Monday, August 27, 2012

The Best Damn Sonoma Review Period

Not really, but I wanted to come up with a more catchier headline than the ones I had used before. And because this is running after most of my contemporaries have filed their post-race prose I didn't want to copy anyone.

So back to the race. Ryan Briscoe? Notice I had him nowhere in my preview...not because I don't respect him as a driver, but the fact is up until Sunday he'd been having one of those star-crossed seasons that just didn't seem to gel with a race where the top dogs were getting serious.

Allegedly. Just as many contenders raced backwards it seems as did forwards. Will Power seemed marginally content with holding serve, getting to the finish without incident while extending his season points lead, while teammate Helio Castroneves shook off an early drive-through penalty to finish sixth.

Scott Dixon, on the receiving end of Helio's nudge that resulted in his penalty, finished out of the money in 13th place. But the biggest loser of the weekend had to have been Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was in position for a podium finish until he was spun out by Alex Tagliani with 10 laps to go, stalled his car and finished a lap down in 18th place.

Killer. It's a 23-point difference between third and 18th, meaning RHR went from breathing down Power's neck to needing a ton of help over the next two races to catch him.

Given the final race of the year is on an oval -- and 500 miles in length -- I'm not giving Power anything. While Will wrapped up the season's road course title with one twistie left, he sits in 17th place in the oval standings.

That said, RHR is going to have to slice that 36-point deficit almost in half this weekend in Baltimore to have a chance at Fontana.

Anyway, here's a bit on the top 5.

*Ryan Briscoe. There has been lots of speculation as to whether or not Briscoe will still be with Penske next year, and honestly I don't think anything he does on the track -- good or bad -- changes that decision, whichever way it goes. Still, he broke a 2-year winless streak (Texas, 2010) and was fast all weekend. There are two races left and he can still contend in both and get a good feeling out of this season. Also, it was cool that his wife Nicole was able to get there from the NASCAR event at Bristol on Saturday night. Once I heard on Twitter that she had made the cross-country trip and arrived just as the race was starting, I have to admit I was rooting for him. Yeah, I'm a sucker for a good love story, and it seems like the have a great one going.

*Will Power. For the first two-thirds of the race, Power put the snore in Snorenoma, only giving up leads during pit stops. But a slow last stop under yellow combined with some slow traffic coming back to said yellow cost him his lead to Briscoe, and despite two late restarts he just couldn't pull the trigger. He wanted to win, no doubt, but the risk of something going wrong was bigger than the reward of the difference in seven points between first and second.

*Dario Franchitti. His up and down season continues. Wins the biggest race of the year, has a second and a third -- and four finishes of 17th or worse. With Power struggling with his overtake button over the closing few laps, Franchitti gave it all he had to try and move up a spot, but again, I think professional courtesy took over. Dario is in a weird position this time of year as he can act as...a spoiler?

*Rubens Barrichello. Rubens! Hard to believe that this was his best finish of the year, but Sonoma was a track where he'd done a lot of testing so he was very comfortable. I was one of those who thought Rubens would at least have a couple of podiums or even a win by now, but maybe this series is a little harder to drive in than everyone thought!

*Graham Rahal. Another guy who I thought would have done better this year and this was just his fourth top-5. Still, he made a nice charge from 13th place, which was tied for the fourth-best climb in the field behind James Jakes (24th to 12th), Simona de Silvestro (27th to 17th...Simona!) and Sebastian Saavedra (23rd to 15th).

*We got a yellow! After going green-to-checker the last two races, a string of 224 caution free laps ended on lap 65 when Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden crashed hard in Turn 8. Bourdais went off-course and when he came back on track lost control and took Newgarden into a tire barrier in what might have been one of the harder hits of the season. Fortunately Bourdais walked away from the crash unscathed and Newgarden suffered a finger injury that shouldn't affect the rest of his season.

Edit! It was announced today that Josef will not be in the car at Baltimore. Bruno Junqueira will handle the duties in the No. 67 car this weekend.

It's tough not to feel bad about Bourdais, who looked in line for his first podium of the year. 

*Rookie of the Year. Simon Pagenaud wrapped up the rookie honors with his seventh-place finish. Now fifth in points, he has had a very successful first season in IndyCar and could become a huge factor next season.

*Points. With two races to go -- Baltimore and Fontana -- the top five looks like this: Power 422 pts., RHR -36, Castroneves -41, Dixon -54 and Pagenaud -85.

Mathematically, there are still eight drivers in the running if you include Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Briscoe, who are sixth through eighth, respectively, but they would need a walk on water, 1980 US Olympic hockey team, hard to believe but I actually have a girlfriend-type miracle, so let's just call it a four-man race at this point.

So we head to Baltimore next week. The good news is that with two races to go there are a lot of points left for drivers to make a move. The bad news is that Power led 70 of 75 laps in winning a year ago.

1 comment:

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