26 August 2010

Your Chicagoland Preview

(Note: I am also writing over at SB Nation Indiana, covering auto racing.  That means I write about NASCAR and any other series that visits Indiana.  You can follow SB Nation by clicking here.  This also means that the following article runs on SB Nation Indiana, too.)

With the Sprint Cup Series taking the weekend off, the IZOD IndyCar Series takes center stage on Saturday night, putting one of its most exciting races on display at Chicagoland Speedway.  The Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 has routinely produced side-by-side racing and photo finishes, with five of the 10 closest finishes in series history occurring at the Joliet, Ill., track.

Last year, Ryan Briscoe used his push-to-pass button down the stretch to hold off Scott Dixon at the line, winning by .0077 of a second.  While another photo finish isn't guaranteed, it isn't advised to miss the end of this race.

Chicagoland marks the beginning of the final stretch of the IZOD IndyCar season.  While the series does not have a "Chase," it doesn't need one either, as each of the last four seasons (and six of the last eight) have seen the series title come down to the final race.  Though Will Power holding a 59-point lead with four races to go, questions still remain about his ability to hold onto the lead on the 1.5-mile ovals.

Power has never finished better than fifth on an oval, while his closest pursuer, Dario Franchitti, is one of the most well-rounded drivers in the IndyCar Series.  Franchitti knows a thing or two about close finishes, having won both of his series titles (2007, 2009) in the last race of the year.

2009 Winner:
Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe's win by a scant .0077 of a second helped push him into the series lead at the time, and the Team Penske driver narrowly lost the series title after Franchitti's win at Homestead-Miami in the series finale. This year, Briscoe could use the pick-me-up, as he has won just once in a relatively 2010 season. Briscoe's lone win was on another 1.5-mile oval, coming at Texas.

What to Watch:
The side-by-side racing. The 1.5-miles tend to bunch the IndyCar field, and if faster drivers get stuck behind slower traffic, be sure to keep an eye on that. With 29 drivers scheduled to take the green flag, conflicts between front-runners and backmarkers are sure to crop up over the 300 miles.

Who to Watch:
Power. If he is going to win his first IZOD IndyCar Series championship, his performance on the last four races of the year will decide his fate.  The Australian has shown steady progress on ovals, finishing fifth at Iowa after claiming the pole. Power also qualified second at Indianapolis.

Keep an eye on Franchitti and Dixon as well, as both need to race for wins the rest of the way if they want to make up ground on Power. For Dixon, the eighth time at Chicagoland might be the charm. In his first seven trips to the track, the Kiwi has finished second five times, including 2009.

When to Watch:
Versus has the coverage from Joliet, Ill., beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET, on Saturday night. Indycar.com will have streaming of practices, qualifications and the Firestone IndyLights race.

SB Nation Indiana
and Drive Hard, Turn Left will be providing on-the-scene coverage during the weekend as well, so be sure to check back often for updates from Joliet.

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