Championship race the focus

Ryan Hunter-Reay's Sunday Conversation (2:47)

Ryan Hunter-Reay discusses winning the Indianapolis 500 and how much it meant to him. (2:47)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Prior to the Indianapolis 500, Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal said the last thing he and his fellow drivers were thinking about was championship points.

But now that the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is in the rearview mirror and the impact of the substantial changes made to Indy's traditional format can be assessed, he and his colleagues might reconsider.

With the post-Indy focus shifting to the IndyCar Series championship, the massive increase in points available during May compared with years past is already having a significant impact on the standings.

The addition of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course and a major boost to Indianapolis 500 points created a pool of more than 200 points potentially on offer. That's nearly four times the points that were available when the Indianapolis 500 was the only race of the month, and it paid the same 50 points and small bonuses as any other race.

This year, Indy -- along with the two other 500-mile races on the IndyCar Series schedule -- has been bumped up to award 100 points, and Indianapolis put up to 45 points up for grabs for its revised two-day qualifying sweepstakes.

The month's big winner was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who used a second-place finish in the Grand Prix and his victory in the 500 to collect an impressive 167 out of a possible 201 points. That helped the Andretti Autosport driver turn an 18-point deficit into a 40-point cushion as he vaulted past Team Penske's Will Power into the championship lead. Power scored 109 points at Indianapolis with a pair of eighth-place finishes.

Meanwhile, Power's teammate Helio Castroneves racked up 154 points at Indy to move from eighth to third in the standings. Top-10 results in the Indy 500 helped Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz, Juan Pablo Montoya and Sebastien Bourdais make big gains in the standings, but several drivers suffered the opposite fate.

Scott Dixon dropped from fourth to ninth after earning only 45 points all month, and his Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan managed three fewer and fell from ninth to 16th.

"You have one or two bad days here during the month and it can turn you upside down in the points," said Hunter-Reay, who could have racked up even more points at Indianapolis had he qualified higher than 19th.

"The 500-mile races will have a huge implication on the championship."

Hunter-Reay, who won the 2012 IndyCar Series championship, is proud to have joined the list of Indianapolis 500 and Indy car title winners.

The 500 winner has gone on to claim the IndyCar Series championship five times since 2005.

"That's a big deal to me personally," Hunter-Reay said of the Indy-championship double. "From a driver's perspective, the championship is massively rewarding. It's not just one race. ... It's an entire season of racing on every different discipline of track."

An increased emphasis on points at Indianapolis is not new; in the days when USAC sanctioned Indy car racing, point values were often calculated based on race distance.

But the doubling of points for 500-milers this year has some current drivers grumbling.

"I think double points is honestly way too far, but it is what it is," former championship leader Power said.

Three-time IndyCar Series champion Dixon questions the need to change a point system that has been decided by 18 points or fewer in seven of the last eight years.

"I think it's got the potential to change the championship," Dixon said. "Every year we come down to the last race with the championship undecided. Why change something that works, that many other series around the world would dream of being able to promote?"

Of course, another variation of the double-points theme is on offer already this weekend at the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, with full 50-point races run Saturday and Sunday.

The complexion of the 2013 IndyCar championship changed dramatically at the Houston doubleheader weekend, as Dixon won Saturday and finished second Sunday while Castroneves failed to finish both races.

The same kind of big point swing could occur this weekend at Detroit, or at the two other street-course doubleheaders (Houston, June 28-29, and Toronto, July 19-20) or the remaining 500-milers (Pocono, July 6, and Auto Club Speedway, Aug. 30).

"Now it's about winning the championship, and we know it's going to take three or four race wins," said Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud, whose first career IndyCar race win came at Detroit last year.

A 12th-place finish in the Indy 500 gave Pagenaud a total of 119 points for the month of Indy, tied for third best with Marco Andretti.

"There are a lot of points available at Detroit and it's an important part of the season," added the Frenchman.