Nobody competing with Honda
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- If it weren't for Honda, the entire focus of the IndyCar series would be on the competition of the stretch run.
Tony Kanaan and Buddy Rice are staging an interesting fight for the championship, and their teams have both a rivalry and a camaraderie of sorts.
But there's no contest among engine manufacturers. Honda has nine straight victories, Toyota hasn't won since two-time IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. took the season opener five months ago, and Chevrolet-powered cars have been shut out.
Although Toyota and Chevy showed signs of improvement Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, in the end it was Honda, Honda, Honda.
"What can I say? Honda again, one-two-three,'' said Kanaan, who leads the series standings for Andretti Green Racing.
Michigan winner Rice, second in the points for Rahal-Letterman Racing, likened it to a brotherhood of brands.
"With the other cars in the Honda family, we're definitely on the way to making sure that Honda gets the manufacturers' award right now,'' he said after matching Kanaan with three victories this season.
Kanaan teammate Dan Wheldon, third at Michigan, also is third in the championship race.
Honda, with six of the top eight drivers, has a commanding lead in the engine manufacturers competition with 97 points entering the final six races. Toyota has 71 points and Chevy 52 as the circuit heads to Kentucky for the Belterra Casino Indy 300 on Aug. 15.
At times, Honda's domination has humiliated the others. Honda swept the first seven spots in the Indianapolis 500, the top six on July 4 in Kansas and has claimed 21 of 30 podium spots. Chevy's only visit to the podium was a third-place finish by Alex Barron on June 12 in Texas.
Perhaps the best news for Toyota and Chevy is that Hornish's victory for Marlboro Team Penske at Homestead-Miami Speedway precludes a Honda sweep of the races. Honda can do no better than 15 of 16, but that would set a record. Chevy won 14 of 15 IRL events in 2002.
Despite being swept at Michigan, Toyota and Chevy drivers came away somewhat encouraged.
Darren Manning and series champion Scott Dixon ran well with Toyota engines for most of the race, but faltered at the end.
"It's too bad, but there are a lot of positives we can take from this weekend,'' Dixon said.
Toyota had three of the top five positions after qualifying. But that edge was lost when two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves _ who would have started on the front row -- was moved to the back of the pack because he had to replace his engine before the race.
Top Toyota finisher Hornish was fourth. But for him, the outcome was another dose of reality.
"We just didn't have quite enough to catch the leaders,'' he said.
Chevrolet also showed potential, benefiting from prerace testing with its drivers.
Tomas Scheckter ran some of the weekend's fastest practice laps before qualifying 13th. He also had some of the fastest laps in the Sunday's race, but his day was spoiled by poor team strategy and an accident that left a pit crew member with a broken leg.
Scheckter finished 19th, but it wasn't the engine's fault.
"We were running well, and our Chevy was the car to beat today,'' he said.
Still, Townsend Bell posted Chevy's best result, finishing eighth.
Despite all their success, Honda drivers expect the gap to shrink with the other engine manufacturers determined to catch up.
"I would say everybody's stepping up,'' Kanaan explained. "I think that's the way it's going to be, really ... from the team standpoint. I think Honda is also expecting everybody to step up.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press