Lock: Dario Franchitti/Oriol Servia
I’ve got to go back to the Ganassi well for this one. Simply put, Dario performs when it’s all on the line. He was thousandths of a second from winning at Kentucky, and he should at least challenge here. He’s also got that pure luck that his rival Will Power seems to lack at times. Obviously, if you have him left in your driver pool, you’ll want him in there.
For those of you all out of Ganassi/Penske drivers, grab Oriol Servia. He’s got P4 locked up in the championship standings, and you’ll want a veteran presence on a busy track. It’d be great to see the Newman/Haas lads bring home a win, but Servia should at least be in the running for a Top 10, if not a podium.
Drop: Pippa Mann
A successful race here for Pippa will be keeping it clean and continuing to improve throughout stints in the race. As much as we all dig her, there are likely more productive options at play here this week. It’s a big field; even though this is Las Vegas, there’s no real reason to gamble if you don’t have to.
Sleeper: Danica Patrick
This is a tough field in which to narrow down a sleeper, simply because there are so many drivers who could finish so well, and with the crowded field, there’s always a chance someone’s day ends prematurely. When you come to that, I think you need to look at the driver with 50+ consecutive races without a DNF. It might be Danica’s last full-time race in the Series, and it’s possible we could see a good finish for her along the lines of last year’s Homestead finale.
(Let's stay away from the obvious Penske/Ganassi clan this week).
Lock: Ed Carpenter/J.R. Hildebrand
Okay, I know I put two drivers here, but I'm not sure you could go wrong with either. Sarah Fisher Racing has put all of their resources behind its oval program and their speed is unquestionable. And Hildebrand could have challenged for the win as well if not for his accident on pit road. At this point, it's pretty easy to reckon many of the big names have been used up so, if you're looking elsewhere, either of these drivers will do you some good.
Drop: Mike Conway
I hate pick on Conway for a second straight race, but I fear I have no choice. The Long Beach winner has been dreadful on the ovals this year just can't a grasp on them, even if his teammates are running well (see Kentucky). He'll be happy to know the oval races are being reduced next year because, quite frankly, they just don't seem to mesh with him. It was fun to see him win in Long Beach, but outside of that, it hasn't been a good year for Conway.
Sleeper: James Hinchcliffe
I'm not sure anyone could have run as well as "Hinch" did in Kentucky and barely get noticed. A top five runner for most of the day, he outlasted Ryan Hunter-Reay for fourth on the final lap, giving him the lead of the Rookie of the Year standings. Given how strong Hildebrand looked, Hinchcliffe may need to emulate that effort once more. And, it won't surprise me at all if he does. Newman/Haas' resurgence has been a great story all year and Hinchcliffe has been a big part of it.
Lock: Dario Franchitti
Franchitti is set to add another jewel to his crown on Sunday. There’s nobody you want more on your side when everything’s on the line and he can handle these championship battles in his sleep after going through so many over his career. One mistake against Franchitti is one too many and I feel that Will Power and Team Penske made theirs in Kentucky two weeks ago.
Drop: Davey Hamilton
Hamilton’s a fan favorite, but with a 34-car field on tap for Vegas, it’s just not wise to put too much faith in a part-time program like the one he has with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing. A clean, mid-pack finish may be as good as it gets for him on Sunday.
Sleeper: Ryan Hunter-Reay
The American put up a strong fifth-place effort at Kentucky that saw him as part of the pack stalking Ed Carpenter and Franchitti all the way to the checkered flag. Vegas is a different 1.5-miler than Kentucky, but I think he can put up the same results and head into 2012 on a high.
Lock: Dan Wheldon
Let’s face it, Vegas is a big race. Big money. Big coverage. Big glory. Sound like any other race on the schedule…? Dan already came out of nowhere to win the Indy 500 this year, who’s to say he won’t do it again? He’s got a fresh pair of legs under him, a lifetime of experience, a well-equipped team and a $5 million pay check waiting for him at the finish line. If that’s not recipe for success, I don’t know what is!
Drop: Helio Castroneves
I’m not sure why I’m picking on Helio this week other than he’s been the biggest drop all season. He hasn’t won a race and he hasn’t even put up a respectable fight most weeks. Everyone deserves an “off” season, especially a driver as great as Helio, but it has been disappointing to watch. Hopefully next year we’ll see Spiderman climb the fence a few more times.
Sleeper: Tony Kanaan
Again, I realize that my TK picks are always a long shot, but I equate his fame in IndyCar with that of Dan Wheldon. Regardless of who your favorite was for Indy, you were happy that Dan took it because he’s a great driver and a fan favorite. Similiarly, in a race with such huge stakes and hype surrounding it, the fans would love to see TK do well. It would be a great victory and a great end to the season.