Thursday, June 25, 2009

SunTrust Indy Challenge Race Preview

The IndyCar Series moves on to Richmond International Speedway for its 8th race of the season and second race in six days. The last time we saw the IndyCar Series, Dario Franchitti captured his second win of the 2009 season by dominating the second half of the Iowa Corn 250 at Iowa Speedway. The IndyCar Series is in the heart of its schedule, as they begin a stretch of six races in seven weekends. The chase for the point’s championship is heating up as well, as six drivers remain separated by only 57 points. IndyCarGarage breaks down five things to watch for in Saturday night’s 225 mile race.

1. The Track itself – Richmond International Speedway

Richmond International Speedway will offer some of the most action packed racing of the entire 17 race schedule. The IndyCars will be able to pass at any spot on the track and also will battle for position through pit-stops. Traffic will be factor as well, as only eight of the 26 car field finished on the lead lap last year. The 2008 race saw the pole sitter Tony Kanaan take home the checkered flag, that win a year ago was the last time both Tony Kanaan and his team Andretti-Green Racing were in the winners circle. This will mark the ninth sanctioned IndyCar Race at Richmond International Speedway. Richmond will also be the last oval before the IndyCar Series embarks on three consecutive road/street courses, if you’re an oval fan, enjoy this race until the series heads to Kentucky in August.

2. Still looking for a third team to break through in 2009

Seven races into the 2009 season and we have only seen two teams enter the winners circle. Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi have dominated the 2009 season by winning every race on the schedule. It’s not surprising either that the four drivers represented by those two teams also represent the four drivers in the top of the point’s championship. The IndyCar Series needs someone new to break through this year. Fan favorite Tony Kanaan won last year as mentioned above. Danica Patrick could possibly break through for her second career win if she can qualify towards the top. A handful of other possible drivers are in the mix as well, Dan Wheldon and Marco Andretti to name a few. Early traffic and crashes will factor into who survives the 300 laps at Richmond.

3. The Points Championship

Ryan Briscoe holds a slim lead over second place Dario Franchitti and only because Briscoe finished runner up in Iowa. The top six drivers are separated by 57 points as mentioned above, Briscoe, Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Danica Patrick, and Dan Wheldon all need solid races (top 10) to maintain their positions in the race for the championship. Keep an eye on the pole sitter and the driver who leads the most laps, as additional bonus points are awarded for those accomplishments. Danica Patrick needs a podium finish to recapture the momentum she had coming out of Indianapolis.

4. The return of Versus Coverage

The IndyCar Series will return to action on Versus for the SunTrust Indy Challenge on Saturday night. The last time we heard from Versus in the IndyCar Series was at Texas Motor Speedway. Versus will cover qualifications on Friday night from 6-7 p.m. and cover the race on Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. The Versus trio of Bob Jenkins, Jon Beekhuis and former driver Robbie Buhl have offered great insight from the booth, and the camera shots have been great as well. The ABC/ESPN coverage last week at Iowa was average at best, as replays of the wrecks were often forgotten, some of the pit stops were missed in the side by side coverage, and overall it just wasn’t great. Hopefully Versus can get back to their May type coverage of the IndyCar series, as they seemed to be at their best during that time period

5. Car Count

IndyCarGarage has touched on this before, but hopefully Richmond is the last race on the schedule were only 20 cars will take the green flag. President of Competition in the IndyCar Series Brian Barnhart has been quoted as saying 22-25 drivers should be the norm for the rest of the season. 26 cars took the green flag last year at Richmond, and this year it looks like it will be down substantially. The economy is hurting everyone in auto spots, (see where the NASCAR truck series is next year) but IndyCars have weathered the storm to a degree. If the car count can return to the mid 20s for the remainder of the season, we should see some more competitive racing and story lines develop.

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