Las Vegas is all about numbers, odds and rolling the dice. So much of the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships comes down to numerology, and rather than be inundated by the magnitude of numbers involved, here are a few easy figures to remember going into the 2011 season finale.
18 – Points between Dario Franchitti and Will Power. In simplest terms, if Franchitti finishes first or second, he wins the championship regardless. Power can take it if Franchitti's third, but only if he scores maximum points from winning, scoring pole position and leading the most laps.
Power's best shot at overhauling Franchitti would be winning and having the Scotsman finish fourth or worse. Only if Franchitti finishes worse than eighth, can Power take the title with anything less than a win. Power's kicker, if you will, is a 6-4 wins advantage – where the first tiebreaker, if needed, will give the Australian his first overall title.
6 – Power needs to finish at least sixth to have any shot at overhauling Franchitti. And even if he's sixth, Franchitti would still need to finish 25th or worse. That's certainly not impossible given how much things can shift in one race and with a record number of entrants, but considering Franchitti has only twice finished outside the top 10 in 2011, highly unlikely.
Also at six is the gap for Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year honors with James Hinchcliffe leading JR Hildebrand for the first time. Hinchcliffe has had to rally all season after missing the opening round in St. Petersburg, but his fourth place at Kentucky put him ahead. Watch this battle even if it isn't the dominant one on the surface.
2 – The number of points separating Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology-Lotus) and Ryan Briscoe (Team Penske) for fifth place. Kanaan's been hovering around the top five in points most of the season so this was rarely in question, but the last five races have changed the narrative.
After a couple accidents, a parting of ways between he and engineer Michael Cannon, and only a miraculous podium finish after a morning warm-up accident in Baltimore, Kanaan has scored just 83 points. In the same time frame, Briscoe – who may well be driving for his future with “The Captain” – has garnered 111 points, including a third place in Penske's 1-2-3 sweep at Infineon Raceway.
Briscoe's main goal is taking points off the Ganassi boys, and doing so only enhances his chances of a top-five points position in the final standings. If Kanaan comes home fifth, coupled with Oriol Servia in fourth, that would make it two drivers from outside the Penske/Ganassi stables in the final top five for the first time since 2007 (when Franchitti and Kanaan did the honors for Andretti Green Racing).
18 AND 6 – The first two numbers used in this feature make a triumphant reappearance when talking about the battle for the final position in the top-10 in points. Eighteen markers separate six drivers from 10th to 15th in the standings.
With a 10th place at Kentucky, Danica Patrick entered the top 10 in points. She leads Helio Castroneves by two, Hinchcliffe by 12, Takuma Sato by 17 and Hildebrand and Alex Tagliani by 18. Although Tagliani missed Kentucky, he still has a reasonable shot at leaping back in given his earlier pace this season at Texas.
Patrick's IndyCar swansong is still on her preferred type of circuit, and judging by her tenacity in last season's Homestead finale – she beat Kanaan to second on another 1.5-mile oval – she can't be counted out of a decent result. But if she does falter, there's a host of hungry lions ready to pounce.
Eighteen points is a far tighter gap among six drivers than between two, as is the case heading into Las Vegas.
34 – The oft-repeated motif in real estate is “location, location, location.” A similar description may be heard at Las Vegas as drivers and teams locate where they are in the record 34-car field. And with one more car than at Indianapolis circulating at a track one mile less in length, getting free real estate and clean air will not be an easy task.
• The IZOD INDYCAR World Championships airs live on ABC Sunday, with the green flag set for 3:45 ET.