Chicago, I'll Show You Around

Posted by Iannucci | 9/02/2006 | 0 comments »
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There are probably no two tracks in the IndyCar season that are more similar than Kansas and Chicagoland, so a good way to determine the most likely challengers for next weekend's Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 is to look at the results from Kansas Lottery 300. It's also a good idea to see how drivers fared previously at the Joliet track, so I'm going to do both.

Here are the drivers historical records at Chicagoland, listed in order of finish at Kansas Speedway this year.

1. Sam Hornish Jr
2001 2nd
2002 1st
2003 1st
2004 6th
2005 3rd
As you can see, Boulder Sam is indeed the man at Chicagoland. Note that he fared better with Panther Racing (2001-2003) than with Penske, but he also won at Kansas. He's definitely the favorite, and if he wins he gathers his third series title. Recently Sam was downplaying any pressure by saying "No matter what happens after that, after you win Indy, you've had a good season." So expect him to pull up late and let his Penske teammate capture the title...yeah, right!

2. Dan Wheldon
2003 4th
2004 4th
2005 1st
Remember how Well Done was leading 45 laps at Kansas this year until Sam nosed past him to win by a fraction of a second? We remember the miscues in the pits, but that was a few more points differential he just missed. He's still doesn't have a win this year since the season opener at Homestead despite leading a staggering 595 laps - and only 8 of them were in his win. He'll probably lead at Chicagoland some point, but whether or not it's at the end remains to be seen.

3. Vitor Meira
2002 8th
2003 DNQ
2004 5th
2005 7th
Third at Kansas with a record of finishing in the top 10 at Chicagoland makes it evident The Mirror Man will be a factor for who he keeps behind him. If his car can prove an equal match for the Red and White Brigade, he could frustrate a few contenders behind him. Even though he's out of the points, Meira is still trying to secure a full-season sponsor for Panther Racing in 2007. Perhaps another exciting charge to the lower steps of the podium is in store for the IRL's version of Underdog.

4. Scott Dixon
2003 2nd
2004 7th
2005 19th (Gear Box)
With so many people saying it folks may soon think his legal name is Poor Scott Dixon. He had his chance to move up with a dominating performance at Infineon before...well, let's not go there. He still worked his way back to the top 5 last week - ahead of the 3 drivers above him in the points standings - but that didn't comfort him at all. The Kiwi has a rep for road races, but he also has an oval victory at Nashville earlier this year. Don't let the his history here fool you - he will contend barring any further bad luck.

5. Tony Kanaan
2003 6th
2004 3rd
2005 5th
El Nariz is clearly a longshot to win, but like the Mirror Man he will be in front of some of these contending drivers. As Danica! would attest, there may be no more difficult car to pass the the AGR #11. Clearly he has a record of dependability at Chicagoland, and with the recent success of AGR drivers it would be foolish to discount his contention from this race.

6. Helio Castroneves
2003 20th (Gear Box)
2004 10th
2005 2nd
All he has to do is win, and even just finishing ahead of Boulder Sam may be enough, but coupling a 6th place finish at Kansas with that record at Chicagoland makes it appear like Spiderman may not be comfortable with the 1.5 mile tracks. Helio has never won an IndyCar series championship, so expect the conservative driving of the last few races to go out the window in favor of Mr. Drive It Like I Stole It.

7. Tomas Scheckter
2003 5th
2004 19th (Accident - go figure)
2005 4th
Here is is your very dark horse. In case you didn't see Ed Carpenter George running in 5th for much of the race at Kentucky, Vision Racing has managed to run fairly competitively with those outside the Big Four on the ovals lately. The Wrecker can drive ovals, and has finished 7th or better on 5 of the last 6 ovals (he had mechanical failure at Nashville). This matches his history at Chicagoland, so as long as his shoulder is healed he could find himself in the thick of the hunt.

As the mutual funds disclaimer goes, "past performance is not a guarantee of future results". That's good news for Sarah Fisher, who has 3 finishes at Chicagoland of 24th, 22nd and 18th.