This May Be Your Driver's Year

Posted by Iannucci | 2/08/2007 | 2 comments »
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If you haven't ventured over his way recently then please, stop reading whatever I'm babbling about and go read Pressdog's interview with Sarah Fisher. He's been stalking trying to track her down for a while, and finally got to pop the questions. Here's a sample quote I've had rattling around my brain since I read it.

I am not in the sport to illustrate or grow the 'power of women.' My entire focus is on winning races and being the best at what I do.
And while a lot can be said (or not said) about the first sentence, I want to take a moment to look at the second one. I know all drivers say seemingly dull things like "I just want to win" regardless of what kind of equipment they have, but after taking a step back and looking at the likely roster of participants for 2007 it becomes obvious that most of these drivers actually can win.

Like all sports fans, I want to see my team stick together. Well, I don't have a particular IRL team I root for (save the Andretti's at Indy) but as you can guess by the name of this site I rather enjoy watching the whole league of excitement. And as much as we keep hearing about certain drivers likely jumping to other series, the truth is it just isn't happening this year. We got continuity this year, and we got it big time.

First off, there are 18 drivers confirmed (more or less) with an increased chance of rising entries. But just focusing on the 18 that are in there - the core of the league - note that there are 10 drivers who have garnered a victory in the IRL. You can see their faces on the sidebar to the right.

In fact, only two drivers who have won a race from the last three seasons are absent: Bryan Herta and Adrian Fernandez. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think those guys jumped to NASCAR or F1.

Additionally, of the eight "non-winners" slated to drive you have professional podium crasher Vitor Meira, AGR newcomer Danica Patrick, and Fisher who has placed as high as second in her career. There is also Jeff Simmons, who was placing in the top 10 in 6 of the last 7 races last year with a car that did not deserve to be in the top 10.

My point is not that we should expect a year of total parity since any rational person should expect that Penske and Ganassi teams will continue to run at the front. Rather, it is that the gap of ability between the guys like Hornish and Wheldon and whoever you feel is the 10th or 12th best driver is probably less than it has been in quite a while.

There is much hope that AGR and Panther can bring their engineering up to the red-and-white level and that revamped teams like Rahal, D&R and Foyt can improve as well. And who know - even Vision was throwing guys in the Top 5 late last season. But if even one or two teams can contend with consistency then 2007 might well become something very special. The driving talent is there.

I say this because in a discussion with Mr. Pressdog - an unabashed Fisher fan - it was proposed that maybe drivers should swap around the equipment to determine who really is the best driver. While that might be fun to see (and then again it might not) it made me think it would not be totally absurd to think that if you did such a thing that the car results would be terribly different.

I know - if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his ass a-hoppin'.

Now, I'm not saying there is NO difference because clearly Hornish and Wheldon will be at the front on the ovals and Dixon and Kanaan will be contending on the other courses, but if there was ever a year where anybody from the current 18 (and I mean anybody) had a chance to "focus on winning races" with a good car then this may indeed be that year snag a victory or two.

At least that's my hope. When the test times come in from Homestead later this month I may be singing a different tune.


  1. pressdog // February 09, 2007 7:44 AM  

    Homes. Thanks for the link. Sorry, dude, Rick Mears in his prime doesn't win in cars from the back third of the pack last year. Chicago pretty much illustrated it. After about 100 green laps, you had the front pack (red cars) which pretty much lapped the field. Then the middle pack (AGR was in here) that was one lap down and racing each other and then the back (DRR, Foyt, Herta, Marco who had some trouble and lost a lap) all battling each other. Put Hornish in any of those cars and he's still -2 laps. As Buddy Rice said, "flat out is flat out" not much more the driver can do once his or her foot is on the floor. I share your fervent hope that the red cars don't just bitchslap the field again in 2007. We'll get some idea of it at the Homestead test.

  2. Iannucci // February 09, 2007 7:56 AM  

    Perhaps I did a poor job of saying it, but in a way that was my point. The drivers are nearly equal - it's the cars that aren't.

    Rick Mears was a whole lot better than a guy like Danny Ongais, but I don't know that Wheldon or Castroneves is really THAT much better than Meira or Rice or Sharp. If they all switched cars today I think the Penske and Ganassi cars still finishe in front regardless of who is driving - because the drivers are all good enough to get the most out of those cars.

    I was trying to show how encouraged I was by the possibility of parity. The drivers for most of the field are all championship caliber, so getting the cars equal is the main focus this year (well, any year).

    Just saying there are a lot of great drivers still in the league. Trying to have a little optimism on my birthday.