This weekend’s Honda Indy 200 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) will go a long ways to determining the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
With just four races remaining, the top four drivers in the standings are within 71 points. Helio Castroneves leads Will Power by 13 points, with Ryan Hunter-Reay third at 69 behind and Simon Pagenaud fourth, 71 back.
Interestingly, Castroneves is the only one of that quartet who has won at Mid-Ohio in an IndyCar. The Brazilian won back-to-back in 2000 and 2001.
The other three have Mid-Ohio podiums, but are yet to win. Power has been second in 2010 and 2012; Hunter-Reay third in 2003 and 2011 and Pagenaud third in 2012 and second a year ago.
If any of these four win, they’ll break the streak currently held by Chip Ganassi Racing – which has won the last five races running at Mid-Ohio.
CGR is in the unusual position at Mid-Ohio where none of its four drivers are in realistic championship contention. Scott Dixon ranks best of the quartet in sixth, but 146 points back of Castroneves.
So if CGR makes it a six-pack – with either Dixon, defending race winner Charlie Kimball, Tony Kanaan or Ryan Briscoe – they’ll be doing damage in the standings by taking points away from any of the key title contenders.
Realistically, Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud need to make some headway in points this weekend before the final three races occur in weekly succession.
Hunter-Reay must be considered favorite at Milwaukee IndyFest in two weeks, where he has won the last two weeks in a row; that’s also traditionally been a Castroneves bogey track.
But for this weekend, seeing the ebb and flow between the title contenders and the Ganassi quartet will be the most interesting thing to watch.
It’s worth watching the progress of drivers like James Hinchcliffe, Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden this weekend as well. None have won this year but this group of drivers tend to run stronger on the permanent road courses compared to the temporary street courses. Consider them your top sleepers this weekend.