As the guy in the picture can confirm, Boulder Sam is no longer celebrating. Oh, I’m sure Sam was thrilled to have won the fantastic race in Kentucky (musta been the Sammy Shammys), but he knows he is still far from clinching the Series Championship. Even though he’s currently leading, I dare say Sam isn’t the favorite.
Sam is the arguably the best oval driver in the IRL – maybe it’s not even an argument – but with two races remaining he has to confront his road course demons at Infineon, where real disappointment is awaiting the series leader.
Now, Sam’s deficiency (comparatively speaking) isn’t necessarily his own fault. He’s been driving in the IRL since 2000, which raced exclusively on ovals until last season. He’s only had five road course adventures in six seasons in an IndyCar, and none of them were noteworthy.
St. Petersburg '05 – Qualified 6th, Finished 15th (Accident)
Infineon '05 – Qualified 5th, Finished 17th (Running)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 11th, Finished 7th (Running – led 3 laps)
St. Petersburg '06 – Qualified 4th, Finished 8th (Running – led 2 laps)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 6th, Finished 12th (Running)
Average Finish: 12th Place (18 points)
You could describe this as “sustained mediocrity”. Yuck. Now, let’s compare this with Spiderman, his Penske teammate.
St. Petersburg '05 – Qualified 2nd, Finished 20th (Accident)
Infineon '05 – Qualified 2nd, Finished 20th (Accident)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 1st, Finished 12th (Accident – led 23 laps)
St. Petersburg '06 – Qualified 5th, Finished 1st (Running – led 40 laps) [“I drove it like I stole it!”]
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 1st, Finished 7th (Running – led 7 laps)
Average Finish: 12th Place (18 points)
This is a very different 12th place. This is a “Helio, watch out for the other cars and you’ll get to the lead” 12th place, but still not a dominating average. Well Done is next in the points standings.
St. Petersburg '05 – Qualified 9th, Finished 1st (Running – led 10 laps)
Infineon '05 – Qualified 7th, Finished 18th (Mechanical)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 9th, Finished 5th (Running – led 6 laps)
St. Petersburg '06 – Qualified 13th, Finished 16th (Accident) [Sam signaled/didn’t signal incident]
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 5th, Finished 15th (Mechanical – led 13 laps)
Average Finish: 11th Place (19 points)
Dan can get to the lead, but can’t always keep the car on the course. Then there is his teammate, the Killer Kiwi (at least on tracks with right turns).
St. Petersburg '05 – Qualified 11th, Finished 6th (Running)
Infineon '05 – Qualified 9th, Finished 7th (Running)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 4th, Finished 1st (Running – led 25 laps)
St. Petersburg '06 – Qualified 2nd, Finished 2nd (Running – led 36 laps)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 1st, Finished 1st (Running – led 8 laps)
Average Finish: 3rd Place (35 points)
You can’t get much better than that. Two wins, including a first and second this year. Talk about driving it like you stole it!
What all this means is that barring some unforeseen epiphany, Hornish is more likely to surrender the points lead this weekend than clinch the championship. Considering they have comprised all the wins this year except Milwaukee, it’s highly likely one of these drivers will win at Infineon. And with a 30 point difference in awards between 1st and 10th, Sam is likely to fall behind someone. Being only 7 points back means Castroneves doesn’t need the win as much as Dixon (-33) and Wheldon (-24) do, but all three should content while they’re on the track.
Also, don’t forget the road record of defending Infineon champ, El Nariz: 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 11th. He’s too far out of the points, but if he wins again it means one of the four guys above failed to make a move. That’s probably the best Hornish can hope for this weekend, and an even tighter series race is something fans in Chicago can hope for as well.
One last item: check out the top 5 from last year at Infineon, filled with the ghosts of Cheever racing.
1. Tony Kanaan
2. Buddy Rice
3. Alex Barron
4. Patrick Carpentier
5. Tomas Enge
I think I set a record for "numbers used in a post". My sincerest apologies.
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