Entering the 18-race 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, drivers and team personnel predicted that the competition at each of the 15 venues would be exceptionally competitive.
The field's depth of talent and experience, combined with knowledge gained about the fourth-generation Verizon IndyCar Series chassis set in motion a season featuring close racing and unexpected results. Such as:
• Seven different winners representing five teams in the 10 races.• Seven different Verizon P1 Award winners.• Seven different teams represented in the top 10 of the standings.• No pole sitter having won a race. In fact, the highest starting position for a race winner is third, and four drivers have won after starting 17th or lower.• No driver has led laps in all 10 races and no driver has completed every lap.• All four full-season Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates have recorded a podium finish.
"It's getting tougher and tougher to win any INDYCAR race just because of how balanced the teams are and the driving talent in the series is arguably the toughest it's ever been," said Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has claimed two victories for Andretti Autosport. "There are no real weak spots. Everybody can challenge for a win on a road course or oval."
With eight races in the next eight weeks remaining, including a pair of double points events and a doubleheader race weekend in which each race pays full points, championship contenders will surge and wane.
For the ninth consecutive year, the season finale -- the 500-miler MAVTV Indy 500 on Aug. 30 at Auto Club Speedway - will determine who will hoist the Astor Cup.
Championship front-runner Will Power carries a 39-point advantage over Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves into the 200-lap Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco on July 6, which offers double points. Hunter-Reay closed to two points of Castroneves with seventh- and sixth-place finishes at Houston last weekend, while Houston 2 winner Simon Pagenaud is 59 points out of the lead.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who returned to Indy car racing this season after a 13-year absence, has climbed to fifth in the standings following second- and seventh-place finishes at Houston.
"I think both Will and I will certainly be in contention all year long," said Castroneves, who has earned one victory and two Verizon P1 Awards. "I know I'm very driven and focused on the rest of the year, and it's clear that Will has a fire burning inside of him right now.
"There is a lot of racing left to start counting guys out. We have two 500-milers left. We have the short ovals left, places where anything can happen. I fully expect Juan to get hot as he continues to get more comfortable in the series. There are a lot of guys in the top 10 that can get on a roll and make this a very interesting championship battle."
A look at some items that stand out from the first 10 races:
Montoya has placed third, second and seventh in the past three races to climb from seventh to fifth in the standings. Pagenaud finished fourth, 16th (contact) and first - along with his maiden Verizon P1 Award - in the Texas swing.
"Very good points day for us," Montoya said following Houston 2, "and every week it gets better and better. We keep building on it. We keep getting better. It's just a matter of time; I think the wins are coming. Now we go to Pocono, where I have a lot of (stock car) experience."
In the opening five races, Hunter-Reay set the tone with two victories (Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis 500) and a pair of runner-up finishes. He could have significantly added to his points total after qualifying on pole at Long Beach, but was involved in contact on the street course.
Power built a sizable championship lead off a victory and four other top 10s, while Pagenaud also claimed a victory and three top fives.
In the past five races - two street course doubleheaders and the Texas Motor Speedway oval - Charlie Kimball recorded four top-10 (including two top five) finishes. Castroneves notched four top 10s, including his victory in Belle Isle 2, and Tony Kanaan also has had four top 10s.
Rookie Jack Hawksworth notched a season-best sixth place in the rain-soaked 80-lap opening race on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn street course at NRG Park in Houston, and battled to third place in the 90-lap second race. He qualified 21st and 23rd.
While others posted inconsistent results, Hunter-Reay's seventh- and sixth-place finishes were welcome following a rough three-race stretch.
A 500-mile race at Pocono Raceway on July 6 kicks off the second-half push, followed six days later by the .875-mile Iowa Speedway oval. The final doubleheader weekend on the streets of Exhibition Place in Toronto closes out the six-races-in-four-weekends stretch. Natural-terrain road course events at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Sonoma Raceway bookend the mid-July Milwaukee IndyFest, and the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway hosts the finale for the third consecutive year.