Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 10 Drivers Of The Decade

By: Tony Donohue

As the year 2009 comes to a close, of course so does the decade. For the IZOD Indy Car Series, the past decade has saw many changes within the series from driver combinations, to title sponsors, to making the transition to road and street courses, to the IRL Champ Car merger. It has been a good decade for the Indy Car Series and the next looks to be even more promising. The Indy Car Series ran a total of 153 races at 33 different venues in 21 different states and four different countries. I have came up with a list of the top 10 drivers of the past decade. Enjoy and have a great New Year!

10) Scott Sharp- The Connecticut native was the co-champion of the series in 1996 and continued that success into the new decade. He made 119 starts from 2000 until 2009. Scott sat on the pole for the 2001 Indy 500 and recorded five of his nine career wins in the decade. He took his last checkered flag in 2005 at Kentucky. Sharp stepped away from the IZOD Indy Car Series after the 2007 season to run the American Le Mans Series. He returned in 2009 to run the Indianapolis 500 for Panther Racing where he finished 14th. His best points finish was third in 2001.

9) Ryan Briscoe- The Australian burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2005 driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. He recorded his first pole at Infineon Raceway in his 13th start. His rookie season ended early with one of the most memorable images of the decade when his car got airbourne and caught fire at Chicagoland Speedway. Briscoe ran off and on in 2006 and 2007 for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing and Luczo Dragon Racing. He finished a then career high 3rd at Watkins Glen for DRR in 2006, and ran 5th at the 2007 Indianapolis 500. When Sam Hornish Jr. left for Nascar after 2007, Briscoe was hired to drive the #6 Team PenskeHonda. After a slow start in 2008, Briscoe ripped off 12 top 10's including his first career win at Milwaukee. He also drove to victory at Mid-Ohio and the non point event at Surfer's Paradise. In 2009, Ryan battled for a championship, collected three wins and 13 top 5's on his way to finishing 3rd in the final championship standings.

8) Tony Kanaan- TK came to the Indy Car Series in 2002 where he competed in his first ever start. He ran for Mo Nunn, leading 23 laps untill wrecking on lap 90 while leading. He signed the next season to drive for Andretti Green Racing and won in his second race out for the team at Pheonix. In 2004, Kanaan won his first season championship but finishing in the Top 10 in all sixteen events recording 15 Top 5's. Kanaan has been one of the most consistant driver's in the series this decade, finishing no lower than 6th in the final standings. TK started 113 events, winning 10 of those and posting 13 pole positions and 42 top tenfinishes.

7) Buddy Lazier- The 1996 Indy 500 winner continued into the decade with Hemelgarn and captured the 2000 Indy Car Series championship. He won twice in 2000, and was the runner up in the Indianapolis 500. He won four times in 2002, bringing his decade win total to six. He recorded 28 Top 10's. After the 2003 season, Buddy began running partial schedules. In 2005, Buddy finished 5th at Indy driving for Panther. He would finish out the decade running races for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, Sam Schidmt Motorsports and Hemelgarn Racing.

6) Gil de Ferran- In 2001, Gil de Ferran ran the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, and finished 2nd to teammate Helio Castroneves. In 2002, De Ferran and Team Penske came to the Indy Car Series to run the full schedule. de Ferran won twice that year at Pikes Peak and Gateway on his way to a third place finish in the championship. de Ferran, overshadowed by the success of teammate Helio Castroneves, broke out in 2003. He won the Indy 500 with teammate Castroneves close behind in second, won again at Nashville and Texas and recorded eight top three finishes. The win at Texas was his final Indy Car start as he retired to run the American Le Mans Series in 2004.

5) Dan Wheldon- Wheldon started his career by running the final two races for Panther Racing at the end of the 2002 season. Wheldon then signed with Andretti Green Racing and won the 2003 Rookie of the Year award scoring nine top 10's. In 2004, Wheldon recorded his first career victory at Japan. He ran third at the Indy 500 in 2003 and won twice more at Richmond and Nazareth. In 2005, Wheldon had the best year of his career. He won the Indianapolis 500 on a late race pass on Danica Patrick and recorded six wins and fifteen top 10's. After the 2005 championship, Wheldon signed to drive for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. He won six races for Ganassi from 2006-2008. At the end of 2008, termoil surfaced with owner Chip Ganassi and Wheldon left after the 2008 season to drive for former team Panther Racing. Wheldon struggled most of the year despite a second place 500 finish. He finished the decade with 43 Top 10's and 16 victories.

