This IZOD IndyCar Series season has been anything but ordinary. With seven winners in nine races, it is shaping to be one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory. The Indianapolis 500 featured a record number of lead changes and while the finish left much to be desired, the racing made for one of the best 500s in history and you couldn't have asked for a more deserving winner than Tony Kanaan.
As four-time series champion Dario Franchitti said: "We don't have the star power of a Mansell, Zanardi or Montoya right now but I'm telling you this field is as deep as the late '90s in CART." When he's right he's right.
Who would have thought that a part-time driver like Mike Conway could jump in one of the lowest funded entries in the paddock and a car that had not made a splash all season without even knowing the people working on his car and go out and dominate the first race and nearly win the second?
Chevrolet has been the dominant engine manufacturer this season. With 6 wins to Honda's 3, it has been almost no contest, but it is not a complete blowout. Honda did, however, dominate Long Beach with AJ Foyt's Takuma Sato and both races in Detroit with Conway and Simon Pagenaud, sweeping the top 4 at Long Beach and race 1 at Detroit.
At race 2 at Detroit, Honda swept the top 5. Sato dominated at the Milwaukee Mile and had it not had been for a close call with the marbles he would have possibly held on to win the race.Chevy seems to have the edge on the superspeedways, but on the road courses and short ovals, the two still stand toe to toe.
Until the Texas weekend, INDYCAR giant Team Penske Racing was winless throughout the season, but they were never out of contention. Helio Castroneves Will Power, who has carried the Penske flag since joining the team full-time in 2010, has his share of bad luck this year, while teammate Helio Castroneves has clicked off top tens with ease and broke thru with a dominating win at Texas Motor Speedway.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing is also winless so far this season. Scott Dixon has pulled off some impressive drives from the back of the pack at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, whereas teammate Dario Franchitti has battled uphill from finishing dead last in the first two races to 10th in the standings.
Castroneves downplayed the nation of Penske and Ganassi being off their game this season in a press conference at the Milwaukee Mile.
"You guys in the press obviously want to sell news and this is a way to sell news...Penske didn't win. But, you have got to say we've been competitive. I made a mistake in the first race of the season. It's circumstances. All the teams are improving. You have to say it is not about Team Penske or Team Ganassi; other teams step up their game. The rules not allow you to change much, so basically there is only so much you can do. A big credit for the small teams. It shows that the series is very, very competitive. It gives an opportunity for a guy - rookie - to win races. That is why our series is one of the best."
Andretti Autosport, the other IndyCar giant, has been on its game. Defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay has 2 wins this year and has been as consistently remained in the title hunt despite 2 DNFs.
Teammate James Hinchcliffe also has two wins, but has 5 finishes of 15th or worse which has relegated him to 8th in the standings.
Marco Andretti has not won yet this year, but, like Hunter-Reay has been consistent in the finishing order every week despite two finishes of 20th or worst at Milwaukee and race 1 at Detroit.
Andretti Autosport newcomer E.J. Viso is improving and is due for a win, but he is not quite there yet to be in the hunt for a championship.
Schmidt-Petersen Motorsports' Simon Pagenaud is also one to keep your eyes on. Pagenaud had a great season last year in his return to IndyCar racing after a five year absence and is having a similar run this go around. His win in Detroit was a long time coming, and he has been quick everywhere.
KV Racing's Tony Kanaan rode the momentum from his Indy 500 win to 6th in the standings. Had it not been for running out of gas at Sao Paulo and a crash late at Long Beach, Kanaan would be higher than he is.
Teammate Simona de Silvestro has slid from 9th in the standings after Sao Paulo to 18th as a result of poor finishes of 24th at race two in Detroit, 16th at Texas and 24th at Milwaukee. De Silvestro's finishes don't match how well she has run this season. Up until Detroit race 2, she had completed every lap of the season. She started to climb her way through the field at Detroit until a part failure caused her to crash and a blend line penalty stuck her a lap down at Texas where she was having her best run on an oval to date. Like Viso, she needs a little luck her way and she'll visit victory lane soon enough.
Josef Newgarden has also improved since his 2012 rookie campaign. He darn near won Sao Paulo and came from behind at Birmingham and Detroit Race 1 to muster a good finish for his single car effort. With a little improvement in qualifying (started 16th or worst in first 7 races), and a little luck Newgarden should be able to contend for wins soon enough.
With only 10 races remaining in the season, it is still too early to predict a champion. Anything can happen, it's just a matter of what.