Another season of racing has been completed -- for the IndyCar Series at least. And there were enough spectacular and sometimes dubious achievements in that series in 2007 to merit its own edition of the Oreo Awards.
This year's IRL championship battle wasn't as exciting as the four-man deadlock that 2006 provided. But there were still plenty of thrills and spills as Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon battled it out on the track while their bosses occasionally put up their dukes in the pits.
Franchitti built and lost a 65-point championship lead before reclaiming it during a bizarre last lap of the penultimate round of the series at Detroit. The title then literally was decided on the last lap of the final event at Chicagoland Speedway when Dixon ran out of fuel while leading the race and the championship. The New Zealander's composed reaction to that huge disappointment makes him the recipient of this year's Sportsmanship Award.
Here are the other Oreo Award winners from the 2007 IndyCar Series:
• Phil Collins Award (aka "Hello, I Must Be Going") -- The IndyCar Series won't be getting much "Face Value" out of reigning Indy 500 and series champion Franchitti, who is set to bolt to NASCAR. Three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. is ready to switch to stock cars, too, and the Daytona 500 field could feature more former Indy winners than Indianapolis itself. "Sussudio!"
• Feast or Famine Award -- Tony Kanaan won more races (five) than Franchitti or Dixon. But he had four finishes outside the top 10 compared to one apiece, relegating him to third in the standings.
• Catalyst Award -- Franchitti came from two laps down to finish fifth on the St. Petersburg street course despite fading brakes. That morale-booster launched a string of 10 consecutive top-four finishes that set up the Scotsman's run to the IndyCar Series championship.
• Blood is Thicker Than Money Award -- Michael Andretti threw a temper tantrum and whacked a timing stand when two of his team's drivers crashed each other out at Infineon Raceway. And it looked like losing a $100K race win for his son Marco upset him a lot more than the damage the clash did to Franchitti's $1 million points lead.
• Level Slanted Playing Field Award -- IRL Chief Steward Brian Barnhart secretly allowed a couple of drivers to use prototype steering racks at IndyCar Series road races throughout the season. The rest of the field will gain access in 2008 to the improved mechanism designed to lighten steering loads.
• Most Improved Driver Award -- Danica Patrick still hasn't won a race, but she upped her game significantly in 2007. She raced harder, passed a lot more cars and showed speed on road courses. And she's still American open-wheel racing's most recognizable personality.
• Best Choreography Award --Ashley Judd's joyful dance up Indianapolis Motor Speedway pit lane in the pouring rain to greet her victorious husband Franchitti in Victory Lane. Close second: Helio Castroneves flailed and stomped throughout a half-mile walk to the Michigan Speedway medical center after yet another DNF. He was treated there for a sore knee.
• Bad Break Award -- Scott Dixon fell many laps behind at the start of the Iowa Corn 250 because the steering in his pole-position car seized. Dixie must have been wishing for one of those prototype steering racks. Or even better, a prerace warmup session, something the IRL should reinstitute at every event in 2008.
• Welcome Back Award -- Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course played host to a top-level open-wheel race for the first time since 2003 and many competitors rated it as the best weekend of the year.
• Nowhere Man Award -- After dominating the first month of the season, who could have imagined that Dan Wheldon would basically disappear from sight, starting at his beloved Indianapolis 500? Wheldon's most notorious achievement in the second half of the season was launching former teammate (and former friend) Franchitti into a spectacular accident at Michigan.
• Like Father Like Son Award -- Marco Andretti's sophomore IndyCar campaign was as brutally bad as dad/boss Michael's was in 1985: 14 races, seven DNFs, six crashes (including a pair of flips) and a best finish of second. Oh, and a spectacular "miscommunication" at Infineon that almost cost his teammate the championship.
• Effort Equals Results Award -- Buddy Rice logged four top-six finishes for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, including three consecutive at midseason.
• Least Popular Among His Peers Award -- Wheldon squared off with Danica and Dario after getting into them on the track. And Dixon felt D.W. could have been a more supportive teammate in the decisive Chicagoland finale.
• Shhh! Don't Tell Anyone Award -- It's been more than two years (38 races and counting) since a team other than Andretti Green, Ganassi or Penske won an IndyCar Series race.
• Best Presentation Award -- Vision Racing debuted a new look this year that was slick, clean and professional.
• Best Part-Timer Award -- Ryan Briscoe finished fifth in the Indianapolis 500 in a quasi-works Penske Racing entry. The Aussie has the "inside track" for Hornish's soon-to-be-vacant full-time IndyCar seat.
• Best Newcomer Award -- Ryan Hunter-Reay pursued a Champ Car career and got nothing for his efforts. He landed in IndyCar with Rahal Letterman Racing at midseason and easily won rookie of the year honors while generally running in the top seven. A great job of adapting to a new team and a new formula.
• Worst Newcomer Award -- Milka Duno.
• Comeback Award -- Davey Hamilton raced for the first time since suffering severe leg injuries in an IndyCar crash at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001. His ninth-place finish at the Indianapolis 500 might have been the year's most popular individual result.
• If You Build it ... Award -- Iowa Speedway was sold out and packed for its inaugural IndyCar race.
• Survivor: Texas Award -- A.J. Foyt flipped and submerged a bulldozer while working at his Hempstead ranch, just two years after surviving a swarm of killer bees on a different piece of Lone Star state property. Who says racing is dangerous?
• Heavyweight Bout of '08 Award? -- Chip Ganassi versus AGR's Kevin Savoree. Maybe add it to the bill at Homestead or Milwaukee to fill all those empty grandstand seats. I know I'd pay to see a rematch.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.