In the summer heat and humidity of Houston, with a doubleheader to boot, it was conceivable that a championship leader or two would leap out. However, the points battle didn’t change that much other than bring the contenders closer to together with Will Power of Penske Racing staying on top … for now.
Young and old alike in Texas seem to shine at times with some familiar drivers joining several rookies on the podium. In fact, if you were from Columbia or France, you had a great weekend. Still, as far as the championship is concerned, four established contenders – though having dissimilar success in Houston – seemed prepared to challenge for an IndyCar title in 2014.
Yes, some big names look to be out of contention as well following dismal showings, but there appears to be an obvious foursome ready to do battle as the IndyCar teams fight through a grueling period of six races in 23 days. That’s not to say the guys in the first two spots of standings did well in the sweltering heat of southeastern Texas.
The points leader, Will Power, did his best to give away his lead, finishing with struggling 14th and 11th place positions respectively. Yet, others behind weren’t able to make up the difference. As usual, Power has been scintillating this year on street courses like Houston, but whether it was the humidity or heat … or both, Power never had a decent car under him. His improvement on circle tracks bodes well for the Aussie with Pocono and Iowa coming up the next two weeks.
39 points behind Power in second is his Penske Racing teammate Helio Castroneves who had a great opportunity to take over atop the standings. Helio started on the front row for both races but was not able to cash in with a pedestrian ninth, followed by a crash that put the Brazilian out at 21st. That netted Castroneves a big fat zero gain in points. If he can eliminate poor finishes, Helio has a chance to snag his first IndyCar championship.
The failures of the Penske drivers to distance themselves from the field, gave veterans like Ryan Hunter-Reay a chance to close the gap … and he did. The Floridian wasn’t flashy and didn’t even earn a top five, but his two solid seventh and sixth place finishes helped him make up 19 markers on the leaders – he’s now only two points back of Helio. What was somewhat impressive, was Ryan’s sixth after starting 21st. Those are the kinds of days that create a championship drive. Like Castroneves, Hunter-Reay has had some slip-ups with bad finishes this year, but the Andretti Autosport driver has shown he can win – so we’ll see if he can reduce those blemishes – then a title could be his.
Driving for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton, Simon Pagenaud had the best weekend of any of the contenders. He sat on the pole and led early in race one but brake issues sent him back to 16th by races end. Starting on the inside of row two in the second race, Simon eventually took the lead and never looked backed finding redemption with a dominating victory. The Frenchman gained 32 points on the weekend and now sits 59 markers back of Power. He has shown to be a rising star in the series and certainly started the year off well staying in the top three, but a bit of inconsistency has made his year halting. Still, Pagenaud has shown a propensity for competing at any track and should be considered as a legitimate championship contender.
With eight races left, other drivers can still make moves up the leader board and drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, who is back in open wheel this year after a long hiatus, is doing quite well of late with a couple of podiums over the last three races. However, 116 points is a lot to make up, especially when the four above him have so much experience. Other veteran drivers like Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon are in the Top 10 but inconsistencies for Bourdais and crashes for Dixon have left them likely too far back to contend this season.
Even though the IndyCar schedule just had a doubleheader, there are no breaks as the teams will have four races in 14 days. The IndyCar title is up for grabs this summer, so the contenders better be ready because this kind of grueling stage of the season could be where a champion is made.
Source: IndyCar, Racing Reference