After Seven Races, The 2008 IndyCar Series Begins To Take Shape

Christopher LeoneSenior Analyst IJune 14, 2008

Through seven of 17 rounds (well, technically 18, if you count the Motegi-Long Beach split weekend in April), the IndyCar Series has seen three first time winners, six winners in total, and one clear favorite to win the 2008 championship.

His name? Scott Dixon.

Now, fortunes can change in the blink of an eye - especially in the most wide-open form of racing on the planet - and the season remains relatively young. If Dixon encounters a string of bad luck, plenty of drivers are in a prime position to capitalize.

Helio Castroneves, second in the drivers’ standings and only 35 markers behind Dixon, has not yet “danced” his way (if you’ll excuse the pun) into the winners’ circle, but hasn’t finished any worse than fifth yet this season. Dixon’s teammate, Dan Wheldon, has a win and ranks third overall, 67 behind his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate. Castroneves’ teammate Ryan Briscoe ranks fifth overall. The four Andretti Green Racing cars, driven by Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick, Hideki Mutoh, and Marco Andretti are fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth, respectively.

But of the drivers mentioned, Dixon is the only one to win multiple races - three now, actually, including the famed Indianapolis 500 - and has built on a strong 2007 season to assert his status as the series’ top dog over the stretch run.

Aside from a 22nd-place hiccup at St. Petersburg, Dixon hasn’t finished worse than third all season, at Motegi and Kansas. Besides Indianapolis, he also won the season-opening race at Homestead and the most recent race at Texas, and finished second at the Milwaukee Mile. He led the most laps at Motegi, Kansas, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee. The strong performance of Castroneves has kept the title race entertaining, but if Dixon continues his winning ways, the Indy Racing League may see its first blowout championship since current teammate Wheldon won by 80 points in 2005.

Meanwhile, Vision Racing driver Ed Carpenter has shown marked improvement this season, currently sitting ninth in the drivers’ standings. Carpenter, the nephew of IRL founder Tony George, has never finished better in the standings than 14th in 2006, but has consistently posted decent results this season. Finishing fifth at Homestead and Indianapolis, he has five top-tens in seven starts.

Perhaps his newfound confidence comes from the support of new primary sponsor Menards, which has a strong history in the Indy Racing League, but the boost in Carpenter’s performance is welcome no matter where it comes from. Once a field back marker, he’s currently driving the top car in the series not campaigned by Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, or Michael Andretti.

The battle for the 2008 Rookie of the Year Award is also heating up, with Mutoh currently holding a 12 point advantage (159-147) over Will Power, a former Champ Car driver who joined the series with KV Racing Technology this season. Mutoh currently ranks seventh in the series’ standings; Power is 11th. Behind them sits E.J. Viso, HVM Racing’s rookie driver, who has 133 points and sits 13th overall.

Mutoh leads all rookies by virtue of his three sixth-place finishes at St. Petersburg, Kansas, and Texas, and single DNF. Power, who won the final Champ Car race at Long Beach to score 53 IndyCar Series points, has been hurt by five finishes of 13th or worse. The highlight of Viso’s season thus far was a fourth at St. Petersburg, where he led 12 laps.

Next on the calendar, the IndyCar Series heads to the Iowa Speedway for the Iowa Corn Indy 250. Won last year by Dario Franchitti, the track’s marquee event enters its second year in 2008. Last year’s event featured major accidents after 85 and 99 laps that eliminated six of the 19 starters from the race, with only five cars completing the race on the lead lap. This year’s event should see more cars finish all 250 laps, but perhaps even more carnage, with seven more cars on track for a total of 26.

The Iowa Corn Indy 250 will be broadcast on Sunday, June 22 at 1 PM on ABC.