Although eyeballs naturally gravitate towards the battles being fought at the front of the pack of the IZOD IndyCar Series, that’s not the only scrap going on each race. For some drivers, the fight isn’t just about placing as well as you can, it’s about how their team’s 2012 plans might turn out.
From the 2010 season, the Top 22 full-time team entries in the points standings were eligible for TEAM money; the IZOD IndyCar Series’ way of rewarding full-scale participation. For entries outside that, you’re missing out on up to $1.2 million in TEAM program incentives.
Remember that team entries are decided by total points for the car; for example, Ana Beatriz only has 67 points in the #24 car, but when Simon Pagenaud subbed for her, he gained 24 points, bringing the car’s total to 91 points (good enough for P19 in the TEAM standings). Also, part-time programs such as Dragon Racing do not count in the TEAM rankings.
If the series again decides to limit the TEAM program to the Top 22 in 2012, there’s a serious battle brewing to see who’s safely in and who’s P23 or worse. For some teams, it could make the difference in the number of races contested or even if their program is fielded next year. Here’s how the "Battle for P22" stands going into Milwaukee, listed by team entry:
Norvo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing #83
Driver: Charlie Kimball
Current TEAM Standing: P20 (89 points)
Despite being a rookie, Kimball and the 83 car might be one of the safest entries on this list. The power of Team Ganassi isn’t something to be disregarded, and Kimball should have a pretty good car in most races. To cement a Top 20 points finish, he’ll have to get past some of the rookie mistakes he’s made so far and have a few more runs like his P10 at Barber.
KV Racing Technology #59
Driver: EJ Viso
Current TEAM Standing: P21 (88 points)
Perhaps the most unpredictable driver in the series, Viso shows flashes of talent, followed by incident after incident. It’s tough to watch, especially after you see the great Top 10 finishes he had at the Texas races last week. If he finishes the season P23 or worse on this list, it’ll be because of more incidents like we saw in the first third of the schedule. If he can go easier on the carbon fiber from here on out, he’ll be ok.
Dale Coyne Racing #19
Drivers: Sebastian Bourdais, Alex Lloyd
Current Standing: P22: (73 points)
One of the more enigmatic entries on this list, any number of race weekend circumstances could have the 19 car safely in the Top 22 or lagging severely behind it. Sebastian Bourdais has had a brutal introduction to the IZOD IndyCar Series, with his road/street portion of the schedule plagued by mishaps and mediocre finishes. Lloyd steps in for the ovals, and managed to qualify a weak car at the last minute at the Indy 500. Both men are excellent drivers in their own right and we’ll have to see if either can put together a stellar performance to rocket their position upwards.
Conquest Racing #34
Driver: Sebastian Saavedra
Current Standing: P23: (72 points)
Currently the first driver on the outside looking in the Top 22, Saavedra has shown some nice speed, but also some troubling inconsistency. Missing Indy hurt him, but if he can have a few Top 10s through the season (a definite possibility), he can still regain some ground.
Andretti Autosport #28
Driver: Ryan Hunter-Reay
Current Standing: P24 (69 points)
On the surface, it looks like Ryan Hunter-Reay has earned 81 points, but don’t forget that his 12 Indy points count towards AJ Foyt’s #41 part-time car. That leaves him with 69 points and a bit of a hole to dig out of. Given his aptitude for the road/street courses, a few good finishes might be enough to make up the difference of his 28 car not qualifying at Indianapolis. It’s been a disappointing season for RHR, but he still has plenty of opportunities for some upward mobility.
Dale Coyne Racing #18
Driver: James Jakes
Current Standing: P25 (65 points)
While Jakes hasn’t been dismal as an unknown rookie this season, he also hasn’t had any big results about which to crow. Still, he’s been running at the end of 5 out of the 6 races he’s appeared in this season. He might not blow anyone out of the water, but if he can finish races and show gradual improvement, he’s got a shot.
As you watch this season, remember not every battle is for the lead. Some are for pride, some are for employment, and others are simply about survival. We’ll have to see who does enough to end up in the Top 22, and just what it means for the landscape of series entries next year.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.