As the IndyCar series season draws to a "close" in a few short weeks, with a non-points race at Surfer's Paradise, the point has been reached where it's time to look back on an eventful year, but also look forward to the excitement that is sure to come.
The season started off with a bang, with Graham Rahal getting his first career win and Danica Patrick winning at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan.
Although, even though she won, Patrick struggled mightily the rest of the season. Many still say that Patrick can't race with the rest of the field and that she's bought her way to her position, but you can't deny her first win didn't come using superb pit strategy, and a win is a win.
After Danica's triump came the greatest spectacle racing, the Indianapolis 500. The race saw fan favorite Tony Kanaan hit the wall early, leaving Scott Dixon to dominate a significant portion of the race and go on to drink the milk.
The 500 also saw Danica throw her first hissy fit of the season, chasing after Ryan Briscoe following an incident on pit road. Her second fight came with fellow female Milka Duno at Mid-Ohio, after Duno cut Patrick off in practice.
The middle portion of the season proceeded without incident, with Scott Dixon building up a large lead in the points race, and Justin Wilson getting his first win on a controversial blocking call against Helio Castroneves.
Finally, over the last several races, Dixon's points lead began to erode, but Castroneves never came close enough to mount a significant challenge for the lead. Scott Dixon, of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, won the 2008 IndyCar Series championship.
With the end of the season in sight, the contract wheels spun into motion, with 2007 Indianapolis 500 and series champion Dario Franchitti taking Dan Wheldon's seat at Ganassi.
Wheldon, usually a successful driver, was a victim of his own average season, and moved on to take Vitor Miera's position at Panther Racing.
As of this writing, Miera is still the odd man out, and is currently without a ride for 2009. Finally, Paul Tracy joined Vision Racing for the Edmonton race, and he has been in talks with signing for future races.
Although the first season after reunification went much more smoothly than had been anticipated, the IndyCar series does need to make some changes and look towards the future to attract more viewers and make the series more exciting.
First, the series must begin promoting its drivers better. Other than Patrick, none of the drivers are well promoted. You don't see the "heartthrob" drivers, such as Marco Andretti, Dan Wheldon, or Will Power, getting the face time that their NASCAR equivalents do.
Now, the NASCAR model isn't perfect, but it isn't going to hurt to apply some of the things that have worked for them to IndyCar.
Even those drivers that have major sponsorships with Fortune 500 companies, such champion Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Justin Wilson, or even Ed Carpenter, do not get the exposure or promotion that they deserve. IndyCar needs to work with its sponsors to bring the sport to a greater number of people and potential fans.
Second, the series needs to work on getting more competitive racing. Granted, the cars are faster and more maneuverable than, for example, the Car of Tomorrow. But, there is such disparity among some teams that it's nearly impossible for them to compete, let alone be up to speed with the leaders.
The IndyCar series needs to work on a better car that doesn't necessarily decrease speeds or maneuverability, but evens out the disparity among teams like Ganassi and, for example, Conquest Racing. They've taken steps to fix that, including adding turbos for future seasons. But, the divide between the high and low budget teams is still wide.
Finally, the fans and the media need to get the word out that the IndyCar series is back and better than ever, with better, younger, and more marketable drivers than ever.
The series has one of the best schedules its had in years, will have a big field for the Indianapolis 500, and is starting to chip away at NASCAR'S fan base, albeit very slowly.
However, without the appropriate changes, the series is, and will be, nothing more than second best to NASCAR.
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