Correctly picking the winner of an IndyCar Series race this year gives you the same probability of rolling snake eyes on the first toss of the dice, it’s not very likely. Of the 35 different drivers on the circuit this year, only two have a pair of victories to their credit, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay. In all, there have been seven different winners in the first nine races – including three first-time winners. It’s the longest stretch of different winners since 2010. “Yeah, it’s been amazing,” said Hunter-Reay after a second place finish in the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway. “Any weekend it could be any driver in this series. Especially the top, I would say 15 to 20 drivers, any weekend could be theirs, which could be a great thing.”
This newfound competitiveness in 2013 kept Team Penske away from Victory Lane until Helio Castroneves won at Texas on June 8 leaving owner Roger Penske to admit that it pretty much takes perfection to win this year. "Helio drove a flawless race and a key victory in our season based on where we were in the standings," said Penske. "It probably was the best execution we've had in a long time.
As the season has reached the halfway mark, six different teams have notched victories this year with the majority being the smaller, less funded outfits. After Andretti drivers won two of the first three races, Takuma Sato drove the only car for AJ Foyt Racing to the victory at Long Beach. Mike Conway put Dale Coyne Racing into Victory Lane on day one of the Belle Isle Park duels on Saturday. Simon Pagenaud followed that up on Sunday by giving Sam Schmidt his first IndyCar win as an owner. Of course the “little guys” have the swagger of not only winning the pole at the Indianapolis 500 with Ed Carpenter driving the car he owns, but also winning the race as KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan walked away from The Brickyard as the only driver with a milk moustache.
Kanaan believes the variety of winners in the first half is not a fluke but more of a trend which can be expected for the second half of the season. “I don’t think you’ll see anybody dominating,” said Kanaan. “It’s absolutely crazy that anyone can win these races now. Consistency is going to be the key. I think right now for us, we need to try to maximize winning; but if you don’t, you’ve got to finish in the top five because of what is going to play down at the end.”
With ten races to go, the three drivers that cash big paychecks from Chip Ganassi Racing have yet to taste victory. Scott Dixon is Ganassi’s highest ranked driver in 5th place. Dario Franchitti is in 10th and hasn’t won in 21 straight races dating back to the 2011 Indianapolis 500 and Charlie Kimball is behind him in 13th.
This variety and unpredictability, along with an exciting Indianapolis 500 that featured a record 68 lead changes, helped the IndyCar Series build some serious positive momentum. Everything was set for the league to shine during its first ever race televised on an over-the-air network in prime-time on ABC, until the league decided to shun suggestions from the drivers after practice on Friday to give them more downforce for Saturday’s race. Without it the drivers were cautious about going all out which has been the custom at Texas.
“Just a total lack of predictability, “said Hunter-Reay about the way his car was handling during the race. “The car gives you a feeling and then does something different. When you don’t have the downforce or the tires it does not want to get into the corner at all and when you leave the banking, the car does not want to come up out of the bank. Once it does, the rear just snaps loose and I had some major corrections; I’m sure everybody did tonight.”
So instead of 68 lead changes, there were only four. Castroneves led the final 132 laps and beat Hunter-Reay by a whopping 4.7seconds, the largest margin of victory on the circuit this year and a far cry from the usual gap between the top two cars that are normally hundredths of a second apart at this track.
Afterwards, the new president of competition and operation for the IndyCar Series Derrick Walker told Robin Miller from the SPEED network, he should have listened to the drivers.
“They were telling us it was going to make a difficult night and, let’s be honest, it didn’t make for good racing,” said Walker. “Like last year nobody thought it was going to be easy but there were different opinions on whether to change the aero configurations and if it would make a big enough difference. But, in the end, I decided to stick with what we had and I think based on the outcome I was wrong. I want to apologize to the fans, teams and drivers for making the wrong choice but we’ll learn from it and get it right.”