Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iowa Corn 250 - Race Preview

The IndyCar Series returns to action in Iowa for the Iowa Corn 250. After a weekend layoff from racing, 20 entries will try their luck in attempting to be crowned the third champion at Iowa Speedway. Dario Franchitti won the inaugural event in 2007 driving for Andretti-Green Racing and Dan Wheldon won last year driving for Chip-Ganassai Racing. The last time we saw the IndyCar Series in action was at Texas Motor Speedway where Helio Castroneves won after a late pit-stop that carried him on to the win. IndyCar Garage breaks down six storylines , as the IndyCars enter their seventh race of the 2009 season in the Iowa Corn 250.

1. Can the IndyCar Series put some else in victory lane other than a Penske or a Ganassi car?

The first six races of the season have been won by a Roger Penske or a Chip Ganassi machine. As we approach the halfway point of the 2009 season, the IndyCar officials have to be hopping for someone to break through that isn’t in one of the four cars driven for Penske or Ganassi. Dan Wheldon has been close with Panther, Danica Patrick seems to be the top AGR car, Graham Rahal has shown potential, and Tony Kanna is an experienced veteran, but still someone besides the big four needs to poke through and spice up the top spot on the podium. From a fans perspective, the first six races haven’t featured much drama from any of the drivers outside Penske or Ganassi, that needs to change as quickly as possible.

2. The Danica/Marco feud continues…. well maybe.

The Danica Patrick / Marco Andretti war of words that took place after the Texas Motor Speedway race was the talk of the garages which is unfortunate. Texas is usually some of the best racing of the entire season, and the only thing that came out of that race was Marco claiming his teammate wouldn’t let him pass. Tony Kanna tried to play a peacemaker through it all and multiple media reports have featured Marco and Danica downplaying the situation. The bottom line with both drivers is that they are the best threats to unseat Penske or Ganassi. Danica is having her best season to date and Marco seemed to have a break through at TMS. Marco didn’t do himself any favors by wrecking his primary car in the first practice session at Iowa. Danica is going to have focus for the rest of the season as much as been made of her contract expiring and her switch to NASCAR.

3. The Car Count

After seeing a season high 24 cars at Texas Motor Speedway (outside of Indy) the car count is back down to 20 for this weekend’s race. Brian Barnhart was quoted earlier in the week as he expects the count to be between 22-25 cars for the remainder of the season after the Richmond race. Drivers that will be around part-time throughout the rest of season include Paul Tracy, Sarah Fisher, Milka Duno, Roger Yasukawa, Richard Antinucci, Will Power, Townsend Bell, and Scott Sharp. If you add those eight drivers full time to the series, that’s 28 full-time drivers that would make the series more exciting and add more of element for the fans. IndyCar Garage has said before that a 26-30 car count is about what the IndyCar series needs and if you look at the part-timers, it makes you realize that the IndyCar series is doing ok in this economy.

4. Silly Season is in full swing

Silly Season is in full swing, and most of it centers around one driver in the Indy Car Series. Danica Patrick has become the focal point of the IndyCar Series, based off two things. First, Danica brings more money with her in sponsorships than probably all but a couple NASCAR drivers. Her ability to market herself, her sexuality, personality and talent, has put her in the position as one of the most popular drivers in any form of auto racing. Second, Danica is having one of her best seasons in IndyCars as she sits fifth in points and finished a season high third at the Indy 500. Her finish at Indy was the highest ever by a woman, and has spring boarded her into the national spotlight. Let’s be honest, NASCAR is under pressure to survive in this economy and what better addition to their series than Danica Patrick and her sponsorships. The rumors continue to spark around Chip Ganassi fielding a third car for her in 2010, this would put her in one of the top two teams in the IndyCar Series. This would also give her the chance to possibly test and drive one of Ganassi’s NASCAR’s. In other silly season news, Paul Tracy has been rumored to be replacing Danica at AGR. Scott Dixon’s name has been thrown around for the possibly new Gil De Farren team that might be formed, but that is premature as best. Scott Sharp seems to be close to returning full time in 2010, and Sarah Fisher has hopes of participating full time in 2010. All in all, the Danica news will dominate silly season.

5. The Point Championship Race

Ryan Briscoe leads the point’s championship by three points over Scott Dixon. Dixon’s teammate Dario Franchitti is only 11 points back in third. Helio is seeking his first championship and is in good shape after missing the first race of the season, as he sits in fourth just 13 points back. Danica Patrick rounds out the top five, being only 32 points back. None of these five drivers can afford a DNF or a mistake in the pits. As the IndyCar Series enters a stretch of seven races in eight weeks, top five finishes and mistake free races have to be the first priority among these drivers. Both Iowa races have featured an abundance of wrecks, so it should be interesting to see how these five drivers endure.

6. An opportunity is brewing for the IndyCar Series, will they take advantage of it?

As we all know the economy is hurting all forms of auto-sports. The IndyCar Series has been affected in some ways, but in an overall perspective, they have held up fairly well. Let’s take a look at the other forms of competing auto sports. NASCAR is on life-sport with the Nationwide and Truck Series having all funding form General Motors being cut off. The truck series has 33 entries into their Milwaukee race on Saturday, 10 of the trucks pulled a start a park. The Sprint Cup series is watching every race this year drop in attendance, ratings and sponsorship, the key date being the July race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as some say attendance might not break 150,000. Formula One is in the beginning of a spilt, does this sound like Dejavu? The major teams in Formula 1 have announced officially to form a breakaway series that would feature some of the major teams including Ferrari and McLaren. The divorce in F1 is just beginning, plan for it to get worse.

What does this all mean? It means that the time is right for IndyCars to capitalize on the rest of the auto world being in a slump and market their product. Does this mean IndyCar needs to become NASCAR? Not at all, they need a title sponsor first, then they need to secure their rising stars like Danica and Graham Rahal. They then need to increase their schedule to about 21-24 races over the course of the next three years. They need the rumors of Tony George and his sisters to go away NOW. They need Robin Miller to quit breaking negative stories about the IndyCars. Finally, they need to secure a solid count as mentioned above. We all can hope these things come soon enough.

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