It might seem that the 2010 IndyCar championship is a foregone conclusion. After all, Team Penske's Will Power has a sizable lead in the standings and there are just four races left to run. Ah, but those four are all on ovals, and Will has never claimed the top step of the podium at an oval track. Plus, right behind Power in the race for the overall IZOD IndyCar Championship are Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon – two drivers who have considerably better luck than Power when everybody only has to turn left.
In fact, Dixon leads Franchitti in the new-for-2010 A.J. Foyt Oval Champion standings. Furthermore, Dixon basically owns this week's venue – Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois – despite never actually winning there. That might seem like a contradiction, but Scott has been the bridesmaid on five separate occasions at Chicagoland.
IndyCar's return to the ovals also means bigger fields, with 29 drivers lined up to run for the checkers on Saturday night. Among those 29 were a record five female drivers – Ana Beatriz, Milka Duno, Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick and Simona de Silvestro. Would Dixon finally take the win in Chicago? Would Dario claim victory and close the gap on Power? Would one of the ladies break through and be the first across the stripe? Follow the jump to see how the 2010 Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 from Chicagoland Speedway played out.
[Images: Jonathan Ferrey, Streeter Lecka/Getty Images | Skip Stewart, Nam Y. Huh, Warren Wimmer/AP]
Of the ten races run by the IRL in Chicago, seven have seen the top two (or three in some cases) finishers cross the line less than two-tenths of a second apart. In fact, Chicagoland holds claim to five of the top ten closest finishes in IndyCar history. Ovals can always produce exciting racing like that, and even the qualifying can be exhilarating. A new two-lap qualifying average went into effect with this round, so a real shootout for the pole ensued. When the dust settled, the spread from first to last place was less than a second a lap.
Ryan Briscoe ended up on top, followed by Dario Franchitti in second. The surprise in qualifying centered around the third position. It wasn't Scott Dixon (who would start from 15th) – it was Will Power. Would he finally break his oval jinx? To be fair, Power has always shown good qualifying speed on ovals; he's just had a lot of bad luck in the actual races. Behind Power was teammate Helio Castroneves. Qualifying isn't nearly as important on ovals as it is on road or street courses, however, and Dixon was confident that he'd be in contention on race day.
At the start, 29 cars were ran nose-to-tail and side-by-side-by-side at 210+ miles per hour. We sometimes lose sight of what makes ovals so popular with fans, but this race was a vivid reminder. The circle tracks create a lot of passing opportunities and fans can see nearly every second of racing from whatever seat they're in. It makes for a great show.
Cars ran three abreast and occasionally even four wide, so it wasn't surprising when a few came together on lap 4, bringing out the race's first yellow. Tomas Scheckter and Rafael Matos got the worst of it, but Alex Lloyd and Vitor Meira also had damage that forced them to pit for repairs. Replays showed that it was actually Will Power who indirectly caused the accident when he got sideways coming out of the turn. As drivers checked up behind him, a few weren't able to avoid each other.
At the restart on Lap 16, Marco Andretti got a good run and started challenging Briscoe for the lead. A lap or two later he was past him and into first. A few spots back in sixth was Tony Kanaan, who had advanced quite a bit from his 13th place starting position. It was super-tight racing as the top ten looked like a swarm of bees – running two and three wide with less than a second separating first from tenth.
The yellow flag came out again on Lap 78 as Ana Beatriz brushed the wall. The field dove into the pits and the ensuing melee as everyone exited saw teammates E.J. Viso and Takuma Sato collide. Sato was perhaps luckier as the impact with Viso spun him around and pointed him back towards his stall. Sadly, the car couldn't get back on track and Sato had his 8th DNF of the year. Hideki Mutoh ran into some hard luck as well. He lost a wheel and was forced to take a full lap before returning to the pits.
