IZOD IndyCar Series: 5 burning issues to watch
The Indianapolis 500 is the fifth of 16 races in the Izod IndyCar Series, but it is, effectively, the halfway point for competitors.
Going forward, the most important prize is points. Gather enough and the championship is delivered. Gather more than Dario Franchitti and the Scotsman's three-year domination ends.
Like at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Franchitti will be the center of attention the rest of the way. He hasn't lost an IndyCar season he has been part of since 2006. (He spent 2008 in NASCAR.) He enters today's race at Belle Isle sixth in the standings.
There are races to decide, too. Winning one can make a season for a driver out of title contention. The drama rests in these five areas:
1. The standings.
Will Power is making his third consecutive bid for a season title, having lost the past two to Franchitti.
Heading into today's Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, Power has a 36-point advantage over Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe, neither of whom has an IndyCar championship.
Franchitti is 64 points out of the lead. Winning Indy with Power crashing enabled Franchitti to gain 34 points on the leader. He'll need more races like that, but he has shown incredible resiliency in the past.
Scott Dixon generally works his way into contention. He's fourth, 47 points behind Power.
Every year, drivers fall too far behind early. This year, that's Graham Rahal (14th, 103 points back) and Marco Andretti (18th, 114 points behind).
2. Beating Power.
Power has won three of the season's first five races, and he's in a strong position with seven road courses or street circuits left on the schedule.
"It's obviously where I'm most comfortable," Power said.
Castroneves (St. Petersburg) and Franchitti (Indianapolis) are the only other race winners this season.
"It's getting boring," said Justin Wilson, who was one of nine race winners in 2008 and one of six in '09.
Drivers who won last year but haven't this season: Mike Conway (Long Beach), Andretti (Iowa), Dixon (Mid-Ohio and Japan), Ryan Hunter-Reay (New Hampshire) and Ed Carpenter (Kentucky).
3. The tracks ahead.
After today's street circuit, IndyCar has a string of three consecutive ovals (Texas, Milwaukee and Iowa) before three consecutive non-ovals (Toronto, Edmonton and Mid-Ohio).
The question is, what happens after that?
The 13th race of the season is scheduled to be on the streets of Qingdao, China, the first race for a U.S.-based series in that country. But there continues to be whispers that the Aug. 19 race won't happen.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, who made a visit there a month ago, said a contract is in place but details haven't been distributed.
The season ends with races at the newly named Sonoma Raceway (Aug. 26), Baltimore (Sept. 2) and Auto Club Speedway (Sept. 15). But don't count Auto Club as the season finale just yet. Officials there haven't been given that honor, and Bernard could slide China -- or China's replacement -- in that slot.
4. Chevrolet vs. Honda.
Honda certainly had the advantage at Indianapolis, and its single turbo will be the engine to watch on the four remaining oval tracks.
But Chevrolet's twin turbo has been more effective on the non-ovals, winning all four such races.
Indy is the prize of the season, but the overall title is second. At present, it's Power's to lose.
5. Bernard's future as CEO.
This wasn't publicly in question until Bernard posted his Tuesday tweet that sent reporters scrambling for the identity of the team owner he said is trying to get him fired.
The fact of the matter is, Bernard's future is more linked to IndyCar's financial picture than disgruntled team owners. Does Izod stay as designed? Does China work as it is supposed to? Does Lotus remain as an engine supplier?
These are the things to watch. Indy Star