The 2012 Izod IndyCar season has just two weekends left in the schedule. Drivers are making a push to solidify their season standings at the Grand Prix of Baltimore this weekend.
Will Power will attempt to defend his 2011 win in Baltimore. His fourth win on the season could secure his No.1 ranking for 2012, as he enters the race with a 36-point lead on the field.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is the only other driver with three wins this season. He and Helio Castroneves are the only drivers that could catch Power should he falter on Sunday.
There are technically eight drivers that could claim the season title, but it is really a three-person race.
A complete guide for the Grand Prix of Baltimore follows.
Where: Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Baltimore, MD
When: Sunday, Sep. 2 at 2:45 pm ET
Watch: NBC Sports Network
Listen: IndyCar.com or Sirius Satellite Radio (Channel 94)
Starting Order: Qualifying will be held Saturday, Sep. 1 at 12:05 pm. To listen the qualifying round, visit IndyCar.com.
Full Event Schedule (via BaltimoreSun.com)
Friday, Aug. 31
Practice: 8:00 am-12:55 pm and 2:45-5:05 pm
Qualifying: 1:15-2:25 pm and 5:10-6:20 pm
Autograph Session: 4:45-5:45 pm
Saturday, Sep. 1
Practice: 8:00 am-10:45 am
Qualifying: 11:05 am-1:20 pm
Autograph Session: 2:30-3:30 pm
Racing: 1:45-6:30 pm
Sunday, Sep. 2
7:30 am: Gates open
Warm Up: 9:45-10:15 am (IZOD IndyCar Series)
Racing: 10:35am-1:45 pm (USF2000, Star Mazda and Firestone Indy Lights)
IZOD IndyCar pre-race: 1:55-2:40 pm
IZOD IndyCar Series racing: 2:45-5:00 pm
Drivers to Watch
This late in the season it is easy to narrow the field of key drivers. There are three drivers separated by less than 50 points.
The current points leader is also the defending champion in Baltimore, eliminating the need to add a driver that's not in the thick of the title chase.
The man whose parents had either a great sense of humor or poor foresight is looking to secure his spot atop the points standings of the 2012 Izod IndyCar season. A win would all but lockup the championship, but Power has been in this position before.
Power led the point standings with two weeks remaining in 2010 and 2011. He was overtaken in the final race in both of those seasons.
He began his weekend in Baltimore with too many things on his mind. Dave Lewandowski of Indycar.com shared Powers comments following a second-place finish in Sonoma last weekend.
I’m in win mode. Wins are right there, but we're not getting them. You have to think of the championship as well. If we have the car to win, we go for it. Obviously, as you get further into the season, you become more aware of what (title challengers) are doing, if they're behind you or in front of you, and know how aggressive you've got to be.
Power has already clinched the Mario Andretti Trophy, given to the driver with the most points in street/road racing events. This is his third-straight season winning that title.
He hopes it isn't also his third-straight season ending with disappointment. But, he seems to be giving too much attention to the season standings and not enough on winning the race at hand.
Hunter-Reay started the 2012 Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma just five points behind Power. He was in third place on Lap 74 of 85, right behind Power.
He was in position to possibly take the outright points lead, but a third place finish would have left him in control of his destiny over the final two weeks of racing. Then the wheels fell off.
He spun out after being nudged by Alex Tagliani. He was a lap down at the restart and was then hit with a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact with E.J. Viso, moving him from the podium to an 18th place finish.
A win in Baltimore would make the final weekend of racing a bit more exciting.
The 2012 season hasn't seen a repeat of Castroneves' dominant performances of 2011. He does have two wins, but has only made one other podium. He's 41 points behind Power and his hopes of being the 2012 point-leader could evaporate on Sunday.
Castroneves has raced better over the last two months, finishing in the top seven in seven of the last eight races. But the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner has a lot of ground to makeup in the final two weeks.
Prediction Winner: Ryan Hunter-Reay
Power has shown a proclivity for getting too conservative at the end of the season. He spent too much time considering where his competition stands and not enough on winning.
Perhaps he really is focused more on winning individual races in 2012, but his comment above shows that he is approaching the final two races with thoughts on the competition. In most sports, trying not to lose is one of the quickest ways to lose one's edge.
Hunter-Reay won three out of four races from June into July. He struggled in the standings the last two races, but he is driving well.
Look for him to come out aggressive and strike early in this race. He knows that a win would put Power on the defensive going into the final race, as he'd be concerned with losing the points title on the final day of racing for the third straight season.