Just as the field was set to go back to green, Alex Tagliani was punted from behind by Mutoh, who was hit by Vitor Meira as they accelerated in anticipation of the restart. On Lap 91, green-flag racing finally resumed with Briscoe in front followed by Andretti and Franchitti, who hounded Sarah Fisher for second place. Fisher, driving in honor of a crew member who was retiring after this race to battle Lou Gehrig's Disease, clung to the position until she had to make her second pit stop around Lap 130.
The racing following the next round of stops was probably the best IndyCar's seen all year. Will Power found himself between Ryan Briscoe on the low side and Marco Andretti up high in the front row. Behind them, another row of cars going three wide meant the front six were inches apart at 219 mph. Overhead shots make this look easy, but in-car footage shows how difficult it really is. Running in a pack at 210+ mph, the track surface's dips and ridges, coupled with the shifting airflow over the vehicles, makes the cars dance around. That's not very comforting when you're running a few inches from your competitors.
Power looked to be a man on a mission during the closing laps. He finally drew ahead of his opponents, and just as the field began to string out, Alex Lloyd gracefully slid through the infield at a very rapid clip. Fortunately, there was no contact, but Lloyd's excursion brought out another yellow and started the final round of stops.
Back to racing with 23 laps to go, Dario Franchitti was up front - the eleventh different leader on Saturday. That broke the IndyCar record for lead changes in a single race. The laps ticked off, with Franchitti leading Dan Wheldon, Will Power, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti. The top 13 cars were within a second of each other as everyone positioned themselves for the final laps. At times, cars ran four-wide. The slightest bobble by anyone dropped them back several spots, while someone with any extra momentum could pass two or three cars at a time. It was wild, close racing with drivers banging wheels and getting very close to the wall.
With five laps to go, bad luck returned for Will Power – a problem with the refueling rig left his tank completely dry. He slowed and pulled into the pits as Franchitti charged ahead, the points gap closing before everyone's eyes. Dario took the checkered flag while Dan Wheldon and Marco Andreti made it close for second and third. By taking first place, Franchitti moves to within 23 points of Championship leader Will Power as the IndyCar series moves on to the next oval in Kentucky on September 4.
Join us then, and don't forget to check out the full results and standings below.
|1||6||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||Team Penske||50.5857||216.346|
|2||10||Dario Franchitti||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||50.7624||215.593|
|3||12||Will Power||Verizon Team Penske||Verizon Team Penske||50.7792||215.521|
|4||3||Helio Castroneves||Team Penske||Team Penske||50.7702||215.475|
|5||26||Marco Andretti||Team Venom Energy||Andretti Autosport||50.8265||215.321|
|6||02||Graham Rahal||NHR/QuickTrim||Newman/Haas Racing||50.8281||215.314|
|7||4||Dan Wheldon||National Guard Panther Racing||Panther Racing||50.8789||215.099|
|8||06||Hideki Mutoh||Formula Dream/Panasonic||Newman/Haas Racing||50.8892||215.055|
|9||37||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Ethanol USA Team IZOD||Andretti Autosport||50.9074||214.979|
|10||5||Takuma Sato (R)||Lotus-KV Racing Technology||KV Racing Technology||50.9154||214.945|
|11||20||Ed Carpenter||Panther/Vision/Fuzzy's Vodka||Panther Racing||50.9423||214.831|
|12||7||Danica Patrick||Team GoDaddy.com||Andretti Autosport||50.9616||214.750|
|13||11||Tony Kanaan||Team 7-Eleven/Planters||Andretti Autosport||50.9896||214.632|
|14||19||Alex Lloyd (R)||Boy Scouts of America||Dale Coyne Racing||51.0285||214.468|
