Does Power have a prayer?
Will Power enters the IZOD IndyCar Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a twelve-point lead over Dario Franchitti. Despite the fact that Power has led the points standings for the entire season with the exception of the June race at Texas Motor Speedway, Franchitti has considerably more experience on ovals than the Aussie and has beaten Power all but twice on ovals since reentering the series in 2009, outscoring him by 95 points in those nine events.
I undertook a simple calculation to determine how many times Franchitti would have beaten Power by thirteen or more points based on their previous oval results (Power would win the championship if Franchitti gained only twelve points since he has more wins). Power scored 14, 16, 18, 22, 24, 30, 31, and 35 points in his eight oval starts for Penske (discounting this year’s Indianapolis 500 because it had bonus points for qualifying which other races do not have), while Franchitti scored 14, 26, 28, 30, 30, 40, 40, and 50 points in his eight oval starts for Ganassi. Franchitti thus outscored Power’s 14 points by thirteen or more points six times, beat Power’s 16 points five times, exceeded his 18, 22, and 24 points three times, and surpassed his 30, 31, and 35 points exactly once.
Combining all these possibilities in this very rudimentary simulation, Franchitti beat Power by more than twelve points in only 23 of 64 situations, indicating that despite Franchitti’s greater oval experience and despite Franchitti winning the last two championships he has contested, the upstart Power remains a slight favorite based on their past results, but it remains very clear that the IndyCar championship could go either way just like in 2006, 2007, and 2009.
However, what happens if you limit the discussion to be cookie-cutter ovals only (here defined as Chicagoland, Homestead, Kansas, Kentucky, and Texas?) This excludes the 2009 Indianapolis 500 and 2010 Iowa race, the only two races where Power beat Franchitti straight-up, and last weekend’s race at Motegi (which given its egg shape rather than the standard quad-oval shape should probably be disqualified from the discussion, as it’s probably closer to a track like Darlington or Gateway in style than it is to the other five 1.5-milers). This is probably more accurate than the above analysis because using Indianapolis, Iowa, or Motegi results to predict Homestead may be a bit disingenuous.
Power’s one clear weakness this season has been the cookie-cutter ovals, where he has scored four of his five finishes outside the top five this season. He has only competed on this type of track in competitive equipment five times – last season’s Kentucky race and this year’s Chicagoland, Kansas, Kentucky, and Texas races, and all five times he has been outpaced by Franchitti; in fact Power’s best performance of 24 points in the five cookie-cutter races they’ve competed against each other is worse than Franchitti’s worst performance of 28 points. Power’s five points totals were 14, 16, 18, 22, and 24 points, while Franchitti’s were 28, 30, 30, 40, and 50 points. Using the same kind of pseudo-simulation as before, Franchitti would beat Power by 13 or more points in 15 of 25 situations, giving him a 60% probability of winning the championship. Since predicting Homestead by past cookie-cutters is more sensible than by ovals in general, I hereby dub Franchitti the favorite despite Power’s points lead. That may overstate Franchitti’s odds because several of Power’s bad runs (especially Chicagoland) had to do with pit miscues and little to do with Power himself, unlike last season, when Ryan Briscoe’s crash at the end of pit road caused him to lose the championship. It also helps Power that he has two teammates to play defense against Franchitti (just as Castroneves did at Motegi by keeping Franchitti from winning), while Franchitti only has one. In spite of that, I think Power’s inexperience on ovals will lead to an impressive third consecutive championship for Franchitti (obviously not counting 2008 which he did not contest due to his ill-fated NASCAR experiment).