Nothing fabricated about IndyCar’s championship

In a racing world where playoffs were created to ensure a close championship battle and maintain consumer interest, isn’t it ironic that the IndyCar Series may have the best championship of all?

Going into today’s final race of 2009 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Scott Dixon has the championship lead, teammate Dario Franchitti is five points off the pace, and Ryan Briscoe is eight points back. The series has averaged a new championship leader every other race this season.

There is nothing contrived about this battle for open wheel supremecy, nothing fabricated by artificial means or points. It will be decided in a 200-lap shootout on a 1.5-mile oval under the lights. One of those three men is going to win it, and he will earn it in the process.

Based on the whole season, not just a portion of it.

It’s almost enough to restore one’s faith in the good old days, when a race in April mattered just as much as one in October. In the IndyCar Series, that’s the case. Every race counts. Every race matters. Every blown opportunity is scrutinized, every change of position magnified.

This week at California’s Auto Club Speedway, the Pepsi 500 matters — to 12 drivers. There are seven races left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, and the guy who dominated the series, Tony Stewart, is in fourth place.

The NHRA will race in Richmond, and that race will matter, too, for a handful of drivers.

Poor Antron Brown had put together an amazing year to lead five-time defending champion Tony Schumacher — driving without the team that made him the most dominant man in Top Fuel — and Larry Dixon, who raced this season with all of Schumacher’s personnel from the last four years.

Brown is now in fourth place, 120 points behind Schumacher with Dixon and Cory McClenathan in-between. That means Brown must go six rounds further than Schumacher over the next three races to win a title that probably would be his if championships were still decided the way they used to be.

In the Funny Car category, less than two rounds of racing separate leader Ashley Force Hood, Robert Hight and third-place Tony Pedregon.

At least Pedregon, the leader by 114 points coming down the stretch, hasn’t completely blown his chance after being one of three drivers who really deserved to be there at the end — along with Ron Capps and Force Hood.

Hight is perhaps racing’s biggest beneficiary in the history of the fabricated playoffs. After a season that was wholly forgettable, he made the 10-man Countdown to One by the thinnest of margins and most controversial of manners. Midway through drag racing’s six-race chase, Hight is now positioned to win with a couple of outstanding performances after a regular season filled with dismal ones.

A tough economy has prevented deserving drivers from having permanent rides this season — Oriol Servia and Paul Tracy in IndyCar, Hillary Will, Doug Herbert and David Grubnic in NHRA– but racing still puts on a pretty good show every weekend.

Yet no show  is better this weekend than the one that has Franchitti, Dixon and Briscoe starting 1-2-3 to the green flag to determine the champion.

It’s about as simple and as good as it gets.

And it was done the way racing used to be.

By being best all year long.

By earning it.

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