Three Men and a Champion

Posted by Iannucci | 9/11/2006 | 0 comments »
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Forgive me for sounding bitter, but whoever threw the black flag yesterday to Spiderman for speeding in the pits deserves a big pie in the face for sucking most of the drama from the end of the season. While there was some good racing and a field full of tense drivers trying to beat the projected rainfall, the season finale in Chicagoland was unable to live up to the hype as a furious battle among four drivers turned into a three-man parade.

Around lap 120, Well Done logged his 101st lap led, clinching those precious points for the race. At that point, the championship drama was lost as three leaders cruised and lapped nearly the entire field. In first was Dan Wheldon, who although doing everything within his control to win the race was all too aware that he needed a Penske mechanical failure or an unlikely one-car accident to secure the championship. Behind him was Scott Dixon, finding himself facing the double whammy of not only being statistically unable to win the series, but because of that fact he was essentially told to let his teammate lead and win.

Meanwhile, Sam was in cruise control enjoying 200 victory laps.

Deep (like 15 seconds deep) in fourth place was Helio Castroneves, who IF ONLY he was up with the lead group could have provided the missing drama. If either Penske car had finished ahead of the other and in at least third place, then the championship was theirs. Running over half a track behind his teammate wasn’t going to get it done for Spiderman.

Imagine if Helio had been up there in the lead group pulling away. While the Ganassi cars were cruising 1-2, Hornish and Castroneves would have been engaging in a surreal deathmatch for third place. Even more tension would be brought at the thought of them possible wrecking each other (they did it last year) and allowing the Ganassi cars to duel it out for the win as Wheldon would have clinched the title in such a scenario.

But it was not to be, as the black flag left Castroneves waaaaaaay off the pace for most of the day. A glimmer of hope was raised at the last yellow for debris (and damned if they didn’t actually show a piece of something being picked up be the track worker) which allowed Spiderman to close the gap. He quickly made work of the lapped cars ahead of him, nearly pushing Kanaan into the grass and Carpenter into the wall. But soon enough, Castroneves clipped something and started dropping back behind the lapped cars, and the drama was effectively over.

Like the race in Kentucky, the real battle was for fifth. As Tony Kanaan and Scott Sharp made strong bids along with rookie (for the last time) Jeff Simmons, it was Ed Carpenter George who finally secured a top 5 in just his 48th race. Statistically speaking, he was due.

So while he was driving as well as ever, Well Done – sniffling nose and all – seemed doomed to merely a win (I know, like half the field wouldn’t give some fingers and toes for a mere win). The Kiwi tried to make it entertaining by fighting his teammate for the lead, but eventually cooler heads prevailed and Dixon fell in behind Wheldon. And to think we were one black flag – or even a mid-race yellow – away from a race to remember.

Congratulations to Sam Hornish Jr on his third series championship, and to Dan Wheldon for his second win to bookend the 2006 season.