28 June 2009

I Didn't See It, But I Could Have Guessed the Winner

I'll admit it right now - I missed the SunTrust Indy Challenge on Saturday night (here' the box score). I was at a wedding, so the only way I followed the race was via text messages from Indycar.com. Even with a few messages, it was obvious that the Ganassi cars were dominating throughout the race. And with Scott Dixon's win (congratulations to him for tying Sam Hornish for the IndyCar Series record for career wins with 19), the championship chase has turned into a three-man race, between the Kiwi, teammate Dario Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe.

The three-man race for the IndyCar Series title should be a good one, but in terms of exciting racing, is the domination of the series by Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing good for the ICS? Since the 2008 race at Richmond, no one outside of the two organizations has won an IndyCar race.

It may seem odd, but what I think hurts the series in this instance is that both Penske cars and both Ganassi cars look the same for most of the races. If each car had different sponsorship (for instance, if Franchitti always had the TomTom or Air Wick sponsorship/coloring), would fans be less likely to complain that the Ganassi's and Penske's dominated? I think they might.

Going to a track and realizing that four cars have a realistic chance to win isn't going to bring people to the races. And while it's great when Graham Rahal or Tomas Scheckter are on or near the podium, does anyone really think they have a true chance to win?

Things were fine while Andretti-Green Racing fielded competitive and competent cars, but for whatever reason, their cars have not been as sharp as in previous years. When their cars are locked in, it brings the total of "winning" racecars to 8 - that's much better than 4.

While Danica Patrick has raced consistently well this season, I don't think anyone at Ganassi and/or Penske is truly worried about her during the race. And while Tony Kanaan may be one of the best drivers in the series, his cars have been junk since the Indianapolis 500. Hideki Mutoh has driven better since it was reported his sponsor may be leaving him, and fans are still waiting on Marco Andretti to deliver on his runner-up performance at the 500 in 2006.

So, since AGR hasn't figured out how to win (bad time to forget, especially with multiple sponsorship contracts coming up at the end of the year), someone has to step up. Panther has looked better with Wheldon, but they haven't won a race since 2005 (Texas). Dreyer & Reinboldt? Scheckter was competitive at Iowa, but it's doubtful. Coyne? Maybe on a road course.

Anyways, in terms of coverage, having three drivers - two of whom are nationally known and are former Indianapolis 500 champions (no offense to Briscoe, but he's not a household name like Dixon and Franchitti) - compete for a championship is a good thing (and if Castroneves re-enters the championship picture, all the better). And being able to have a championship come down to the last lap of the final race is fantastic - no other racing series can make that claim.

However, having 4 drivers dominate throughout 18 races may not be the best thing for the series, especially on the television side. After all, if I told you that either Castroneves, Briscoe, Dixon or Franchitti would win - would you tune in to see it? Especially if passing continues to be a problem? You probably wouldn't watch as much of the race as you ordinarily would, and that is a big problem for the race.

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