Crossed Flags: Look at halfway point of the 2009 season

Round up 20-plus IndyCar Series drivers for an informal and anonymous survey at the midpoint of the season and naturally you'll receive nearly as many responses to each question.

There was a sole exception: Will the championship chase go down to the wire? The answer was a unanimous and resounding "Yes," which only makes sense. With a tight points race through nine of the 17 events and the past three driver titles being decided in the season finale, all indications point to a showdown Oct. 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"Without a doubt; it has been too competitive for it not to be," said Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal, who's among the six pole winners this season.

Reigning series champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing claimed front-runner status with a third-place finish at Watkins Glen on July 5 – 19 points clear of teammate Dario Franchitti and Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe heading to the Honda Indy Toronto on July 12.

While tenuous, it's the largest points differential of the season between 1-2 (after seven of the nine races it had been 10 or less). Team Penske's Helio Castroneves, a two-time winner, and Andretti Green Racing's Danica Patrick are within 75 points. A victory earns 50 points, with 40 for second, 35, 32, etc. Four different drivers have held the top spot, with only Briscoe maintaining it after two consecutive races.

"For me, it's exciting to be in this title hunt," said Briscoe, who has a victory and four runner-up finishes including to Justin Wilson at The Glen. "It's going to be a tough one. It's going to go right down to the wire, but it's great. We're racing with a bunch of very good drivers and it's a lot of fun."

The remainder of the schedule is split down the middle into street/road courses and 1.5-mile ovals. There were five different winners in the first half, which comprised three street/road circuits, two 1.5-mile ovals, the Indianapolis 500 on the 2.5-mile oval and three races on ovals one mile or less.

"All of us are sort of looking at the championship so far and saying, 'Man, if that didn't happen here if that didn't happen there, I could have had a big lead in the championship at the moment,' '' Briscoe said. "But it is very close. Scott's got a bit of a lead at the moment, but it's pretty small for where we are in the championship."

Six drivers who led at the season's midpoint have gone on to claim the title, including Dixon and Franchitti the past two years. Dixon held off Helio Castroneves' charge to win by 17 points and Franchitti, driving for Andretti Green Racing in 2007, edged Dixon by 13 points in a championship chase that went down to the final lap.

In 2006, Castroneves was the midseason leader by five over Sam Hornish Jr. and 35 over Dan Wheldon. Hornish and Wheldon wound up tied in points after the finale, with Hornish claiming his third series title based on a tiebreaker (four wins to Wheldon's two). Castroneves finished two points back.

The complete questionnaire with leading vote-getters:

Team/Driver that have surprised you the most
Mario Moraes / KV Racing Technology
Team/driver that have disappointed you to date
Tony Kanaan / Andretti Green Racing
Pick to win the championship out of the current top five
Scott Dixon
Surprise during the second half of the season
Justin Wilson
Dark horse to win the title
Next first time winner
Hideki Mutoh
Predict a championship chase involving few or many
Four (5)
Will the championship go down to the wire at Miami


The driver leading the IndyCar Series championship at the midway point of the season has won the title in six of the last 12 seasons, dating to the 1996-97 season.
Two-time series champion Scott Dixon assumed the points lead at Watkins Glen, the second consecutive year that he has held the lead at the halfway point.
Here's a look at the IndyCar Series history at the halfway point of the season.


Driver Points Behind Notable
Scott Dixon 313 Has three wins and seven top-10 finishes after starting the season with pair of finishes of 15th or worse
Dario Franchitti 294 -19 Level with Briscoe in points, but gets the edge with two wins.
Ryan Briscoe 294 -19 Won the opener at St. Pete and has finished second four times.
Helio Castroneves 257 -56 Has two wins – Indy and Texas – but missed opener at St. Pete due to his trial.
Danica Patrick 238 -75 Has run upfront all season, but is only driver in top five that has yet to score a win.


Year Points Leader Finished
1996 Buzz Calkins 1st
1997 Mike Groff 14th
1998 Scott Sharp 4th
1999 Scott Goodyear 9th
2000 Buddy Lazier 1st
2001 Sam Hornish Jr. 1st
2002 Helio Castroneves 2nd
2003 Tony Kanaan 4th
2004 Tony Kanaan 1st
2005 Dan Wheldon 1st
2006 Helio Castroneves 3rd
2007 Dario Franchitti 1st
2008 Scott Dixon 1st
2009 Scott Dixon ??



Champion At halfway Gap To Leader
1996 Buzz Calkins & Scott Sharp Calkins (1st) Sharp (5th) Calkins led Mike Groff by 6 points Sharp trailed Calkins by 14 points
1997 Tony Stewart 4th Stewart trailed Groff by 15
1998 Kenny Brack 6th Brack trailed Sharp by 73
1999 Greg Ray 3rd Ray trailed Goodyear by 33
2000 Buddy Lazier 1st Lazier led Goodyear by 22 points
2001 Sam Hornish Jr. 1st Hornish led B. Lazier by 50
2002 Sam Hornish Jr. 3rd Hornish trailed Castroneves by 24
2003 Scott Dixon 2nd Kanaan led Dixon by 31
2004 Tony Kanaan 1st Kanaan led Wheldon 61
2005 Dan Wheldon 1st Wheldon led Kanaan by 73
2006 Sam Hornish Jr. 2nd Hornish trailed Castroneves by 5
2007 Dario Franchitti 1st Franchitti led Dixon by 65 points
2008 Scott Dixon 1st Dixon led Castroneves by 43 points
2009 ??? Dixon leads Franchitti by 19 points

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