In this week’s COUNTERPOINT, MoreFrontWing.com co-editor Steph Wallcraft is joined by fellow INDYCAR Nation contributor Zachary Houghton. Neither has seen the other’s argument until the two sides were put together. It’s up to you to decide who’s made the better case!
This week: Who will be the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series champion?
ZACHARY says WILL POWER
Certainly, IZOD IndyCar Series fans should have every expectation of an extremely thrilling finale between two tremendous talents in Penske Racing’s Will Power and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. With 500 miles to determine our champ at Fontana’s MAVTV 500, we should be in for an epic back-and-forth and a test of endurance as much as anything.
Right now, there seems to be a general expectancy in some quarters that Hunter-Reay will be able to charge past a wilting Power to secure the Series championship.
There has been much made of Power’s late-season collapses, and it is easy to concede that he has not finished well. Yet his leads in previous finales in 2010 and 2011 were by smaller margins than the 17 points he enjoys now. Make no mistake: this is a driver in charge of his own destiny, with every chance to finally bring his title home.
Additionally, Power’s woes on ovals have been overstated by many. Yes, he had a poor finish at Kentucky last year after an unfortunate pit incident, but since joining Team Penske he’s had seven different top-five oval finishes. He’s even shown well at ovals late in the season (Motegi, 2010-11; both podiums). This is not a driver destined to tool around in P24; even if he doesn’t win at Fontana, he has every hope of at least a decent finish.
That is where reality should set in. Will Power does not need to crush Ryan Hunter-Reay in this final race. In most scenarios, actually, a finish somewhere between P10 and P15 will be fine. This is not a win-or-go-home scenario for Power. It’s a finish-moderately-well-or-go-home one, which seems like a far more certain proposition.
For Hunter-Reay’s part, he needs to finish P6 or better (assuming he doesn’t win the pole or lead the most laps) just to get into his championship scenarios. Yes, he’s more than capable of doing so, but we aren’t talking about a guy who’s proven himself as an ace on the big ovals. RHR can be very good indeed, but his big oval record has no appreciable advantage over that of Will Power (for example, neither driver has ever won an INDYCAR race on a “big” oval). With all things being equal in that sense, I’m going to take the guy with the 17-point lead and the greater number of paths to the championship.
Nothing has been decided yet, and a first-lap crash or blow could wipe out any argument one could make for either of our worthy championship contenders. I think the world of Ryan Hunter-Reay and know he and the Andretti Autosport crew will do everything possible to make this a fight to the very end. Yet when I look at how the odds stack up, it seems to me the safe(r) bet has to be Will Power. Simply put, the math favors Penske Racing. Now we just have to see if fate agrees.
STEPH says RYAN HUNTER-REAY
The INDYCAR weekend at Baltimore is a perfect study of the seasons that Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay have had.
Power was blindingly dominant early and came away with the pole after handily leading every group he qualified with.
Hunter-Reay got sidelined early in qualifying due to freak bad-luck happenstance and started mid-pack.
Power took a huge lead out of the gate, but a tiny technical misstep left him needing to fight back as he missed a radio call – yet another issue in the pits.
Hunter-Reay took his bad qualifying fortune and turned it vastly in his favor as he was able to use red tires for the entire race because a) he had three sets available after not getting far in qualifying, b) the rain negated the rule requiring him to use blacks, and c) he kept his head together and kept the car off the wall while driving on slicks in the rain.
Late in the race, Power made a tiny mistake with huge implications after allowing three cars to get by him in a corner and having to make passes to scrape points back into his hands, ending any true shot he had at the win.
Meanwhile, Hunter-Reay saw an opportunity to make a move on the second-last restart, and he put his head down and got it done. Whether or not you agree with the call to allow the restart to stand, you have to respect RHR’s ability to spot an opportunity and capitalize on it. He never looked back.
At the end of the day, pit issues and errors under pressure left Power flustered and winless.
At the end of the day, turning his bad luck to good and capitalizing on his opportunities left Hunter-Reay victorious.
Although Power goes in with the mathematical advantage, he goes in with a psychological disadvantage of not having the track or the momentum on his side. Psychological disadvantage has been Power’s undoing before, and it will be again.
That’s why, in a little over a week’s time, the description above is how we’ll be remembering the entire 2012 season.
Steph Wallcraft is co-editor of MoreFrontWing.com, a website dedicated to helping fans get a grip on INDYCAR news and views. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, or drop him a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.