I know it sounds cliché, but trust me -- this championship fight isn’t over yet!
It's true that Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti leads Will Power by 55 points going into the 11th round of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series Championship this weekend at Edmonton’s Circle Center Airport. But the driver of the Verizon Team Penske machine will be looking to narrow that gap quickly, and coming from behind should play right into Power’s strengths.
It’s no secret that Power has been blindingly fast for the past several seasons on the road and street courses, but his inability to rein in his aggressive driving style may have cost him the 2010 championship when he couldn't hang onto a 59-point advantage through the final four races of the season. When Power is able to simply drive at 100% without thinking about points, he is at his very best. It's when he tries to throttle back and drive conservatively that he tends to find himself getting into trouble and having difficulty finishing races. Perhaps coming from behind will be the best situation Power could have put himself in to really make a strong run to the finish.
Of course, to make a comeback possible, Power is still going to have to successfully finish out this season's ovals. Whether his lack of success on those tracks can be attributed to his own doing, his team’s inability to give him good pit stops, or just plain bad luck (and Steph and I have debated this topic many times), Power’s confidence on the ovals will be called into question at the remaining races at New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Las Vegas. There is no doubt that the switch to the road course at Twin Ring Motegi will benefit Power’s championship hopes, but if he fails to produce strong results at the three remaining ovals, his quest to erase the current deficit will be nearly impossible.
On the other hand, Dario Franchitti also finds himself in somewhat uncharted territory as he looks to secure his third consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series championship and the fourth consecutive in which he has participated. For the most recent pair of titles, Franchitti has been the hunter, coming from behind in the final race to clinch the title. In 2007, he entered the Chicagoland finale ahead of Scott Dixon by only three points, leading to a winner-take-all scenario. With a seemingly comfortable 55-point cushion, it is difficult to predict how Franchitti will respond when he can simply drive for points. With the drivers being so close in speed this season, even the slightest bobble in qualifying or a race can put Franchitti in the middle of the pack, and with chaos lurking on every double-file restart (particularly on the tight road and street courses), his comfortable lead in the standings could be slashed in the blink of an eye. Dario definitely can’t afford to play it safe, but will he stick his nose into a tight spot and force a pass like he did at Toronto when the occasion arises? Only time will tell.
With the results of eight races yet to be determined in the 2011 season, don't consider this one a write-off just yet. Three of the remaining tracks are complete unknowns, and two more haven't been visited by any of today's drivers in at least five years. Stay tuned -- there's much more excitement and intrigue left in this one!
Paul Dalbey(@Fieldof33) is co-editor of MoreFrontWing.com (@MoreFrontWing), your source online for blogs, photos, podcasts and more covering the IZOD IndyCar Series and beyond. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.