Miller’s Mid-Season Report Card

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Seven different winners in 10 races, three for the first time, and none of them are Will Power, Dario Franchitti or Scott Dixon. To quote the late, great Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles: “What in the wide, wide world of sports is a goin’ on?”

Crazy, unpredictable things are what’s going on in the first half of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar series as the competition is fierce and the outcomes are impossible to gauge.

James Hinchcliffe led 226 laps for one of his three wins and about 1,000 yards for another. Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Conway raised hopes for all the little guys and Conway proved testing and familiarity is way over-rated.

Helio Castroneves leads the point standings and is trying to win his initial championship but defending champ Ryan Hunter-Reay is beginning to apply some serious pressure.

Chevrolet is kicking Honda’s butt again (7-3) and Firestone remains unbeaten.

It’s a pretty positive and easy mid-season report card to grade but let’s not get too carried away – there’s only one A.

GRADE A

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: It’s tough enough to get good chemistry with two cars, let alone four, but Michael Andretti’s 4-car armada has been in a class of its own so far. Hinch (3) and RHR (2) have won half the races but also have elevated Marco Andretti’s game along with E.J. Viso. They’requick right off the trailer at every track and whether its veteran engineers Craig Hampson and Michael Cannon coming in to mesh well with Ray Gosselin and Blair Perschbacher or just the compatibility of the drivers or finding the sweet spot on the Dallara DW-12, it’s impressive. Hinch is as fast as he is engaging, RHR may well be the best all-around shoe, as Power said last year, and Marco looks like an Andretti. AA gets the only A.

GRADE B

A.J. FOYT RACING: Sato’s breakout win at Long Beach was followed by a near-miss at Brazil as engineer Don Halliday and team boss Larry Foyt have managed to put a rev limiter on theaggressive, talented Japanese veteran and it shows. Pit stops, atmosphere and attitude make this one-car effort formidable.

DALE COYNE RACING: Conway’s one-off masterpiece at Detroit said a lot about his street-course prowess but it also spoke well about a small team with big effort. Justin Wilson has been his steady self, especially on ovals, as engineers Bill Pappas and John Dick combat big bucks with guise.

KV RACING: Tony Kanaan’s victory at Indianapolis was as popular as it was well deserved and a nice reward to his longtime engineer Eric Cowdin and chief mechanic Jeff Simon. TK is fifth in the points with strong runs at Texas and Iowa and remains as stout as anybody on ovals. This grade would be higher if teammate Simona de Silvestro’s season wasn’t so puzzlingly bad.

TEAM PENSKE: True, the fastest man in IndyCar the past three years hasn’t been to victory lane in 21 races but Power is still quick and can get some inspiration from his 38-year-old teammate. Castroneves is driving better than he has in a long time and has clicked with new engineer Jonathan Diuguid. One win, three podiums and a renewed enthusiasm.

SCHMIDT/HAMILTON: The only surprise about Pagenaud winning Detroit was that it took him and engineer Ben Bretzman as long as it did to earn that first one. As talented as they make ‘em, the friendly Frog has stepped up his oval-track game and is sixth in the standings. Teammate Tristan Vautier got off to a fast start with engineer Allen McDonald and packs a lot of potential but has looked like a rookie lately.

GRADE B-

ED CARPENTER RACING: Scored a major win for the Little Guys by capturing the pole position at Indianapolis, where he led 37 laps until fading at the end. Finished fourth at Texas and Iowa, his road racing skills have improved thanks to coach Lee Bentham but Ed still needs more ovals.

FISHER/HARTMAN: Josef Newgarden came within a zig or zag of winning Brazil and has matured nicely in his sophomore season with this one-car effort. Four Top 10s so far and better things are ahead.

GRADE C

NOVO NORDISK: Fourth at Barber and nine at Indy, Charlie Kimball hasn’t flashed his podium form of 2012 but he’s had some solid runs flying the Ganassi B flag with engineer Brad Goldberg.

GRADE C-

BARRACUDA RACING: After lots of encouraging runs in 2012, veteran Alex Tagliani has struggled big time in 2013. With only a fifth in Detroit to show, one wonders how much longer Bryan Herta and Steve Newey will hang with Tag.

RAHAL/LETTERMAN/LANIGAN: Other than Long Beach (second) and Iowa (fifth), Graham Rahal has looked like the B driver to James Jakes on his dad’s team – which many figured might challenge for a title. Jakes has done a nice job in his new surroundings with engineer Eddie Jones’ guidance while Rahal and Gerry Hughes have struggled to understand the car or each other.

GRADE D

DRAGON RACING: How can Sebastien Bourdais go from being competitive in a Lotus to being lost in a Chevy? Not sure but there is a chemistry issue at Jay Penske’s team and engineer Neil Fife was recently released. Sebastian Saavedra is better than his record but can’t buy a break.

PANTHER RACING: One of the best budgets in the paddock with The National Guard continues to be MIA under John Barnes’ leadership. Coming off a couple of good runs, J.R. Hildebrand was shown the door after crashing early at Indy and then longtime engineer David Cripps got his walking papers. Ryan Briscoe and Oriol Servia are taking turns trying to right this shaky ship and Servia secured seventh at Iowa but won’t be in the car at Pocono.

TARGET/GANASSI: When one of your drivers in seventh in the points and the other has a pair of pole positions, it’s not too bad – unless you’re Chip Ganassi & Company. Dixon has one podium and has led one lap while Franchitti led 27 laps from the pole at Long Beach and placed fourth for his best result so far. Two of the best, most accomplished drivers are suddenly part of the scenery? It’s the mystery of 2013.

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