The IZOD IndyCar Series will take the green flag one last time at the Homestead-Miami Speedway tonight for the Cafes do Brazil Indy 300. Besides being the final race of the IndyCar season, it will be the final race of the near future at Homestead, after the longtime open-wheel hosts and the sanctioning body could not come to an agreement for a 2011 event.
As such, expect tonight to be a show of great magnitude, with both sides looking to go out with a bang.
The biggest storyline remains the championship battle between leader Will Power and second place Dario Franchitti, the defending series champ. Franchitti will start on pole alongside his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon. Meanwhile, Power's Team Penske machine will roll off the grid third.
The pole comes with a bonus point, one of three available per weekend. Franchitti came into the race weekend 12 points behind Power, meaning a win after leading the most laps in the race would seal the championship for him no matter what Power does; since first place pays 10 more points than second, even a 1-2 between the two contenders would mean Power would lose the title by a single point.
But neither Power nor his Team Penske teammates are willing to concede the first IndyCar title for owner Roger Penske since 2006 so easily. Teammate Ryan Briscoe paced final practice after qualifying fourth, while Helio Castroneves will attempt to back up wins in the series' past two races with a march to the front from 10th on the grid. Castroneves and Andretti Autosport's Tony Kanaan will actually serve as co-grand marshals of the event, giving the command to start engines from the cockpits of their cars.
Homestead marks the final opportunity of the year for a handful of winless drivers to grab one checkered flag before the season ends. The top seven in points have all won a race, but eighth place Dan Wheldon, ninth place Marco Andretti, 10th place Justin Wilson, and 11th place Danica Patrick are just some of the big names that have not seen victory lane this year. Of them, Wheldon stands the best shot; the three-time Homestead winner (2005-07) and Panther Racing have been achingly close to victory in the past few domestic oval races.
The race will also inevitably mark the final event for a handful of driver-team combinations, as plenty of teams will be looking to move up in the ranks for 2011. The question right now is who will stay and who will go. As recently as last week, Panther and Wheldon were considered the most likely to separate, after two years of mutual frustration and a lawsuit filed for $2.5 million in back wages by Wheldon's management. Now that the suit has been settled, however, Panther owner John Barnes is discussing bringing Wheldon back.
Justin Wilson and his Z-Line Designs sponsorship are a hot commodity, as are the talents of Simona de Silvestro and Graham Rahal. Meanwhile, a handful of Firestone Indy Lights graduates appear ready for the big time in 2011, with Ana Beatriz, James Hinchcliffe, and Sebastian Saavedra likely to attract at least some interest from team owners.
Meanwhile, in the Lights race, Pippa Mann will roll off the grid first. Charlie Kimball will join her on the front row, while series champion Jean-Karl Vernay will start 12th and clinch this year's championship upon taking the green flag.