There are plenty of interesting story lines going into the final race of 2011:
- Will Power and Dario Franchitti fighting for the championship
- Dan Wheldon starting from last place and aiming to win, which would allow him to split $5 million with a fan
- James Hinchcliffe vs JR Hildebrand for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors
- Danica Patrick’s final INDYCAR race
- INDYCAR’s first self-promoted event
- The last race for this incarnation of the Dallara
- A huge field — 34 cars in all
The biggest question for me is this: will the race-within-a-race (the $5 million challenge) and all the extra cars (and potential carnage) interfere with the battle between Franchitti and Power? It’s never good to see a closely fought title decided by a dumb mistake, especially if it’s made by someone who’s not involved in the hunt. But the potential is large, with many teams adding additional drivers who are occasional participants or raw rookies. This will add a good deal of tension to the championship hunt.
The other big issue for me is the overall success of the event. INDYCAR has given away tens of thousands of tickets, so the business model is clearly to break even or profit on the backs of sponsors and suite sales. In addition to the race, there are numerous events and announcements coming this week to keep INDYCAR front-of-mind in Las Vegas. From the unveiling of a new championship trophy to a parade of INDYCARs on The Strip, from fan events and celebrity blackjack tourneys to the announcement of the 2012 schedule, there will be a lot to keep track of this weekend.
I’ll be arriving early Friday morning (some silliness about a day job keeps me from arriving sooner) and will do my best to bring you all the happenings. Keep an eye here and @MoreFrontWing for alerts to new posts, and follow me @SpeedFreakBash for details throughout the weekend.