Jun 25, 2014, 11:16 AM EDT
Technically, the Verizon IndyCar Series won’t reach the halfway point of the season until after the first race of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend on Saturday. That will mark 9 of 18 races complete, and signal just two months left in the season.
But, with this having been a two-week break, the longest the series will have at any point this year, we take a look back at the stunners, spoilers and stragglers thus far in 2014:
BEST DRIVER: HELIO CASTRONEVES
So why am I picking the 39-year-old Brazilian over his Team Penske teammate and series points leader, Will Power, or the guy he lost out to for the Indianapolis 500, Ryan Hunter-Reay? Castroneves has shown the resilience and determination I didn’t think was possible after his near-title miss in 2013. His Detroit weekend was one of his out-and-out fastest weekends in years; he was revitalized at Indianapolis, just missing the 500 win to Hunter-Reay, and was frustrated with thirds at both St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis Grand Prix. If he holds it together in the second half, he may well finally put together that elusive first series championship. Power and Hunter-Reay, for as much as they’ve been the two drivers with the highest ceilings this year, have been in the headlines for controversy or mistakes as much as their highlights. And being the best driver on IndyCar’s biggest day does not necessarily mean he/she has been the best driver over the course of the season.
BEST ROOKIE: JACK HAWKSWORTH
It all comes down to circumstances, and Hawksworth is excelling most in his. A rookie on in the single-car No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda entry should not have three top-five starts and 32 laps led this year, but indeed he does. I was surprised when Bryan Herta brought him in instead of offseason favorite Luca Filippi, but Hawksworth has been nothing short of impressive this year. This is not to sell the other rookies short, but all of Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport), Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) and Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing) have excellent teammates at their disposal to learn from; Hawksworth does not.
NEED A REBOUND IN SECOND HALF: SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, GRAHAM RAHAL
I don’t want to call either of the former Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing Champ Car teammates “disappointing,” but thus far these two have been below my expectations. Bourdais has made way too many mistakes, especially for someone of his experience level, and incurred the wrath of several penalties. For whatever reason, despite having all the resources at his disposal at RLL, Rahal has struggled in qualifying and has had to rely on great starts and restarts to make up positions this year.
HARD-LUCK AWARD: JOSEF NEWGARDEN
I gave Josef my “most improved” driver award last year and his qualifying has been significantly better in 2014, especially impressive considering a change in engineers preseason and working as a single-car entry for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. But man he can’t buy a break. Speared by RHR in Long Beach, Martin Plowman at the Indy 500 and Power at Detroit Race 2, plus a rare unforced error in Detroit Race 1, have left Newgarden’s results not at the level of his qualifying performances.
BEST FIRST-HALF RACE: INDY 500
Hard not to give it to the race where Hunter-Reay and Castroneves staged a thrilling six-lap bout for the win after the red flag, and the field kept it clean and green for the first 149 laps. It had just the right amount of passing, pacing and fuel strategy for my liking, with an excellent finish to boot.
FIVE STORIES TO WATCH IN THE SECOND HALF
- Power vs. the world: Points leader Will Power has made himself no friends with some of his on-track moves this season, but, as he said post-Texas, he’s still been earning a lot of penalties. How he handles himself and the pressure in the hunt for his first title will be fascinating over the coming weeks.
- Pagenaud, RHR, Castroneves in with a shot? Figure these three – RHR, Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud – have the best shot to overtake Power for the championship. The top four are within 91 points heading into the final 10-race stretch. Pagenaud’s No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda team needs just slightly better qualifying efforts (no top-three starts this year… RHR has four), but otherwise is a title contender.
- Can Ganassi pull second-half comeback encore? The pre-Pocono test at Sebring last year has entered the annals in recent IndyCar history for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. But at 156 points back in eighth place, Scott Dixon has a higher mountain to climb if he wants to repeat his 2013 series championship. Teammates Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball seek the glory of wins, and not also-ran performances.
- The double points lottery: Pocono and Fontana offer double points on their own, and with doubleheaders at Houston and Toronto, those four weekends of the remaining eight on the calendar have a greater determination towards the championship than the four other, standard points weekends of Iowa, Mid-Ohio, Milwaukee and Sonoma. A driver like a Marco Andretti or Tony Kanaan, for instance, could bag the Pocono win and if the leaders hit problems, suddenly vault himself back into title contention as well.
- Fatigue: There’s 10 races in the next 10 weekends… there’s six races in the next four. How drivers and crews hold up over what’s going to be a physically demanding and at times, exhausting schedule, will determine much of the championship chase.
See the rest of the season on NBCSN, and both of this weekend’s races from Houston at 3 p.m. ET each of Saturday and Sunday on NBCSN and Live Extra.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:25 AM EDT
The result beats her previous high water mark of seventh this past May at Kansas.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — It was a rough night for a number of drivers in Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta, including Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:43 AM EDT
Matt Kenseth enters the post-season with a second place result, while Clint Bowyer finds himself outside the Chase Grid going into next Saturday’s regular season finale.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Kasey Kahne’s 17th career Sprint Cup win couldn’t have been any larger.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:07 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – It was not the comeback that Tony Stewart had hoped for.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Tony Stewart’s return to competition tonight at Atlanta Motor Speedway has encountered some trouble after a restart run-in with “Rowdy.”
Schumacher (TF), Hagan (FC), Line (PS), Krawiec (PSM) ones to beat in Monday’s NHRA U.S. Nationals finals
Aug 31, 2014, 9:08 PM EDT
Following Sunday’s final round of qualifying, Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will lead their respective classes as No. 1 qualifiers for Monday’s final eliminations of the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
Aug 31, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — There was no question which driver received the most applause and cheers during driver introductions prior to the start of Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 31, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Rush Truck Centers’ CEO: “We stand with Tony.”
Aug 31, 2014, 5:34 PM EDT
Matt Kenseth can clinch a spot in the post-season with a finish of seventh or better in tonight’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 31, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — Atlanta Motor Speedway will honor longtime Atlanta-area broadcaster and motorsports reporter “Capt. Herb” Emory, who passed away in April at the age of 61, prior to Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
Aug 31, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
Ryan Blaney uses a cross-over move on German Quiroga in the final corner and then beats him to the stripe, winning the Chevrolet Silverado 250.
Aug 31, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
The 9-time U.S. Nationals champion dispatches Richie Crampton in the final of the Traxxas Shootout with a track-record speed of 328.54 mph.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
The legal wranglings following the sale of the team look set to continue.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Former FIA president believes Mercedes made a mistake hanging its dirty laundry out for all to see.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Not the best start to life with Red Bull for the young Dutchman.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Marquez claims win number 11 of his remarkable sophomore year in Moto GP.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Australians stick together, right?
Aug 31, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
Australian touring car series will not be returning to Austin in 2015 as originally planned.
Aug 31, 2014, 4:00 AM EDT
Will Power’s brother Damien provides raucous, hilarious commentary as Will drove towards the Verizon IndyCar Series title.
Video from NASCAR America
- Kenseth clinches Chase berth; Bowyer falls out of Grid with one race to go 0
- Kasey Kahne rallies in last 2 laps to win at Atlanta, makes Chase 0
- Tony Stewart’s comeback hopes end with rough 41st-place finish at Atlanta 0
- Tony Stewart the obvious fan favorite during pre-race introductions at Atlanta 1
- Still searching: Castroneves finishes 14th, falls short of IndyCar title (VIDEO) 1
- Will Power claims 2014 IndyCar title as Tony Kanaan ties season win record in Fontana 1
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tony Stewart’s return to racing: ‘I’m sure that’s where he wants to be’ 0