Did you just feel a chill go through the room and a giant sigh of relief brush through the hallway like a gale force wind?
That was the collective feeling of the IZOD IndyCar series drivers after leaving behind the road and street courses for the year and returning to ovals for the final four races of the season.
Every driver except of course Will Power. Power won five of the nine road and street courses and finished on the podium in all but one race, a personally horrific fourth place finish at Barber Motorsports Park.
So that sigh of relief?
That was Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon realizing their chances at the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Championship are greatly improved by the remaining four 1.5 mile ovals. What remains to be seen is whether Franchitti can overcome his 59 point deficit or if Dixon can overcome his 95 point backmark.
The maximum number of points available for the winner of any race in the IZOD IndyCar series is 53 points, 50 for winning, two for the most laps led, and one for the pole position. Second place earns 40 points, meaning a first place finisher can always gain between seven and 13 points over second place.
This gap is not large enough to make up the current deficit for the drivers of Chip Ganassi Racing, so Franchitti and Dixon must finish several spots above Power at the remaining races to have a shot at the championship. Of course, a crash by Power would bring it wide open, while a crash by Franchitti could slam the championship door shut.
Power has never won an oval race, while the Target Chip Ganassi team has won on all of the remaining tracks. Power does have the benefit of being on Team Penske and being the most locked-in driver in the field at the moment, but he does lack overall experience on tracks with four left turns.
The track is quite simple, as a D-shaped oval with 11 degree banking on the front stretch, five degrees on the back stretch, and 18 degrees in the turns. In these previews, you may be used to me explaining where major passing zones are the tracks, well this will be my favorite.
There will be two and three wide actions throughout the entire one and a half mile track, with passing throughout. So strap in while watching, because with a record 29 cars on the track there is going to be some incredible action.
There are four former winners in the field. Team Penske has won the last two years in a row with Ryan Briscoe in 2009 and Helio Castroneves in 2009. Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon won the race for Chip Ganassi, while Wheldon also won the 2005 race with Andretti. Scott Dixon also won in 1999 and 2000 in the CART Indy Lights Series.
The field expanding to 29 cars for the race means there will be several new cars and drivers on track.
Ed Carpenter returns to Panther Racing in his partnership with Vision and Fuzzy's Vodka. Carpenter will run the remaining US ovals with the team and the sponsorship he had at the 2010 Indianapolis 500.
Ana Beatriz also returns with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, filling in for Mike Conway while he is recovering from injuries. Davey Hamilton will get another shot with de Ferran Dragon Racing and the support of HP Computers. Tomas Scheckter will continue his season with a new team, driving the No. 36 car for Conquest Racing. J
ay Howard returns for his last race with Sarah Fisher Racing, but he has hinted he may have other options lined up for the end of the year. Sarah Fisher also will run her No. 67 Dollar General Car.
Last years race featured just 23 cars, but the action was still intense.
The cars stormed around the track, wheel to wheel in what looked like an accident waiting to happen. Only two cars excited the race due to contact, and both were with the wall. With 29 cars on the track however, the racing will be very tight and incidents seem likely. Drivers will have to keep their energy and focus up for all 200 laps of the event.
The race will be broadcast live on Versus network at 7 p.m. Saturday night. Qualifying can be seen starting at 5 p.m. Friday night. Night racing under the lights in Joliet, Il., is the perfect welcome back for the series after a string of road and street courses.
To further get you ready for the 2010 Peak Antifreeze Indy 300, we present our writer's picks.
First to crash: Bertrand Baguette
The rookie will probably be starting near the back, and lets face it, that’s where the trouble will be in the 29 car field.
Dark horse: Ryan Hunter-Reay
I wanted so bad to put Dan Wheldon here, but I’m going with RHR. Ryan has finished in the top ten in two of the last three races here. Ryan will either wind up in the top five, or in the bottom five.
Third place: Will Power
With Dario on his heels, Power needs to have a solid finish to keep his points lead at a safe distance. In his only race here in 2008, he finished in fifth, and a third place finish should keep him safely in the lead.
Second place: Dario Franchitti
Dario has the championship in his sights, and he knows he has to be on top of his game in order to get it. A top three finish will be nice, but it all depends on where Power finishes.
Race winner: Scott Dixon
Scott still may have an outside shot at the title, but he will need Dario and Power to have bad nights. Dixon has finished in second place here four times, and he may finally get over the hump Saturday night.
Win: Scott Dixon. One of the best oval drivers on the circuit is due for another oval win.
Place: Ryan Briscoe. Defending race winner Briscoe hasn’t won since Texas—too long for a Penske driver, even (especially?) when it’s his teammate snaring the victories.
Show: Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR has a legitimate shot at climbing as high as fourth in points with a solid finish this weekend and a little luck.
Dark Horse: Ed Carpenter. Returning to the series this weekend, he’ll look for a strong finish at a track where he placed sixth last year.
First to Crash: Ana Beatriz. Just a hunch. Glad to see her back in the series, though. Dreyer & Reinbold would do well to find a way to keep her.
Win: Ryan Briscoe. Chris is right, Briscoe needs to win. Whenever it seems like he is in trouble at Penske he goes out and wins a race to silence critics. Winning here will keep points away from Franchitti and Dixon and make the Captain very happy.
Place: Dario Franchitti. Dario is going to push as hard as he can to win the next four races, while I believe Power will drive more cautious since he has a large lead. I think Briscoe will be able to hold him off, but I also think we'll have a winning margin of less than .1 seconds.
Show: Scott Dixon. Dixon has always been good here, but has never won. Unfortunately for him, I see that continuing this weekend, but a podium finish is always positive. Dixon is a fantastic oval racer, and will be doing everything to ensure Ganassi cars finish above Will Power.
Dark Horse: Dan Wheldon. Dan has two wins here, and really needs a good showing to be back with Panther in 2010. He is a great driver with a quality teammate in Ed Carpenter this weekend. A top five finish would be great for the National Guard team.
First to Crash: Takuma Sato. Sato has been fast this year, but he has also been reckless. Combine that with possibly intentionally smacking into Danica Patrick and Takuma returns as my popular pick.
Control Pick: I just got back from Sonoma a few hours ago, so I am squeezed on time, so our control pick will be a random draw from the entry list.
Win: Ryan Briscoe. That was just plain lucky, random draw and my brain think alike. I am slightly scared.
Place: Tony Kanaan. Ok, two best picks for control so far this year.
Show: Ed Carpenter. Still not bad, but Ed did have a suspension failure during practice.
Dark Horse: Mario Moraes. Well, he is fast, but probably more likely in our next category.
First to Crash: Sarah Fisher. Definitely not a fan friendly pick.
Join the conversation. Feel free to join our writers and make your picks in the comments section below. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.