Two things matter in the IZOD IndyCar Series: The Indianapolis 500, and the Series Championship.
We saw a familiar face win in Indy this year, but a new face will likely be holding their first Championship trophy this September in Fontana. Dario Franchitti won his third ‘500’ in May, but winning his fifth Championship seems highly unlikely this year.
With five races left in the 2012 season, Ryan Hunter-Reay holds a 34 point lead over Will Power. Helio Castroneves is 46 points back, Scott Dixon is 54 behind, and James Hinchcliffe trails by 67 points. Of these five drivers, only Dixon has won an IndyCar Championship.
Obviously no one is hotter than Hunter-Reay. He has won the last three races, collecting 150 championship points. While Ryan has been on fire, Power has fizzled. In the last three races (which RHR won) Will has finished 12th, 23rd, and 15th. He has not had a podium finish since the April 29 race in Brazil.
It appears to be a battle between these two drivers, as they have combined to win six of the ten races this season (three each). The other four winners this year are Helio, Dixon, Dario, and Justin Wilson.
Will could make up a little ground in qualifying. He has two poles so far, while Ryan has none. Power is the favorite to win the pole at virtually every road/street course. Those valuable extra points can really add up over the course of a season.
You would think with four of the last five races being non-ovals, that Power would have the upper hand. Unfortunately for him, Hunter-Reay is one of the best on both ovals and non-ovals. Given that Ryan has a 34 point advantage, these two could be neck and neck heading into the 500-mile season finale in Fontana.
Chevrolet would love for the title to come down to Hunter-Reay and Power. Right now they lead the manufacturer’s Championship by 12 points over Honda. They have won seven of the ten races so far, in what has been a great battle between the two manufacturers.
For the other contenders, they know top-five finishes won’t get the job done. They will have to win. First place rewards 50 points, while the runner-up gets 40. Third, fourth, and fifth place hand out 35, 32, and 30 points respectively. The difference between fourth and ninth is ten points, which is the same difference between first and second.
History seems to be on Hunter-Reay’s side. There have been 21 instances where a driver won three straight races in a season. All but three times has that driver won the championship that same year.
The fact is, wins matter now more than ever. The two guys doing the winning are in a battle that could come down to the final race of the season. One race, 500 miles at Auto Club Speedway, to decide the Series Champion. What an amazing end it would be to an incredible season.