Photo Credit: Single Seater
Up until the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series finale, the series final race to determine the series champion had been held on an oval track. That 2014 championship finale race is the most recent championship finale race to have been held on an oval track, and that will not change in the 2017 season. On oval tracks, there are higher speeds, more passing, and just more action in general on as opposed to road or street courses. The past two seasons, however, the series has held its championship finale at Sonoma Raceway, a natural terrain road course in Sonoma, California, and it will do the same in this upcoming season.
From the 2013 through the 2015 seasons and primarily because of the return of Pocono Raceway to the schedule, the Verizon IndyCar Series held its Triple Crown for the first time since the 1989 season after a 23-year absence. The Triple Crown included the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana, as well as the races on superspeedway oval tracks Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. In the 2014 season, double points were on offer for each of the three Triple Crown races.
Then suddenly in the 2015 season, the Triple Crown still existed, as Indianapolis, Pocono, and Fontana were still on the schedule, yet the series finale was held at Sonoma and double points were only offered at Indianapolis but not Pocono nor Fontana. Oh, and they were on offer for the road race at Sonoma just because it found itself slotted into the schedule as the series finale. Then in the 2016 season, after hosting a race in the 2015 season that featured an all-time Verizon IndyCar Series record of 80 (80!!) lead changes, Fontana was no longer even on the schedule and all of a sudden there was no more Triple Crown AND there was a road course where it’s next to impossible to pass other cars on as the series finale…with double points on offer, no less.
Not only was the 2016 series championship finale race itself one of the most boring “follow the leader” type races that the Verizon IndyCar series has embarrassed itself with in a long time, but the double points did absolutely nothing to enhance the competitiveness of the championships. Once Will Power, who trailed Simon Pagenaud in the championship by points coming into the race, was eliminated from contention when he had a mechanical error halfway through the race, there was no reason to keep watching. There was hardly any passing and the championship was decided halfway through the event. Polesitter Simon Pagenaud went on to win the race, and he ended up winning the championship by an all-time record of 127 points over teammate Will Power after the double points were applied using the results of the race.
Sure, if there are only two drivers eligible to become series champion entering the series finale and one gets taken out halfway through the race, that would be a disappointment on an oval track too. The difference is that an oval race would still be far more exciting to watch afterwards due to the high-speed and passing-loaded action that the rest of the race would produce, something that cannot be said about a track like Sonoma.
I have said before that the Verizon IndyCar Series is unique in that it doesn’t need a “Chase” format like NASCAR has to ensure its championship ultra-competitive all the way to the season’s final race. The championship has come down to the final race in the past 11 seasons now in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and in the 2015 season, six drivers were eligible to potentially win the championship heading into the final race of the season at Sonoma, which is an incredible number. Even had double points not been on offer these past few seasons, the championship would have come down to the final race in every season except for 2014. However, as we saw this past season, having a championship decided at the final race of the season doesn’t automatically make it extremely exciting to watch, especially on a road or street course on which passing is a challenge, as explained above. Double points can make the championship finale exciting only when the race itself is exciting with potential to shake up the final championship standings, which is exactly what a championship finale held at an oval track would provide.
The Verizon IndyCar Series needs to bring back its Triple Crown and award double points to the races on high-speed ovals due to the fact that those are the races with the highest speeds, the highest amounts of passing, and the highest amounts of action. It is not a radical concept, as double points are used in the series as I write this and they were awarded in each of the three Triple Crown races in the 2014 season. Also, the series finale should be held on one of these ovals as opposed to a road or street course so that the series maintains its audience by providing them with loads of excitement through both a race and a championship that are not decided until the final turn instead of a championship race that features next to no passing and may or may not be decided by the halfway mark, both in terms of the race itself and the championship standings.
Even if Fontana does not return to the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, based on the close and exciting racing we saw this past season at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Texas Motor Speedway would be a great host to a double points-paying Triple Crown race and potential championship finale race. The Verizon IndyCar Series currently has the tracks it would need to use for a potential return of the Triple Crown with Indianapolis, Pocono, and Texas all on the schedule already, now they just have to be smart about implementing it and scheduling either Texas or Pocono as the series championship finale. The 2017 series race schedule is already determined, but for the 2018 season and beyond, the Verizon IndyCar Series would be wise to bring back the Triple Crown and end each season with a championship finale race on a superspeedway oval track.