The race to finish

Posted by Iannucci | 2/28/2007 | 0 comments »
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One of the subplots to the upcoming IndyCar season (well, any season if you think about it) is how many of these drivers will be making their last laps in the ICS. Usually the context is that the soon to be departed aren’t very good or they are close to retirement (or both). However, this year is different in that there are four of the top drivers who are publicly lobbying for a job outside of the ICS and possibly will be gone for 2008.

First off on a possible probable farewell tour is 2006 ICS champion Sam Hornish Jr, who is by most accounts on his IndyCar farewell tour. Despite poor results in all four of his Busch series races, he is still firmly committed to his “transition” during 2007. His mindset: I’ve won Indy and I’ve won a title for Roger Penske, so my work here is done. Although the door is not yet fully closed, it is still likely that Uncle Sam is looking for new challenges in racing featured by NASCAR. Well, the payday won’t be so bad either.

The other man eyeing a ride in NASCAR is 2005 ICS champ Dan Wheldon. It would appear that like Hornish, Well Done is using his current owner to facilitate a possible transition since recent reports have indicated Chip Ganassi is trying to find sponsorship for a fourth Cup entry. We can make all the jokes we want about Dan’s desire to join his Best NASCAR Friend Big Jamie Little, but Wheldon can see that if you want to be known for driving then the Tin Tops are where it’s at right now.

While those two look to tin tops, there are two other drivers who are contemplating life in Formula One. This actually would be a tougher task since their current owners don’t have F1 teams lined up, and there are less rides in F1, and basically anybody on a go-kart outside the United States is vying for a spot in F1. Still, Scott Dixon remains undaunted by the odds and has reportedly negotiated a opt-out clause in his current contract in case he lands an F1 gig. It’s possible the 26-year-old Dixon may already be too old for a team in Bernie Ecclestone’s series, but with five snooze fests road courses on the docket this season Dixon’s talent with the right turns will be on full display.

The other driver angling for F1 is Marco Andretti, who not only is about seven years younger than Dixon but also has been actively participating in F1 testing this winter. Andretti 3.0 would seem to have the luxury of proving his abilities further than just this season before being discounted for series jumping, and that surname doesn’t hurt when attempting to attract attention from teams and sponsors. Besides, his dad/owner has said he’s driving the IndyCar until 2009.

I’m usually bad at predictions, so I’m not going to hazard a guess about who goes and who stays. While it’s possible all four of these drivers vanish from the series within the next few years, it’s also remotely possible they all return to the ICS in 2008. It seems that it’s likely that Hornish is gone and Andretti will remain, but at this point what becomes of the Ganassi teammates next year is a total mystery.

In the meantime, we get to see these four drivers – who will likely all finish in the top six or seven – try to write what could be the final chapter of their IndyCar careers. And though they may be gone next year, having a regular roster of all these quality drivers (and more) should still make for an enjoyable 2007. Someday this upcoming season will be the Good Ol' Days.

To that end I will say this: I truly have enjoyed and appreciated the abilities and accomplishments of all four drivers (yes, even Marco’s few accomplishments), but I would really REALLY miss having Wheldon’s personality at IndyCar races. He may or may not be the best driver of the four, but he’s definitely the most interesting.