After a crazy couple of weeks that saw a leading driver lose it (and then $30,000), a protest denied and an over-hyped announcement that finally confirmed what we all knew for months – the IZOD IndyCar Series will mercifully return to the track this weekend. I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully tired of hearing and writing about the events at New Hampshire. Thank goodness, we have some on-track activity to talk about.
Unfortunately, the track that has the activity is one of my least favorites on the IndyCar schedule. When you look at every natural terrain road course that open-wheel racing has visited over the past twenty years, Infineon Raceway near Sonoma is one that I almost dread to watch. Some of those tracks include venues such as Road America, Mid-Ohio, Portland, nearby Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen and Barber Motorsports Park. Some feature better racing than others, but at least the cars look good tooling around a scenic track even if the racing is lacking.
Then there is Infineon – the track formerly known as Sears Point Raceway. I’ve always found the racing to be especially boring at Sonoma. Unlike other tracks that can at least offer a picturesque view while cars drive around in single-file – Infineon sits in the middle of what appears to be a dust bowl.
For years, I’ve heard different announcers in NASCAR and IndyCar wax poetically about how beautiful the track is. I’m always tempted to check my cable box to make sure they are describing the race I am watching. I’ve never been to Infineon, so I’m assuming that the track sits in a region of great beauty that we television viewers don’t get to see. But from my couch, I see lots of brown dead grass that appears to be sitting on top of dusty sand.
Every time a tire even thinks about drifting off of the track, giant clouds of dust plumes engulf the track. Taking away the driver’s visibility seems to be the only way to inject any form of excitement into the racing at Sonoma. So not only do we get a boring race, but the psychological effect of watching a race in the desert is to make us all very thirsty.
There is not a whole lot on television this Sunday afternoon. NASCAR will race at Bristol the night before. College football is still a week away. If anyone cares, the only NFL pre-season game on Sunday will be that night. A casual fan might somehow land on Versus while flipping around. If they want to see what IndyCar is all about, I’m afraid they won’t come away very impressed after watching a few minutes at Infineon. If I weren’t a hard-core fan or was not interested in the points battle, I’m not sure I would watch it. To me, this race has always been one of the most grueling races to watch on TV. Being there may be different, but it simply does not make for very compelling television.
As I mentioned however, there is still a points battle going on. In fact, it got a little tighter following the New Hampshire race. Will Power now trails Dario Franchitti by only forty-seven points. Don’t look now, but after a win at Mid-Ohio and a third place finish at New Hampshire, Scott Dixon is only twenty-six points behind Will Power. They are the only ones still realistically alive for this championship. Had Dario not screwed up at New Hampshire, he would have a very comfortable lead right now. Still, he’s in the driver’s seat. As long as he has no major foul-ups like he did at New Hampshire, he’s in a good position to win his fourth IndyCar championship. What’s most impressive about that is, assuming he does win it – he will have won the championship in the last four consecutive years that he drove in the series, after sitting out the 2008 season in his failed attempt at NASCAR.
Team Penske desperately needs a good showing this weekend – not just from Will Power, but also from all three of its drivers. This has been a most un-Penske-like season. Not since the late nineties can I remember such a swoon with Team Penske. The last time this happened, The Captain cleaned house, hired new drivers and changed his chassis, engines and tires. The result was two CART championships and two Indianapolis 500 victories over the next three seasons. If I were Ryan Briscoe or Helio Castroneves, I think I might force a little oomph into my step this weekend. Otherwise, I think they would both be justified to be looking over their shoulder as the season winds down and we move into the silly season.
Through twelve races this season, I have a perfect record picking race winners – I’ve missed them all. In fact, it seems that more times than not – my choosing someone to win causes them to be a complete non-factor throughout practice, qualifying and the race. I have to get one right sometime, don’t I? So who is my pick for this week that will doom them to obscurity? Tony Kanaan. His KV Racing Technology team has been very close this season, and Kanaan won the first IndyCar event here in 2005. I think he will win giving KV their first IZOD IndyCar Series win. We’ll see how close I am.
In case you missed it: For your viewing pleasure; John McLallen and I recorded our second edition of One Take Only on Wednesday afternoon and posted it below yesterday. Check it out.