Since it is after 1 a.m. in the land of Wayne and Garth (that is Aurora, IL to you younger readers) it is officially RACE DAY! Back-to-back race weekends are awesome, and while the future schedules have been debated ad nauseum among the Nation, I'm just going to add one thought.
If the season has 20 events, I would love to see it condensed into about a 30-week span. While that probably can't be done because of logistical issues, it would be great to have more back-to-backs as I feel that helps people stay involved with the series as one week rolls into another. It's kind of hard sometimes to get excited about a race when the last one occurred a few weeks before.
OK, that's all with that. Qualifying was a major surprise today, so I'll roll through the Fast Six and a few more notes on today's race.
*Helio Castroneves. Wow, just...wow. A win last week and a pole this week shows Helio has come to play. Were this going to be a more conventional race (more on that in a minute) I might be tempted to say he would be ready to run this thing wire-to-wire. Still, he's my pick to click today.
*James Hinchcliffe. Hinch also followed up a strong showing at St. Pete and will go off on the outside of the front row. After finishing fourth last week I think he should move up at least one spot and onto the podium.
*Scott Dixon. When you look at the performances of the other Hondas, Dixie should be earning some respect for getting everything he has out of the car. He was driving HARD during the Fast Six, and the top three are separated by less than .1 of a second.
*Mike Conway. Mike tested well at Barber so honestly this isn't a huge surprise. I can't remember when a Foyt car started this close to the front on a road course. If I had to pick a sleeper for today's race, it would be Conway.
*JR Hildebrand. Now this was a surprise. Hildebrand qualified 18th last week and last year posted just three top-10s on twisties, with a best finish of seventh.
*Tony Kanaan. TK made his first appearance in the Fast Six this season, and looked confident enough in the result to pretty much use the final session as a chance to scuff some tires. A good finish is out there for him so long as the mechanical gremlins don't reappear.
*Surprise! It was a dreadful day for some, and no one had it worse than Dario Franchitti. The three-time defending series champion looked lost again for the second week in a row and will go off in 18th position today...Will Power, who was fastest in practice, couldn't find that speed in the second session and starts ninth...Ryan Hunter-Reay looked fast until he spun out and damaged a wing in the second session, so he starts 11th, while Ryan Briscoe couldn't even get his car to fire and as a result will start 12th.
*Which should lead to...lots of different strategies. Barber isn't a track where you can mow your way through the field, so look for several of the top drivers in the back looking to move up through various pit strategies. Roger Penske always likes to shuffle the deck somehow, so I think the first move today will be his to try and get Power and Briscoe better track position.
*Weather. It's going to be a hot one, with temperatures in the 80s by race time. After two days of off and on rain, the morning warmup will be a learning experience for everyone.
*Prediction. There won't be a lot of passing on the track, but there should be a few lead changes due to different pit strategies. Starts and restarts were an issue at times last year at Barber, will the gloves that were apparently on last week at St. Pete come off? Many drivers have said that may be one of the few opportunities to move up, so there may be some aggressive moves that could create havoc.
In the end, my podium will look like this: Castroneves, Hinchcliffe and Power.