As the IndyCar Series makes its second Canadian stop of the season in Edmonton this weekend, the new track at the City Centre Airport may prove to be a turning point in the season.
After a wild race on the streets of Exhibition Place in Toronto two weeks ago, three-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti grabbed a stranglehold on his fourth title with a win that put him 55 points ahead of his main rival, Will Power of Team Penske. Drivers get 50 points for a win.
The Toronto race ended in controversy after a collision between Power and Franchitti saw Power spin out of the lead. While steamed, the Penske driver can't afford to use Edmonton to retaliate since another top finish by Franchitti combined with a poor result for the Australian would likely give the Ganassi driver an insurmountable lead with seven races left in the season.
Instead, Power will have to do his talking on track with his speed, something he has in handfuls on street and road courses. And Franchitti hasn't won back-to-back races in IndyCar since 2007, so the odds are that Power will bounce back in a city where he has started on pole for the past two races and has not finished worse than fifth in the three IndyCar events in Alberta, including a win in 2009.
The two contenders and the rest of the field will have their battles on a new track that's completely different from the tight 14-turn, 3.175-kilometre configuration that hosted the first six races at Edmonton's City Centre Airport. The switch came after the city closed the runways used by the track, which necessitated a new layout.
But the race almost didn't happen after the new Octane promoter group and the city became embroiled in a fight over repaving some of the track surface and cancelled the event last fall. A deal was finally reached and Edmonton returned to the IndyCar schedule early this year.
When the dispute was resolved, Octane came up with a 13-turn, 3.631 kilometre circuit that features three long straights followed by slow corners, which should make for some wild passing moves and possibly a bit of a repeat of the crash fest called the Honda Toronto Indy two weeks ago.
And like Toronto's Corner 3 where much of the action took place, especially on restarts, Turn 5 hairpin at the end of the second long straight in Edmonton just might be the spot where things get interesting when the green flies after caution periods.
IndyCar introduced double-file restarts in 2011, which have the cars side-by-side rather than in a single file line when they take the green flag following full-course yellows. Many drivers have criticized the rule, saying it puts them in a dangerous situation with the cars too close as they jockey for position.
In Toronto, there was no doubt that the double-file system caused headaches, with the cars seemingly attracted magnetically in Turn 3 on every restart. In the end, the Honda Toronto Indy safety car tied Power for the most laps lead at 32 of 85.
NASCAR's secret weapon?
Although all eyes may be on media darling Danica Patrick's stock car move, NASCAR just might have a more valuable asset when it comes to the coveted 18-34 year old male demographic: Travis Pastrana.
The X-Games star, national motocross titlist, and Rally America champion gets his own NASCAR experiment into swing with his Nationwide Series debut on July 30 in the Kroger 200 at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Raceway.
IndyCar driver Patrick began racing part-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series last year and many insiders think she'll switch to stock cars in 2012.
While Patrick does have a following, Pastrana, 27, is a demi-god among the 18-34 and younger crowd and could single-handedly attract them in droves. But only if he can meet expectations.
"I think it definitely could [bring a younger audience to NASCAR], but bottom line, I have to do well," said the No. 99 Boost Mobile Toyota driver.
"A lot of kids come up to me and say: 'Hey, good luck with NASCAR,' and that's something that I thought I'd see. Like an eight-year-old kid with a DC hat and a skater — not to say punk but that stereotype — super pumped on sitting down with their dad or whatever and watching NASCAR. I think that's a cool aspect, but if I don't do well, it's not going to matter."
Pastrana will run a limited seven-race schedule this season with 20 Nationwide starts planned for 2012. The plan is to move into a full-time seat in the series a year later.
And Pastrana may not only help NASCAR after it was revealed this week that he's applied to be one of the five drivers who will vie for a $5-million prize in the IndyCar October season finale in Las Vegas. That series has offered up the big payday to any outsider who can win the last race of the year.