This weekend, the IZOD IndyCar Series enters the fourth and final quarter of the season. The stretch starts with the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 at the Chicagoland Speedway.
Last year's race, won by Ryan Briscoe by about six inches over Scott Dixon, was yet another example of how exciting IndyCar racing can be when the series heads to the Illinois speedway, and nobody expects anything different this year.
In the lone practice session preceding qualifying, Briscoe once again paced Dixon, though the gap was much larger. Briscoe's 217.874 mph best lap was a full mile better than Dixon. Will Power, the series points leader despite only ranking eighth in the oval championship, had the third best lap, with the four Andretti Autosport drivers - Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Tony Kanaan - ranking fourth through seventh.
In qualifying, Briscoe took the pole over Dario Franchitti as well as teammates Power, Helio Castroneves, and Andretti. Dixon could only muster a 15th place qualifying run.
Patrick, in particular, has to be excited to return to the ovals, after ranking a dismal 15th in the final road course standings. She was the only Andretti driver to place outside the top 10. Meanwhile, she ranks sixth in the oval standings, with a runner-up finish at Texas her best run of the season.
The field at Chicagoland, a whopping 29 cars, will be the largest field of the season (excluding Indianapolis) and the largest in a non-500 field since 28 showed up for this race in 2008. Entries for Graham Rahal, Ed Carpenter, Davey Hamilton, Jay Howard, and Sarah Fisher have expanded the field from the 24 full-season entries.
Four times out of nine, the winner has come from the pole position, a feat Briscoe achieved last year, after Castroneves won from the last starting spot the year before. Penske drivers have won the past two events at Chicagoland, while perennial series power Chip Ganassi Racing has only one win at the track, by Dan Wheldon in 2006.