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Locks, Drops, & Sleepers: MAVTV 500

by
Chris Estrada, Zachary Houghton, & Steve Wittich
| Sep 11, 2012

Welcome to the last race of the IZOD IndyCar Series season! While Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power are separated by a slim margin in their titanic championship fight, so too are many INDYCAR Fantasy Racing leagues coming down to a last few points.  Accordingly, our INDYCAR Nation pundits are back for one last round Locks, Drops, and Sleepers for the MAVTV 500. Thanks for following along this year, and best of luck this weekend!

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Chris Estrada, IndyRacingRevolution.com

Lock: Tony Kanaan

While Tony Kanaan would rather be racing for the overall championship, he still has a chance to become the 2012 oval champion on Saturday night. He’s currently tied for that particular mini-title with Ryan Hunter-Reay, who’s going to be focused on upending Will Power to claim the big prize. Kanaan has collected five top-5 finishes in eight career starts at Fontana, so look for him to play a role in the outcome as he tries to drive away with some hardware.

Drop: Helio Castroneves

Unfortunately for the three-time Indy 500 champion, another year will pass without a series title, as an up-and-down three-race stretch going into Fontana (16th at Mid-Ohio, sixth at Sonoma, 10th at Baltimore) has doomed his chances. Castroneves has been similarly hot and cold at this track, with two poles but no wins and just one top-5 result in eight career starts there. Can he come around and finish 2012 in style? Win or lose, we know one thing – the ballroom beckons…

Sleeper: Ryan Hunter-Reay

Hunter-Reay was the class of the field on the short ovals this season, but ran into mechanical problems at both Indianapolis and Texas. However, all that matters now from his perspective is beating Will Power, and he seems to be a surer bet than the Australian on ovals. RHR’s got an average finish of 12.5 across the four ovals ran so far in 2012, while Power’s farther back with an average finish of 17.8 on those same tracks. I think Hunter-Reay will do better than 12.5 on Saturday night – much better, in fact.

2012 IICS Champion: Ryan Hunter-Reay

As I stated above, Hunter-Reay is more bankable in this type of situation despite Power’s noticeable improvement on speedways. Also, he has the mojo going for him following his superb drive to victory in Baltimore. Meanwhile, Power has to stop what would be an agonizing third consecutive near-miss for a championship. I have to go with the guy that has the momentum and is likely a bit more loose going into this final battle.

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Zachary Houghton, IndyCarAdvocate.com

Lock: Tony Kanaan

Kanaan has always seemingly had an affinity for this track, and everyone’s favorite speedway daredevil should again make it interesting. As he goes for the A.J. Foyt Oval Trophy, I really like the mix of TK’s experience, driving style, and that Honda engine to give him a great result in the finale.

Drop: Mike Conway

I hate to keep picking on Conway, but A.J. Foyt’s team has been dismal on ovals this year. It’s doubtful the MAVTV 500 will do much to change that narrative. As we’ve seen, Conway is capable of stunning performances out of the blue, but the chances of it being this weekend seem pretty slim. Time to punt on this one and look for a better 2013.

Sleeper: Charlie Kimball

Very quietly, Kimball has shown improvement over the course of the 2012 season. I think this will be a Honda weekend, and believe Charlie should have everything he needs to duplicate or surpass that Top 8 finish he secured at Indianapolis earlier this season. This one might seem like a long shot, but I’m going out on a limb for the sophomore racer. Let’s see if he pays off.

2012 IICS Champion: Will Power

I still have to go with the driver the odds seem to favor. I don’t think Power will dominate on this track, but I also don’t think Ryan Hunter-Reay will, either. Barring RHR flat-out winning this event, Power simply needs a decent-to-middling finish to clinch his first championship. It’s not a given Power will win his first title, but as I’ve stated before, the math is on his side.

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Steve Wittich, IndyCar Nation Contributor

Lock: Tony Kanaan

I really wanted to pick one of the championship contenders for this spot, but I didn’t feel comfortable with either one of their records on superspeedways in the recent past. I do on the other hand feel very comfortable picking “TK” for a podium on the 2-mile super speedway.  Fontana has been kind to Kanaan in the past with two runners up, a third and fourth place finish in his last four visits to the Inland Empire.  Combine his past results with strong runs at Indianapolis and Texas this year, and you have arrived at a solid lock for Tony.

Drop: Josef Newgarden

Josef desperately needs a good finish to propel Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing into the Top 22.  The combination of this pressure over a 500-mile race, some previous bad luck and rookie mistakes make a strong finish a long shot for this fan favorite.

Sleeper: Graham Rahal

After testing at Auto Club Speedway last week, drivers and team principles intimated that the MAVTV 500 should look a lot like the race at Texas Motor Speedway in June.  Graham should have won the Firestone 550, and I predict that with pressure to be the guy that takes over the #10 lifted from his shoulders, he will finish the season (and his tenure with Ganassi) with a bang.

2012 IICS Champion: Will Power

This is truly a coin-flip.  Neither driver has much experience with 500-mile races or is known as super speedway specialist.  My sole reason for choosing Will is that he was strong at Texas, and my gut says that he finally gets the championship monkey off his back.

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