So it has come down to this. Now that you have read up on the drivers, let's move to the fun part...throwing down a few predictions for 2013.
I won't go down the road of some of my other bloggers by calling them "fearless" predictions, because I'm pretty fearful that none of them will come true. I'm hoping to nail at least one of them, though, to further prove that while I may not be an IndyCar "expert", I'm a blind squirrel (literally, I have 20/80 vision) who finds the occasional nut.
So like the NCAA tournament (I'm picking Indiana to win, by the way), let's put the ball in the air and get off and running.
Series champion: Will Power. Originally I was going to put Scott Dixon in this space, but I made a change because if any year sets up for his talents,
this is the one. With extra races at Belle Isle and Toronto, not to
mention two new street races in Houston, he has the opportunity to pile
on the extra points that he will more than likely lose at
the ovals. Rumour has it that the twinbills will be going away next
season, so if those go away and ovals are added (a distinct possibility), Power comes back to the
field. The 2013 season is sitting on a tee for him if he can even
remotely turn left better than he has in the past.
Runner-up: Dixon. Dixon's name will always be in this discussion
because he is by far the most consistent driver in the series across all
of the various tracks on which IndyCar competes. In fact, he was one
position away from having a podium finish on a road course, street
course, big oval (I lump Indy, Texas and Fontana here) and short track
(Iowa), which believe it or not he had done in four of the previous five
seasons. It's that multi-faceted talent that last season made me call
him the only guy in the paddock who is a legitimate threat to win every
weekend (I now add Ryan Hunter-Reay to that list too). That consistency will be rewarded if Power falters at all.
Other contenders: Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves. After getting punted by Alex Tagliani at Sonoma and theoretically seeing his championship hopes spin away, RHR's dig-deep-and-drive efforts to win Baltimore and do what he needed to do at Fontana shows he is in it for the long haul as a perennial title contender. Hinch proved last year he had what it took as he sat second in points at the midway point of the season, and Helio recaptured the consistency he needs to win. Throw in Simon Pagenaud and at the end of the season positions one through six in the classification could look about 20 different ways.
First-time winners club: Pagenaud and Hinchcliffe. The way both guys drove last year, this is a given.
Comeback of the year: Marco Andretti. It's gotta get better, right? It's almost to the point where it has to. Really, Marco's skid dates back to after he won Iowa in mid-2011. In the 23 races since, he has finished 24th or worst seven times. From 2006-11 he finished either P7 or P8 in points five times, which is probably about right for his talent level. He needs to get back to there soon.
Most improved: Josef Newgarden and Simona de Silvestro. I'm splitting this one because each should have a better showing in 2013, but for different reasons. Newgarden will get better just by turning laps and cutting down on his mistakes, while de Silvestro finally has the tools to compete.
Indy 500 winner: Tony Kanaan. TK will go into this space until he gives me a reason not to put him here, either by winning the race or retiring. Like I said last May, if the fanbase could will a driver to a win, TK would've gotten there already.
Last but not least, it's not a prediction, but a wish:
That the secret gets out. Last year AP writer Jenna Fryer called the IndyCar series, the 'best-kept secret it racing', and anyone who has knowledge of the sport completely agreed. While I wish the bad stuff that happens and the internal politics could stay under wraps, I enter every season hoping more and more people find out what is great about the sport and give it a chance. I don't need the series to grow to NASCAR-sized heights or approach the "wonder years" of the 90s, because I'm realistic enough to know that it probably won't. But what I do want to see is a solid, viable series that gets better every year. If that takes a decade, so be it, but in the meantime, I want to see more people in the seats and more people talking about IndyCar. The show the drivers put on each weekend is one of the best you will see, and here's hoping that more people figure that out in 2013.