4) Helio Castroneves- Indy Car's golden boy became the first driver since Al Unser Sr. in 1970-71 to win back to back Indy 500s. Helio drank the milk in 2001 and 2002 becoming the first driver to win the 500 in his first two starts. After winning both 500s, he climb the fence of the front straightaway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Helio finished 2nd in 2003 to teammate Gil de Ferran in his bid to win a third straight 500. Helio won fourteen times, and also took the title of the first Dancing With The Stars Competition making Helio a household name. Helio missed the first race of 2009 due to legal issues as he was charged with conspiracy of tax evasion. Helio was found innocent on all accounts and ran the second race of the season. He triumphed at the 2009 Indy 500, dominating the month of his way to joining the elite club of three time Indianapolis 500 champions.

3) Dario Franchitti- Dario made his first start in 2002 for Team Green. He moved over from CART in 2003 to run with Andretti Green Racing at the time. Dario scored his first career win at Milwaukee in 2005 and won again at Pikes Peak. In 2007, Dario captured the rain shortened Indy 500 and scored three more wins, including the final race at Chicagoland as Scott Dixon ran out of fuel on the final lap to give Dario his first career championship. He then left to pursue a Nascar career, but returned to run for Ganassi Racing in 2009 where he won the championship for the second time and scored five wins. Dario finished the decade with 13 wins and 29 top tens.

2) Scott Dixon- Dixon came to Indy Car in 2003 to drive for Chip Ganassi. He displayed his skill off the bat by winning in his first ever race at Homestead Miami. He won twice more that season and became the first driver to win the Indy Car Series championship in his rookie season. The success just got better for Scott. After struggling the next two seasons, Scott broke back into the win column at Watkins Glen in 2005. In 2007, Dixon collected four wins on his way to a runner up finish in the standings. He was hungry for another championship in 2008 and losing the '07 title on the final lap of the season. Dixon dominated 2008 winning six races including the Indianapolis 500 where he dominated, sitting on the pole and leading 115 laps on his way to the win. He wrapped up his second title that season by scoring 15 top 5's. In 2009, Dixon finished second to this time teammate Dario Franchitti. He scored wins at Kansas, Milwaukee, Richmond, Mid Ohio and Motegi. He finished the decade with 21 wins, the most in Indy Car history.

1) Sam Hornish Jr.- Sam was a rookie in 2000 for PDM Racing, a small, underfunded team. This didnt stop Sam as he finished an impressive third at Las Vegas. Heading into 2001, Hornish signed to drive for Panther Racing, and the rest is history. Hornish won three times, including career win number one at Phoenix on his way to his first championship. He followed that season up by winning five times on his way to a second straight points championship. In 2003, Sam won on three different occasions, and jumped to Penske Racing at seasons end to take over for retireing Gil de Ferran. In 2006, Sam won the Indianapolis 500, after struggling at the Speedway in his previous six 500s. His best finish at the 500 before the win was 14th. He continued the momemtum by winning the season championship before leaving for Nascar heading into 2008. Sam finished with 19 victories and 32 Top 10 finishes.


so no love for the CART guys? I'd say de Ferran wins for me due to his great success in both CART & IRL, but what about those who had success in both series as well (Kanaan, Dario). And Dixon! For all that matter, what about SeaBass? or Tracy? Their efforts at Indy should help prove their worth to the IRL-loyals.

Your points are well taken, but remember this is a Best drivers of the decade list, 2000-2009.

You mentioned de Ferran should win. We do have him 6th and he only ran 3 seasons in this decade. We also have Kanaan (8), Dario (3), and Dixon (2) and each of which could easily be the best, it's all subjective.

We didn't include SeaBass and Tracy because they only ran a few IndyCar Series races this decade. 1 for Bourdais and what 5 or 6 for Tracy? They are great drivers, but they aren't the best IndyCar Series drivers of the decade.

Maybe I can do a short list over the next couple days of the best drivers, combining the Series'

Thank you for the explanation about the omission of Sebastian Bourdais and Paul Tracy, both of whom are definitely among the top AOWR drivers of the decade.

One small correction as well; Dario Franchitti drove first for Carl Hogan's underfunded team in CART before he drove for Team KOOL Green.

No problem, thanks for your interest.

Correct, Dario did drive for Hogan before Team Green, but the short paragraph on DF was just summarizing his IndyCar Series days. He ran the '02 Indy 500 with Team Green, which was his first IRL start.

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