10:01 PM EDT
The NHRA is just two wins away from recording 100 victories by female drivers in the sport’s all-time annals, which could happen in this weekend’s 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway. And while all eyes this weekend will be on drivers such as Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force (Funny Car), Brittany and Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) as potential candidates to set that significant milestone, it’s also time to reflect back on who started it all, the legendary Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:02 PM EDT
If you like vintage cars, collectors cars, muscle cars — pretty much anything that looks great and is on four wheels — you owe it to yourself to check out some of the fantastic rides that were up for sale Wednesday during the first day of the Mecum Kansas City auction.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
The two IndyCar pilots have a blast at U.S. Space Camp before getting down to business this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park (Sun., 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra).
Apr 24, 2014, 8:21 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski had a dream season in 2012, winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Now Keselowski wants a dream schedule on the Cup circuit – and some of his ideas make sense.
Patrick Carpentier returns to race Quebec’s famed Circuit Trois-Rivieres for first time in nearly 20 years
Apr 24, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
It has taken him nearly 20 years, but Patrick Carpentier is going back home to race. A veteran of several race series in his career including CART (5 wins), GP3R (2 wins), IndyCar and NASCAR, the Quebec, Canada native will return to the Circuit Trois-Rivieres street course for his first-ever FIA World Championship Rallycross race August 7-8.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT
Don’t ask Ryan Blaney for directions, period. That’s the message in the latest edition of the Penske Files, in which a Team Penske member asks Blaney for directions to the nearest Discount Tire outlet (Discount Tire is one of Blaney’s primary sponsors in the Nationwide Series this season).
Apr 24, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
According to driver Aric Almirola, team owner Richard Petty is expected to attend Saturday’s NASCAR Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. It will be the first time that Petty has been at a racetrack since the death of his beloved wife Lynda on March 25.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations, says that the process of finalizing the ’15 engine package is underway.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
Brandon Davis did all he could to keep Swan Racing afloat. But even a multi-millionaire oil and gas industrialist can only bleed so much money before deciding to throw a red flag on the operation. When anticipated funding and sponsorship failed to materialized, the two-team operation sank so fast that Davis had no other choice but to essentially go out of business.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
Improved qualifying will likely yield greater results for RLL Racing at Barber this weekend.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Saavedra seek their best weekends of the year at the Barber Motorsports Park event.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Dale Coyne’s team, plus a handful of others will need to assemble programs shortly to bring the Indianapolis 500 car count number up to 33, and perhaps beyond.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
After Long Beach debacle, Andretti Autosport looks to right the ship, get second straight Barber win this weekend.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Looking for a second straight fast, solid weekend, Josef Newgarden and the SFHR team seek an improvement on P9 in 2013 at Barber.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Round 3 of the Verizon IndyCar Series could be a humdinger at Barber with high drama, high tempers possible after Long Beach.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
RPM’s Marcos Ambrose on his start to the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:53 PM EDT
John Force is your classic workaholic.
Even when he’s on vacation and supposed to be resting and relaxing and taking things slow, the record-setting 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ never stops working. Force was on vacation with his family last weekend in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, a prelude to his upcoming 65th birthday on May 4.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Swan Racing has restructured its two-car Sprint Cup team, the organization announced Wednesday afternoon. Minority owner Anthony Marlowe has merged his ownership stake in the No. 26 Toyota driven by Sprint Cup rookie Cole Whitt with BK Racing, which now expands to a three-car operation. Meanwhile, the No. 30 team has been sold to John Cohen, owner of XxxTreme Motorsports.
- As NHRA closes in on 100 wins by female racers, it all started with one of the greatest, Shirley Muldowney 0
- Brad Keselowski: Changes overdue to Sprint Cup schedule; offers his ideas 4
- Richard Petty to return at Richmond, first race since wife Lynda’s death 1
- NASCAR VP: 2015 Sprint Cup engine package to be revealed before All-Star Race 0
- Too much, too fast, too soon: The sad saga of Swan Racing 0
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