Friday, December 25, 2009

Naughty and Nice of Auto Racing 2009: IndyCar Series

(Photo Credit: Shawn Payne/IndyCar)

Clearly, I'm behind my times in providing you with the Naughty and Nice Lists of Auto Racing for 2009. I was consumed by Christmas thoughts through the past few days. Please enjoy my recent list of the 2009 IndyCar series.

Gift: Former Champ Car winners Will Power and Justin Wilson captures IndyCar victories- Though Power and Wilson are not the only drivers who have recorded wins in both the defunct Champ Car series and the IndyCar series, their stories are popular challenges against the established IRL drivers. Justin Wilson's win at Waltkins Glen in 2009 was a great personal victory and the season's underdog story. In Will Power's case, he took advantage of a limited opportunities with a third Roger Penske-owned car through select IndyCar races for 2009. His victory at the Edmonton round came not only as a mild surprise but a reason to add the Australian to the full time season's roster in 2010.

(Photo Credit: Shawn Payne/IndyCar)

Lump of Coal: Two team domination of IndyCar racing- With exception to Justin Wilson's surprise win with a Dale Coyne-owned machine at Watkins Glen, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing were the only teams who succeeded in placing cars in victory lane.

(Photo Credit: Dan Helrigel/IndyCar)

Gift: Return of the Toronto Indy- Please excuse me if I sound prejudice but keep in mind that my mention of the Toronto Honda Indy also accounts as some Canadian patriotism. Returning to the race for the first time in many years, I was surprised by the improvements in access and excitement. On Sunday, the race proved to be a very memorable affair as eventual 2009 champion Dario Franchitti claimed victory following a controversial, well-time pitstop inside the #10 Chip Ganassi car.

(Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/XSL Speed Reporter)

Lump of Coal: Canadian Media at the Honda Indy of Toronto- By and large, auto racing is the most neglected sports in the field of athletics. For this reason, it is not surprising, even after 23 runnings on the Lakeshore of Canada's highest populated city, that a event that routinely attracts over 100,000 plus annual paying spectators (almost double the size of the Rogers Center's rarely reached full capacity) for a weekend often takes a backseat in news coverage to Canadian football, baseball, and even tennis tournaments. However, the part that most bugs me is how the sports reporters are more interested in criticizing that fact that race organizers weren't publishing spectator counts. I guess they need to have someone tell them how popular the event is because they're not attending it but will still try to write an informed story, giving the sport more discredit.

(Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/XSL Speed Reporter)

Gift: Helio Castroneves turning off-track turmoil into racing gusto- As the 2009 IndyCar season started on the streets of St Petersburg, two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves was sidelined due to the most unusual circumstances for a race car driver. Levied with tax evasion charges by the US federal government, Castroneves and his sister faced up to 35 years in prison for what was thought to be income tax fraud. As race did 14 times before in the IndyCar series, Helio Castroneves was triumphant in court. With his innocence reclaimed, Castroneves returned to his #3 Penske Racing Honda at Long Beach to finish 7th and would back it up with a 2nd at Kansas Speedway one week later.

Rolling into the Indianapolis 500, Helio Castroneves found the 2.5 mile historic Brickyard oval wanted to grant the embattled driver the race of his career. Setting fastest time on Pole Day, Helio flew to his 3rd Indy 500 victory.

(Photo Credit: Dana Garrett/IndyCar)

Lump of Coal: The unaccustomed yawner finish of Richmond- place Dario Registering 9 on the snooze meter was the final laps of the late June race at Richmond International Raceway. Though the 3/4 mile oval has been lauded as a highly competitive track for stock car and sprint car racing, the 2009 IndyCar Series visit provided a hum-drum affair between winner Target Chip Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and 2nd place Franchitti.

Lump of Coal: The Andretti-Green Racing 2009 IndyCar campaign- While many teams suffered with problems finding victory lane in 2009 thanks to Chip Ganassi and Penske Racing dominance, Andretti-Green Racing (just recently changing its name to Andretti Autosport) 2009 season was a horrific off-tone year for their mighty 4-car organization. With a popular team driver lineup consisting of Marco Andretti, Tony Kannan, Danica Patrick and Hideki Mutoh, the 2009 season ended with no new IndyCar series trophies for the conglomerate's trophy display room. At the end of 2009, team owners Michael Andretti and Kim Green were clearly no longer on good terms. As a result, the deterioration in the relationship of the team ownership structure could have easily strained the race teams.

Though winless, drivers Danica Patrick and Tony Kannan were able to persevere to honourable mentions for the season. Patrick posted an career-best 5th overall in the final standings with Kannan finishing close up in 6th place. Hideki Mutoh would be dismissed from the team after the 2009 season after an 11th place points finish. However, what would classify as the largest disappointment in the 2009 Andretti-Green Racing team was the 3rd generation Macro Andretti. In his 4th season in IndyCar, the young Andretti is still struggling to add a second win following his rookie year victory at Infineon Raceway. Marco Andretti could only post a season-best race finish of 4th place throughout the 2009 IndyCar tour.

(Photo Credit: Shawn Payne/IndyCar)

Gift: A thrilling title finish- With 2 races left in the 2009 IndyCar series championship, Ryan Briscoe appeared ready to hold the champion's trophy as rewards for his best ever season in the series. His 3 wins and more impressively 7 second-place finishes put Briscoe 25 points ahead of Scott Dixon as the green flag dropped on the Twin Ring Motegi Indy Japan 300. Briscoe became the heartback kid when he went from locking up the championship to finishing third after a pit road mistake at the Twin-Ring Motegi oval. In prime position to capitalize on the fallen Penske Racing driver in that single race, Chip Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti finished 1-2 in that second to last race of the 2009 IndyCar season. By winning Dixon leapfrogged Briscoe in the points creating a three-way championship battle with Dixon, Franchitti and Briscoe separated by only 8 points.

In the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, all three title contenders ran together knowing that the championship could come down to just one position on the race track. At the end, Dario Franchitti won the race by outlasting his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon and Penske Racing challenger Ryan Briscoe. This championship for Franchitti, the second for the Scottish driver, was also an ideal welcome back gift after his venture into NASCAR fizzled on sponsorship.

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