Well, what a surprise (not really). The top three cars in points will be the top three cars at the head of the grid in this afternoon’s race. That’s been pretty much the story all season long. The only slight surprise among the top three is that Scott Dixon is not on the pole. Although Dixon had been fastest in practice, the top honor went to his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti. Ryan Briscoe settled for the third starting position. For Briscoe’s sake, the main thing was to make sure Dixon did not receive the bonus point for winning the pole. Franchitti got it instead to move him within four points of the championship while Briscoe remains only eight points out. Still, it is pretty much a winner take all proposition…assuming one of these three cars win.
The real surprises in qualifying came with the next set of qualifiers. Ed Carpenter continued his run of success on the one and a half mile ovals. He will start today’s race in the fourth starting spot. The biggest surprise of all (to me anyway) was Alex Lloyd’s performance. In only his third race in two seasons, his second this year and his first ever with Newman/Haas/Lanigan – Alex Lloyd steered his “Her” energy drink Dallara into the fifth position. His N/H/L teammate, Graham Rahal will start sixth.
Andretti-Green teammates Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti will start seventh and eighth respectively. Fellow Brazilians Raphael Matos and Mario Moraes will round out the top-ten. The biggest disappointments of the day were Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan. Helio has a valid excuse as the left-rear suspension of his primary car collapsed during practice, sending him into a violent turn-two spin that ended with a hard hit into the SAFER barrier. His Penske crew had to hurry to ready his backup car for qualifying. All things considered, he is probably happy with eleventh place on the starting grid.
Tony Kanaan has no such obvious excuse. He reeled off a disappointing fifteenth starting spot, as he will start alongside Sarah Fisher who is only racing for the sixth time this season. Kudos to Sarah this weekend. She had to undergo an engine-change between the two practice sessions. I think her overachieving team did well to manage an eighth row spot. She also announced her small start-up team is expanding next season. Sarah will drive in nine events including some road courses. In addition to that news, she is adding Jay Howard as a second car in four events. I’ve said it before, but Sarah is taking the time to build this team the right way. Good for her!
Just behind Sarah Fisher is Milka Duno, who had a respectable qualifying run. At seventeenth, she will start ahead of such drivers as EJ Viso, Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Bringing up the rear is Newman/Haas/Lanigan refugee Robert Doornbos, who left N/H/L in a bizarre move for the supposed greener pastures of HVM; and Jacques Lazier who will start last for Team 3G – again, no surprise.
There seems to be a couple of prevailing thoughts for today’s race. Everyone talks as if one of these top three drivers will win the race. If that happens, it will be a winner-take-all event. If someone else sneaks in and steals it, then things get a little dicier. The other popular myth out there is that this championship is between Dixon and Briscoe. Don’t be surprised to see Dario Franchitti jump up and snag this thing. He is a savvy driver who has appeared hungry all season. At four points back, it’s a mystery to me why he seems to be the forgotten member of this trio.
I won’t make a prediction. I’ve made it known that I want Briscoe to win it all. If he can’t then I want Franchitti next and then Dixon. I really have no idea how it will play out. Based on qualifying, you would have to give the edge to one of the Target cars. But with Roger Penske and Tony Kanaan’s former engineer Eric Cowdin both sitting up on Briscoe’s pit box – I wouldn’t be counting out Ryan Briscoe just yet. Those are two pretty strong secret weapons to have in your back pocket.
Enjoy the race!