Monday, September 24, 2012

Through The Field -- Part 2

Today's post is a continuation of Part 1 (as if the title wasn't a giveaway) as I cover positions 14-26 in the final IndyCar season standings.

14th: Takuma Sato (281 points). Given the number of times we see Taku at the front of the field during races, it's obvious that he is an immense talent. But when the race ends many times his team is taking a wrecked race car back home. He is an enigma to me, he can drive brilliantly, like he did at Long Beach, Brazil, Indy and Edmonton (RIP by the way), or he does something out of character of someone with his experience at racing's highest levels. Still, one crash I will not hold against him is his go-for-broke run on Dario Franchitti in the first turn of the final lap at Indy. Many criticized him for that, but I will never be critical of someone who is trying to win the Indy 500.

15th: Justin Wilson (278). Wilson has the well-earned reputation of being a road course specialist, but he took a big step forward in his oval prowess this year. He was great at Indy, won at Texas, qualified second at Milwaukee and was 10th at Iowa. On the flip side, he had such little luck for most of the season, dropping out of several races because of mechanical issues or being involved in incidents.

16th: Marco Andretti (278). To quote my girlfriend Darcy, "oh geez". This season was a disaster from start to finish for Marco. A second place finish at Iowa was his first top 10 of the season and he only recorded two more, eighth-place finishes at Mid-Ohio and Fontana. Not much else to say, but he did well on the big tracks, starting fourth and leading 59 laps before a late spin at Indy, then winning the pole at Fontana.

17th: Alex Tagliani (272). Like any driver who began the season with a (s)Lotus, Tags got off to a horrid start to the season. But once the switch was made to the Chevy, things began getting better. A pole at Texas was the highlight to a stretch where he finished in the top 10 eight times over the final 11 races. He was in the mix for the win at Fontana before blowing an engine with less than 50 miles to go.

18th: Ed Carpenter (261). I'm not even going to comment on Ed's performances on the twisties, because, well, let's just say maybe as the series moves to a 50/50 split between ovals and twisties he finds someone to partner with. Still, his first year as an owner/driver can be called a decent success. He won the finale at Fontana to win a race for the second year in a row, and started 28th at Indy but moved up as high as third late before a spin dropped him a lap down. He also finished 8th at Milwaukee and Iowa in back-to-back weekends. Ed loves ovals and knows that he can run with the best on them, no doubt buoyed by the fact he has twice gone head-to-head with one of the best (Franchitti) and put him away.

19th: Charlie Kimball (260). Kimball finished in the same position as he did in 2011, but I thought he drove much better this year. After recording just two top-10 finishes last year, he had six of them in 2012, including a second at Toronto for his first career podium. Had Kimball not missed the race at Mid-Ohio due to injury, a good finish there could have moved him up a couple of spots in the standings. As I stated is the case with a couple of other drivers, he will get better with experience.

20th: EJ Viso (244). Viso was another driver that appeared to get better this season, and his fifth-place finish at Milwaukee included leading 27 laps and was his best finish since placing third at Iowa in 2010. He was involved in fewer incidents than he had been a year ago, but there were times where he was just slow. Still, he matched his 2011 total with four top-10 finishes.

21st: Mike Conway (233). In his first (and probably last) season driving for AJ Foyt, Conway just never seemed to find a rhythm. A third place finish at Toronto, plus a seventh at Barber and ninth at Belle Isle were offset by nine finishes of 16th or worse, not including his DNS at Fontana when he gave up his seat because he was not comfortable on ovals any longer. My hat's off to him for that decision, but it may mark the end of his IndyCar career.

22nd: James Jakes (232). Jakes matched his 22nd place standing in the points from a year ago, but finished 10th at Texas and 8th at Toronto to pick up his first career top-10 finishes. If you go side-by-side in a comparisons to his races from 2011-12, he actually improved on his finish at nine different tracks.

23rd: Josef Newgarden (200). When he was setting the pace for most of May at Indy, I called Josef a rock star, and I still stand behind that statement. He is fast as hell in a race car, is great with the media and fans, and one day will be one heck of a racer. He just chose one of the most competitive seasons in IndyCar in two decades to make his debut in the series, and he suffered some painful moments and spent a lot of Wink Hartman and Sarah Fisher's money. Some of his early results indicated someone who might challenge for a podium by season's end, but by the time Fontana rolled around it became just about finishing races. He turns 22 in December and with a year under his belt should see better days ahead.

24th: Simona de Silvestro (182). As part of the only team that couldn't get out of its Lotus contract this year, Simona suffered through a nightmare of a season that would have tested even the most experienced of drivers. No doubt she felt some frustration, but handled it all like a true professional and earned a lot of respect in the process. What is unfortunate is that she has basically lost two years to her career due to equipment problems last year (Pork Chop has a great personality but was heavy and slow) and an engine program that was a disaster from day one this season. If Simona gets a better motor next year, hopefully she will have the chance to show what she can actually do.

25th: Sebastien Bourdais (173). Is it a coincidence that the final three (almost) full-time drivers in the standings were saddled with the Lotus at one point in the season? While with the Lotus, Bourdais had one of the most inspired drives of the year when he wrung everything out of the car (and himself) after finishing ninth at Barber. After Dragon Racing secured a Chevy for Indy and beyond, Seb split his ride with Katherine Legge the rest of the year -- driving the twisties while Kat hit the ovals. He had some nice qualifying efforts but had little to show for it other than a fourth-place at Mid-Ohio.

26th: Katherine Legge (137). The final driver in my "field", Legge also struggled with the Lotus through the first four races, with a best finish of 19th at Long Beach. She then got a late start at Indy as an extra Chevy didn't show up until late in the week but finished a respectable 22nd in just her second oval race. Handling the ovals the rest of the way, Kat posted a season-best finish of ninth at the finale at Fontana.

So that's the list. I'm still trying to decide what to review next, but I'll think of something!

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