Commentary

Oreo Awards: Good, bad and the ugly

Updated: January 5, 2010, 3:32 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

[+] EnlargeDario Franchitti
AP Photo/Terry RennaDario Franchitti's triumphant return to the IndyCar Series was one of the feel-good stories of the decade.

For this year's edition of the Oreo Awards, we're going to look back on the past decade for Indy car racing. Sad to say, the '00s pretty much added up to zero for the American open-wheel scene.

A crippling political war finally ended eight years into the decade, pretty much as expected, with the might of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway emerging victorious. But no one could have predicted that, within a year, Indy Racing League founder Tony George would be ousted from power at IMS and would choose not to continue leading the unified IndyCar Series.

The decade started as CART versus IRL. Bankruptcy morphed CART into Champ Car in 2004, and the once-dominant series managed to stagger along for four more years. The long-needed unification finally happened in early 2008, only for the worldwide economic crisis to crush any potential momentum Indy racing could have benefited from.

The decade ended with Indy car racing at its lowest ebb in at least 30 years, but poised to regain some of the ground it lost over the last third of that time span. With that in mind, here's a look back at the distinguished and the dubious people, places and things of 2000-2009 …

10 best drivers

• Dario Franchitti: Two-time IRL king's combined CART and IndyCar record tops the decade.

• Scott Dixon: Ends the decade as Indy car racing's benchmark driver.

• Gil de Ferran: Won two CART titles and several IRL races, including Indy, during his four years in open-wheelers.

• Sebastien Bourdais: Crushed a diminished Champ Car field, but often didn't appear to enjoy it.

• Sam Hornish Jr. The last American Indy car champion now toils as a NASCAR midfielder.

• Helio Castroneves: Often fast, occasionally inconsistent and a special force at Indianapolis.

• Paul Tracy: Also one of the top drivers of the 1990s and still quick enough to win at age 41.

• Tony Kanaan: He tasted championship success in IRL after a solid CART career.

• Dan Wheldon: The IndyCar Series' top driver from late 2004 to mid-2007.

• Justin Wilson: He made more with less than any other driver this decade. Won a race on merit for Dale Coyne Racing. Enough said.

10 best races

• 2000 CART Michigan 500: Epic final lap pitted Juan Montoya versus Michael Andretti versus backmarker Tarso Marques.

• 2001 IRL Indianapolis 500: Sign of things to come as the six CART teams entered finished 1-6. All were full-time IRL competitors by 2003.

• 2001 CART Rockingham 300: No qualifying and little practice, but a superb race capped by Gil de Ferran's last-lap pass of Kenny Brack.

• 2002 CART Montreal GP: Strategic battle saw Cristiano da Matta and winner Dario Franchitti trade fastest laps despite rarely running together on the track.

• 2002 IRL Chicagoland: The benchmark dash to the line for a league famous for its photo finishes.

• 2003 CART Cleveland GP: Beautiful night of racing featuring Sebastian Bourdais versus Paul Tracy over 115 laps.

• 2004 CCWS Denver: Arguably the best of Bourdais' decade-leading 31 wins.

• 2006 IRL Chicagoland: Tense four-way championship battle was closest in series history.

• 2006 CCWS Mexico City: Brilliant effort by injured Justin Wilson unrewarded as Bourdais steals last-lap win in sendoff for classic Lola chassis.

• 2009 IRL Homestead: Clean championship decider saw two distinct strategies that were fascinating to watch pan out.

10 most intriguing people

• Danica Patrick: Emerged as a mainstream media star and by far the biggest source of attention for the IndyCar Series.

• Paul Tracy: Still fast, still polarizing, still popular, still unemployed.

• Sebastien Bourdais: Maybe understood more than anyone else how much his accomplishments were devalued by the open-wheel split.

• Dario Franchitti: A great race car driver and a superb ambassador for the sport.

• Tony George: The man most responsible for the state of Indy car racing today.

• Sam Hornish Jr.: Proof that the IRL achieved one of its stated goals by minting an American star.

• Helio Castroneves: On-track fan favorite made headlines in the courtroom and the ballroom, too.

• Michael Andretti: Recognized the turning tide earlier than most and made his team a success in the IRL.

• Kevin Kalkhoven: He's either a hero or a villain for leading the effort that kept Champ Car in business for its last four years.

• Tim Cindric: Unassuming leader is the real power behind (and the future of) Penske Racing.

10 biggest flops

Joe Heitzler's year as CART CEO, 2001; Chris Pook's subsequent two years as CART CEO; the never-raced 2003 Falcon IRL chassis; the outclassed 2003 Chevrolet IRL engine; the similarly underpowered 2004-5 Toyota IRL engine; Champ Car's San Jose Grand Prix, which may have featured the worst street course of all time; the Champ Car Las Vegas GP, which featured a fabulous street course but attracted zero interest or local support; Korea, China and the other announced CART/ Champ Car races that never happened; Gene Simmons and his "I Am Indy" anthem; Milka Duno.

10 major moments

Toyota begins funding CART teams, 2000; popoff valve controversy at 2001 CART Detroit GP leads to Honda pullout and subsequent move to IRL; disputed 2002 Indy 500 finish awarded to Helio Castroneves; Alex Zanardi completes his final 13 laps at Lausitzring, 2003; CART declares bankruptcy and emerges as Champ Car World Series, 2004; IRL embraces road racing, 2005; IRL becomes Honda spec series, 2006; open-wheel unification achieved, 2008; Tony George ousted at IMS and quits IRL, 2009; IZOD signs as IndyCar Series title sponsor, 2009.

10 former Indy car tracks I miss

Phoenix International Raceway, Portland International Raceway, the Vancouver street course, Circuit Assen, New Hampshire International Speedway, the Cleveland airport course, Road America, Michigan International Speedway, Laguna Seca Raceway, Richmond International Raceway.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.

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