Lock: Ryan Hunter-Reay
If you’re still looking to use RHR once more this season, I recommend doing so this weekend at Motegi. He’s got a great streak going over the last seven races, and there’s no reason to think he won’t excel in Japan as well. The form he’s displayed in his late-season charge has really been great to watch.
Drop: Marco Andretti
Has any driver been as up-and-down this year as Marco? He hasn’t had much pace in qualifying recently, and until he heats up again, this can’t be a comfortable pick. There’s always that chance Good Marco shows up and blows away the field, but right now that’s outweighed by the uncertainty of how he’ll do.
Sleeper: Hideki Mutoh
With the series using the Motegi road course, you can’t overlook Mutoh in his one-off ride as a great sleeper pick. No one in the field can touch his experience on this course, and AFS/SSM have showed themselves capable of good road course finishes. Save one of your full-time stars this week and go with Hideki’s experience.
----Zachary Houghton’s Picks
Lock: Oriol Servia
In the fight for "best of the rest," Servia leads the way. Twenty seven points ahead of Tony Kanaan, Servia has put together arguably as strong of a season as anyone. With the road courses coming to an end this weekend, it will one last chance for Servia on a track that has been a strong point for him and Newman/Haas all year. They haven't shown quite as well on the big, flat out ovals, but the road/street circuits and short ovals have been their best. Expect Servia to give it a good run this weekend.
Drop: Danica Patrick
Yes, Motegi has been good to Danica, but that was on the oval. The road course is an entirely different animal, one that she has always struggled to tame. Though she has had good finishes at Long Beach, Edmonton, and Baltimore this year, she rarely puts together consistent good results. Expect a subpar showing from her.
Sleeper: Giorgio Pantano
He's back once more in the Dreyer and Reinbold machine to sub for Justin Wilson. It's obvious that these road courses are his bread and butter, given his excellent debut at Infineon last month. With another classic road course to chew on, Pantano has another chance to shine this weekend.
----Kyle Lavigne’s Picks
Lock: Will Power
As soon as word came out that the Motegi round was shifting to its road course, the advantage also shifted to Power. While he’ll still have to deal with back-to-back ovals to end the season, the Aussie has momentum on his side in his battle with Dario Franchitti for the championship and it’ll carry him to the points lead after this race.
Drop: J.R. Hildebrand
Hildebrand barely hung on to his Rookie of the Year points lead over James Hinchcliffe in Baltimore, but I’m betting that ‘The Mayor’ takes the upper hand at Motegi. That said, the final events at Kentucky and Las Vegas may play into Hildebrand and his team's favor.
Sleeper: Takuma Sato
If Sato comes through and wins (or at least podiums) at Motegi, it’ll be a huge story. Qualifying well will be important, however, if he wants to give his country something to really cheer about.
----Chris Estrada’s Picks
Lock: Will Power
I just can’t fight it anymore. And as much as I love the underdog, I have to give credit where credit is due. Will has been beyond impressive this season. Motegi is a huge road course, not only because it’s so influential in the championship race but also to the road course championship, which has eluded Power in the past. I think it means just as much to him as the series championship and he’s going to pull out all the stops to claim it this season.
Drop: Danica Patrick
I was going to try to keep this post civil and professional but there may be a little bit of bitterness leaking out here. Her name has been linked to Japan ever since her first (and only) win there. Every year people get excited for her performance here but she’s yet to deliver. She might try to make a run of it for posterities’ sake but this close to the end of the season, I think her head and heart is already in a stock car.
Sleeper: Vitor Meira
One of my favorite underdogs, I think Vitor has always been good at hanging in there. He may not put up constant top 5’s but he’s a solid finisher and clean driver. He does particularly well on road courses and as Motegi lends itself to road course masters, I think he’ll excel this weekend.
----Kristin Slevin’s Picks