Can the "Big 3" stay on top in 2009?

As the IndyCar Series kicks off its 2009 season at St. Petersburg next weekend, the question remains, will the big three become the big four or five or will number of top teams dwindle? Ganassi, Penske and Andretti Green Racing have been...

As the IndyCar Series kicks off its 2009 season at St. Petersburg next weekend, the question remains, will the big three become the big four or five or will number of top teams dwindle?

Ganassi, Penske and Andretti Green Racing have been commonly referred to as the big three but Newman Haas Lanigan Racing scored two victories last year, the same number as Andretti Green.

Graham Rahal won his first IndyCar Series event at St. Pete, driving for a team that, through no fault of their own, had little time to prepare their cars. With a year of experience with the Dallara and a long off-season to prepare, Newman Haas is poised to become one of the sport's powerhouses.

Although Rahal doesn't need anyone to keep him on his game, Newman Haas Lanigan has added Robert Doornbos to the team. Doornbos will add a spark to the team that will keep everyone on their toes at Newman Haas Lanigan. Doornbos is a good natured fellow but he's ultra-competitive. Ultimately, intra-team rivalry at Newman Haas Lanigan could force Rahal to take his game to the next level.

Andretti Green Racing has made a commitment to regain their position as one of the sport's elite. All four drivers return to the team for next year and personnel changes have been kept to a minimum. Kanaan will work with a new engineer Allen McDonald and Marco Andretti will have his dad Michael call his races. According to the team, requests were made for a few changes and everyone got what they wanted.

The sting of only winning two races last year, Danica Patrick at Motegi and Tony Kanaan at Richmond, has left a mark. After winning the championship in 2004 and '05, 2006 was a disappointment for AGR. They rebounded in 2007 to win the championship but 2008 looked a lot like 2006.

Testing results have been mixed for AGR so it remains to be seen if the team can return to championship form.

Dario Franchitti returns to the IndyCar Series after trying his hand at stock car racing. The venerable Scot joins New Zealander Scott Dixon, who won the Indy 500 on his way to earning another championship for Chip Ganassi's team. Ganassi is the first team in IndyCar history to field back to back Indy 500 winners and champions.

Both Ganassi drivers turned in favorable results during preseason testing. Testing results can be fickle as teams use their track throwing different setups on the cars, but the Ganassi results were solid. Historical data places the team as the odds-on favorite to repeat with another championship.

Penske drivers topped the speed charts in both preseason tests, Briscoe on the oval and Will Power on the road course test at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Penske's operation is second to none. Roger Penske demands excellence and he doesn't cut corners in his pursuit of excellence. While Helio Castroneves may not be in a position to rejoin the team after facing tax evasion charges in Federal court, Briscoe and Power will be in the season long war for the championship.

KV Racing will be making a bid to join the top teams in 2009. KV suffered from the same problems as Newman Haas Lanigan last year, putting together a last minute program with the Dallara chassis. Mario Moraes returns, turning in sixth fastest times in each test. Moraes is poised to make a name for himself and with the backing of KV Racing, he has the tools to accomplish much more than the 3 top-ten finishes he had last year.

Watching E.J. Viso alone was worth the price of admission at many IndyCar races last year. The most exciting driver since Tomas Scheckter made his IndyCar debut in 2002, Viso can also be his own worst enemy. It's even money on Viso duplicating his performance from last year, one top five and five top tens. His sophomore year holds much promise, especially if it includes making better decisions on track. Nevertheless, Viso, always the speed demon, will continue to be a crowd favorite, doing his best to ratchet up the on-track action.

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