With Will Power and Scott Dixon forced to serve 10-spot grid penalties after they both lost engines in testing this week at Iowa Speedway, the driver that sits behind them in the standings -- Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe -- could stand to make up some ground on them at the Milwaukee Mile.
Hinchcliffe is currently in third place and 48 points back of first-place Power in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship, which will be halfway done following Saturday's Milwaukee IndyFest (225 laps). He's also only 12 markers back of second-place Dixon.
But while Hinchcliffe is obviously aiming to capitalize on Power and Dixon's penalties, he's choosing not to worry a lot about the title picture for now.
“It's one of those things where you take advantage of every situation every weekend, whether the guys you are chasing could qualify one spot behind you or have a 10 grid spot penalty," said Hinchcliffe, who's coming off a fourth-place finish last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
"We're not looking super hard at the points right now. It’s my second year and first with the [Andretti Autosport] team. We didn’t come into this [season] thinking, 'OK, the championship is a realistic goal.'
"We're sitting in a good place right now, but it’s on the back of a lot of consistent finishes. We're not having trailblazing, lead flag-to-flag finishes. For us, we just need to focus on having as strong a weekend as possible and let the chips fall as they may."
Hinchcliffe started 16th and finished sixth in his inaugural run last year at Milwaukee for now-defunct Newman-Haas Racing.
Briscoe: Tire wear will be a factor again
In addition to having less downforce, drivers also had difficulties handling their cars last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway due to the wear rate of the Firestone tires. Both factors had cars going up and down the scoring pylon like yo-yos over the full 228-lap affair.
This weekend at Milwaukee, the IndyCars will have a different aero package that's closer to their road/street course look and features more downforce. But Ryan Briscoe, a past Milwaukee victor, says that the tires will continue to play a key role based on what he found out in a test there just days after the Indianapolis 500.
"You're going to need a good handling car from about mid‑stint on," said Briscoe. "If you get a long green stint, you're going to see someone with a good car turning laps around the field, and that's going to have to be the focus, you know, being good over the distance."
Briscoe believes that compared to the old car, the new Dallara DW12s puts more stress on the rear tires, which makes the end of a green flag run really tough to go through for drivers.
"In the old car, you'd normally have a drop off in the front tires, and with the new car, I think it's got a little more weight on the rear axle and that puts a bit more stress through the rear tire," he explained.
""So a stint at Milwaukee is probably somewhere up around the 60‑lap range. After about 40 laps, it was really tough to hang on, so if we're going to have to stay up there and not pit, those last 20 laps of the stint are going to be really challenging, probably more so than the old car."
Spirits high for Wilson, Dale Coyne Racing
Justin Wilson also blew a motor at the Iowa test and faces a 10-spot penalty at Milwaukee. But despite the obstacle going into the race, the Englishman and his Dale Coyne Racing team are still optimistic after their upset victory last weekend at Texas.
"We will try to qualify as close to the front as we can, so we don’t start dead last and go from there," said Wilson, who claimed his first career win on an oval at TMS. "We’ll keep working it and, like last week, focus on the race.”
Last month's Indy 500 began the current stretch of five races in five weeks, which is grueling for drivers but especially so for those that prepare their machines. Thus, the victory in Fort Worth came at a really good time for DCR.
"This long stretch is tough on the crew guys," said Wilson. "They’ve been working really hard and we feel like we’ve been three steps behind the entire time. To get that win, obviously, has lifted everyone’s morale. To be over there a few minutes ago and guys are smiling and happy for the first time in about four weeks -- it’s good.
"We’re a lot more confident. We know what it takes and we can do this."