|15||9||Scott Dixon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||51.0761||214.269|
|16||8||E.J. Viso||PDVSA KVRT||KV Racing Technology||51.0901||214.210|
|17||36||Tomas Scheckter||Conquest Racing||Conquest Racing||51.1179||214.093|
|18||2||Raphael Matos||HP de Ferran Dragon||de Ferran Dragon Racing||51.1462||213.975|
|19||77||Alex Tagliani||FAZZT Race Team||FAZZT Race Team||51.1617||213.910|
|20||34||Bertrand Baguette (R)||Conquest Racing RACB||Conquest Racing||51.2162||213.682|
|21||32||Mario Moraes||KV Racing Technology||KV Racing Technology||51.2700||213.458|
|22||24||Ana Beatriz||Dad's Root Beer/DRR||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||51.2770||213.429|
|23||22||Justin Wilson||Team Z-Line Designs/DRR||Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Mtrsprts||51.2875||213.385|
|24||14||Vitor Meira||ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||51.3547||213.106|
|25||67||Sarah Fisher||Dollar General/Sarah Fisher Racing||Sarah Fisher Racing||51.3573||213.095|
|26||18||Milka Duno||CITGO||Dale Coyne Racing||51.4342||212.777|
|27||78||Simona de Silvestro (R)||Team Stargate Worlds/HVM||HVM Racing||51.4625||212.660|
|28||21||Davey Hamilton||HP de Ferran Dragon||de Ferran Dragon Racing||51.5051||212.484|
|29||66||Jay Howard (R)||Service Central/Sarah Fisher Racing||Sarah Fisher Racing||51.3573||212.097|
|1||10||Dario Franchitti||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||200||01:47:49.5783||Running||50|
|2||4||Dan Wheldon||Panther Racing||200||01:47:49.6206||Running||40|
|3||26||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||200||01:47:49.6834||Running||35|
|4||37||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||200||01:47:49.7414||Running||32|
|5||11||Tony Kanaan||Andretti Autosport||200||01:47:49.9191||Running||30|
|6||3||Helio Castroneves||Team Penske||200||01:47:50.0651||Running||28|
|7||22||Justin Wilson||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||200||01:47:50.1736||Running||26|
|8||9||Scott Dixon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||200||01:47:50.4920||Running||24|
|9||14||Vitor Meira||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||200||01:47:50.5371||Running||22|
|10||02||Graham Rahal||Newman/Haas Racing||200||01:47:50.5624||Running||20|
|11||6||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||200||01:47:50.5968||Running||22|
|12||34||Bertrand Baguette||Conquest Racing||200||01:47:50.6616||Running||18|
|13||06||Hideki Mutoh||Newman/Haas Racing||200||01:47:50.8825||Running||17|
|14||7||Danica Patrick||Andretti Autosport||200||01:47:51.1441||Running||16|
|15||67||Sarah Fisher||Sarah Fisher Racing||199||01:47:51.6270||Running||15|
|16||12||Will Power||Team Penske||199||01:47:58.1955||Running||14|
|17||32||Mario Moraes||KV Racing Technology||199||01:48:01.2063||Running||13|
|18||21||Davey Hamilton||de Ferran Dragon Racing||199||01:48:01.3746||Running||12|
|19||18||Milka Duno||Dale Coyne Racing||197||01:47:51.7735||Running||12|
|20||20||Ed Carpenter||Panther Racing||179||01:39:43.6087||Mechanical||12|
|21||66||Jay Howard (R)||Sarah Fisher Racing||162||01:47:51.4765||Mechanical||12|
|22||19||Alex Lloyd||Dale Coyne Racing||161||01:39:19.4910||Running||12|
|23||78||Simona De Silvestro||Team Stargate Worlds/HVM||150||01:25:03.1938||Mechanical||12|
|24||24||Ana Beatriz||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||88||01:34:52.8506||Mechanical||12|
|25||77||Alex Tagliani||FAZZT Race Team||85||00:50:05.2152||Contact||10|
|26||5||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology||80||00:44:19.7999||Contact||10|
|27||8||E.J. Viso||KV Racing Technology||80||00:44:20.5096||Contact||10|
|28||36||Tomas Scheckter||Conquest Racing||4||00:01:45.1407||Contact||10|
|29||2||Raphael Matos||de Ferran Dragon Racing||4||00:01:45.4504||Contact||10|
|CP||Driver||Champ Lead||Oval Lead||Road Lead||Points||Gap|