The competitors in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series set their eyes on a sight not seen since last October's finale at Homestead: an oval race. Following four road and street courses to start the season, the series now turns to Kansas Motor Speedway as a warmup to the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Will Power has a commanding lead heading into May, with a 42 point championship lead over second place teamate Helio Castroneves. Ryan Hunter-Reay is one beind Helio and coming off his first win of the season at Long Beach, and the first win for Andretti Autosport since 2008.
The D shaped 1.5 mile oval in Kansas City will be the host to 210+ MPH speeds as 27 cars look to take the checkered flag on Saturday afternoon. The track features 15 degree banking in the turns, with 10 degree banking along the front stretch and 5 degree along the back.
Scott Dixon won the event in 2009, after Graham Rahal sat on the pole. This will be the Indycar series 10th venture at Kansas, with the event schedule for 200 laps for a total of 300 miles.
Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan are former winners at Kansas that will be in the field on Saturday. Also appearing for the first time this year are Sarah Fisher, teammate Jay Howard, and John Andretti, appearing for Andretti Autosport. Andretti will be sporting a paint scheme similar to Richard Petty's famous STP car, and will be sponsored by Windows World in a preparation race for the Indy 500.
The return to ovals will mean a return to pack racing. This will be the first time the aero changes and push to pass are available at Kansas, and the series hopes this will make for close exciting racing similar to Kentucky and Chicago of 2009.
The action will get underway at 1:30pm on the ABC network. Qualifying occured last night, with Ryan Briscoe taking the pole. He will be followed by Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, and Hideki Mutoh. Marco Andretti and Dan Wheldon were sent to the back of the field for going under the white line during their qualifying attempts. Wheldon would have started at P3 and will be looking to make a fast dash to the front at the drop of the green flag.
And with that, we reach our writers pool. Long Beach was terrific for myself in terms of points, but not for the other members of our pool. Last week Chris picked up 3 points, James picked up 8 points, and I picked up 19 points. Current totals are as follows:
Win – Ryan Briscoe
Place – Helio Castroneves
Show – Will Power
Let’s be daring and go for a Penske sweep. They’ve been dominant thus far – why would they stop now?
Dark Horse – Hideki Mutoh
Chosen for his oval prowess and Newman/Haas’ minor oval success last year. Remember Graham Rahal’s pole last year at the track.
First to Crash – Milka Duno
With another vote of consideration for either Dan Wheldon or Marco Andretti, whose cars are very fast but went to the back of the field due to rules violations in qualifying. You never know what could happen with two fast cars pushing up the field.
First to crash: Jay Howard
Although Howard does have a 13th place finish in his pocket, he doesn’t have any experience racing this season. He will most likely start at the back, where trouble is most likely to happen.
Dark Horse: Marco Andretti
If Marco could finish one of these races, his career could be in a much different place. If he can avoid contact, there could be back to back Andretti Motorsport wins.
3rd Place: Dan Wheldon
Wheldon knows his way around the ovals, especially here. In 7 races at Kansas, he has finished in first or second 4 times. Two of the other three were top 10 finishes.
2nd Place: Helio Castroneves
You can’t deny Helio has the best performance of any driver at Kansas. In 8 races at the Speedway, Helio has NEVER finished outside of the top 10. While he has an average finishing position of 4th place, he has still never won here.
Race Winner: Scott Dixon
If anyone needs a win anymore than this guy, it could be his teammate, Franchitti. He won here just last year, so he is sure to find his way around on Saturday
Win: Ryan Briscoe
Briscoe is due big time after being so dominant last year. He is in a big hole with his teammates sitting 1 and 2 in the points standings. Briscoe can run high or low and be fast as can be, so he is my pick.
Place: Scott Dixon
Dixon won last year, and has always been fast at Kansas. He too needs to pick up some points and momentum heading into Indianapolis. Dixon still has a newborn at home and those diapers aren't free so he'll be looking for the checkers.
Show: Danica Patrick
Oh god, those words appeared on my screen after I typed them... this has to be some sick dream. Well believe it race fans. Danica got stomped on the road courses, worse than usual. If she is going to be anything more than an afterthought and a pinup girl for the 2010 season, then its time to start showing it. She finsihed third last year, and I am predicting a repeat.
Dark Horse: Dan Wheldon
OK, I sorta broke one of my own rules here. Intially I thought you can't pick a darkhorse who has won on the track before. But Wheldon is a special case. Team Panther has been bad for several years now. On top of which, Wheldon has to start at the back for going under the line in qualifying. A top 5 finish would be great for him, especially if he can avoid the carnage from our first to crash...
First to Crash: Takuma Sato
So many good choices this week. We have several drivers who will be in their first oval race in an Indycar, some in their first competitive oval race. One of those includes Sato, who is always fast and always reckless. On the first lap of the first oval of the season that equals carbon fiber flying in every direction.
This week I had a very busy week finishing up school, so I didn't have time to hunt down a control picker. As a result, these picks are drawn from a random number generator and then based on their qualification position... could be controls best week yet.
Win Jay Howard
Place Alex Tagliani
Show Danica Patrick
Dark Horse Dan Wheldon
First to Crash John Andretti
*Ok, I am fairly embarassed that 2 of my picks matched 2 of the picks from random numbers.
James' picks will be added as soon as I get them and can edit this article. Enjoy the race everyone!