Ryan Hunter-Reay (pictured) and Marco Andretti’s chances of winning the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship are not done for, but with just five races remaining on the schedule, their margin for error is gone.
Finishing behind points leader Helio Castroneves and second-place Scott Dixon (-31 points) won’t do for either Hunter-Reay, the defending series champion, or Andretti, who has 12 Top-10 finishes this year.
Starting this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the Andretti Autosport duo must find ways to beat – and more importantly, keep beating – Castroneves and Dixon as the summer starts giving way to fall.
But the first step may well be the hardest, considering Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s degree of recent dominance at the winding circuit north of San Francisco.
Still, every point will be critical, like the one bonus marker that will go to the pole winner in this afternoon’s qualifying session (5:30 p.m. ET; broadcast on NBCSN at 9 p.m. ET).
Should Hunter-Reay manage to find his way onto the pole position – and he stands a chance after placing third overall in Friday’s practice runs – he’ll need to convert it into a better result than what he got the last time he started at the front of the grid.
Three weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, Hunter-Reay took P1 in qualifying but a two-stop strategy proved to be the wrong way to go and he finished fifth. With Castroneves taking a sixth-place result that day, he only moved from 69 to 65 points off the Brazilian for the championship.
As for Andretti, who sits in fourth in the standings at 76 points out, he must break a string of bad results in the wine country. Since winning at Sonoma in 2006 (his first IndyCar victory), the third-generation competitor has finished no higher than 12th across his last six starts there.
Events such as electrical problems at Milwaukee and a lack of fuel mileage at Pocono – where he had the dominant car – have damaged his bid for a title, and now it seems he has no other option but to make a sizable cut into his deficit this weekend.
If he can’t do that, then his hopes for an IndyCar crown may be done.