By: Kevin Neely
After 2 of 16 Rounds
1. Helio Castroneves #3 Team Penske Chevrolet
In two races, Helio has a win, two podium finishes, a pole and two top five starts. After a dismal 2011 season, Castroneves has really turned things around by leading the Penske charge. He’s blazing quick on streets and roads this year, but can he finally get that 4th Indy 500 win? Can Helio win the championship which has eluded him for his entire career?
2. Scott Dixon #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
He’s finished second twice this year with two trips to the Firestone Fast Six. He’s seriously outshined his teammate. Dixon is one of the most consistent drivers in the paddock, but this year he’s managed to avoid his usual early season struggles. If Dixon continues his string of quality runs, he should be in fine position to really challenge for another series championship this year.
3. Will Power #12 Team Penske Chevrolet
Power continues to show why he might be the best raw talent in the paddock. After what is considered a disappointing outing in St. Pete, Will overcame losing his flyer in Round Two of quals at Barber by working his way up for the victory. A pole and a win is the typical Will Power season start, but can he finally break through on ovals?
4. James Hinchcliffe #27 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
“Manica” has been on fire this season. We all knew Hinch had talent, but who would have thought he would have two trips to the Firestone Fast Six, a top five and a top ten to start the 2012 campaign. Hinch is poised for a breakout season, but can he maintain the consistency needed to be a title threat? Look for Hinchcliffe to at least pick up a win in 2012.
5. Simon Pagenaud #77 Schmidt-Hamilton Motorpsorts Honda
The Machismo of the sports car world is quickly proving he has open wheel chops as well. After finally being given a chance in Indycar, Pagenaud overcame a ten spot grid penalty for an unauthorized engine change in St. Pete to finish sixth. Simon misses the Firestone Fast Six at Barber, but battles up to a top five finish. I’m sure everyone wonders now why he was a casualty of the split.
6. Graham Rahal #38 Service Central Ganassi Racing Honda
Graham was far quicker at St. Pete than the results show, as he had issues in qualifying. He got the whole package together at Barber, ran some extended fuel runs and left with a top five result. Had there been a few more laps in the race, Rahal might have passed Castroneves for the podium spot. If Graham improves his qualifying results, he could easily position himself for a top notch championship season.
7. Oriol Servia #22 Lotus-DRR Lotus
Servia’s had a far better season than his results show. In St. Pete, he started 23rd and finished 16th. At Barber he started 26th after an unauthorized engine change and finished 13th. Servia might be one of the best drivers in the paddock at working through traffic and fighting for a good finish. Once Lotus finds more speed in qualifying, Servia should be a consistent top ten driver.
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay #28 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
After an excellent weekend at St. Pete where Ryan both started and finished third, he struggled a bit at Barber. Granted, Hunter-Reay has always struggled at Barber, but had it not been for some issues, he would have easily finished in the top ten. Ryan excels at Long Beach, so his stock should considerably rise.
9. Sebastien Bourdais #7 Lotus Dragon Racing Lotus
Bourdais had a far better weekend at St. Pete than his results showed. He started 26th due to an engine change, but after some hard driving and pit stop cycling, he found himself as high as 2nd. If the electrical gremlins hadn’t come out, Bourdais would have been in the top ten. At Barber, Bourdais sliced his way from 17th to 9th, getting Lotus’ first top ten finish.
10. Ryan Briscoe #2 Team Penske Chevrolet
After an excellent weekend at St. Pete where Ryan had a trip to the Firestone Fast Six with a top five finish, he had an up and down weekend at Barber. Poor qualifying strategy left him without even turning a lap in Round Two of qualifying, so he was relegated to a 12th place start. Continued poor strategy kept him trapped back in the field all day, even though he had a faster car than the result shows.
Honorable Mention: Rubens Barrichello
After taking his learning lumps at St. Pete, Rubens got an essential mid pack start at Barber. He dropped all the way back to 20th through the first cycle of pit stops, but then started working his way up to an 8th place finish, all the time closing down on Mike Conway for 7th by the time the race was over.
The “Oh Crap” Award: Tony Kanaan
Poor TK. He classified out with mechanical at St. Pete when Chevy’s electrical gremlins came out to play. Later at Barber, he would require several pit stops to fix a shock issue, ruining a very good run and qualifying effort. Due to misfortune, TK currently sits last in points.