Sonoma is just what IndyCar needs

Maybe a trip to California's wine country will do the Izod IndyCar Series some good. They'll be in the area for Sunday's Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at the Infineon Raceway road course.

Perhaps a glass or two of the Sonoma Valley's finest might calm down a sport that has occasionally spun out of control on and off the track this year.

There have been crashes aplenty, resulting in three drivers put on probation for careless driving. Yet another top star (who climbs fences and dances the cha-cha) responsible for a similar number of incidents went without penalty.

The unease among the drivers about the inconsistency of INDYCAR's officiating only increased when the series' most recent race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway ended in carnage and confusion.

Race director Brian Barnhart admitted he made a mistake by trying to complete the last 10 laps of the NHMS race on a rain-soaked track. A three-man panel, appointed by Barnhart for a protest hearing, upheld the controversial result, which reverted to the running order prior to a six-car crash, with Ryan Hunter-Reay declared the winner over Oriol Servia and Scott Dixon.

Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti therefore scored two wins this week: Hunter-Reay's victory at New Hampshire was made official, and his team signed a two-year extension of its sponsorship from GoDaddy.com -- despite losing the services of GoDaddy girl Danica Patrick after this season.

Championship contender Will Power, who was swept into the New Hampshire accident, lost his composure and expressed his displeasure by directing a widely publicized obscene gesture toward Race Control.

INDYCAR fined Power $30,000 for his indiscretion or gave him the option of working it off via "community service."

"I accept the penalty administered by INDYCAR and I understand that the series has to make a reasonable effort to ensure that this type of behavior will not be repeated by anyone else in the future," Power said in a statement. "I have expressed my feelings about the incident that prompted my poor behavior and I've apologized and continue to regret the inappropriate gesture I made as well.

"Now, I am just looking forward to getting back on track this weekend and trying to earn the best possible results moving forward for Team Penske."

Meanwhile, Dario Franchitti has floated along as the IndyCar Series championship leader, seemingly above all the madness that has afflicted everyone else's 2011 season.

The only bump in the Scotsman's flight toward a third consecutive IndyCar crown came at New Hampshire, when he was bizarrely taken out on a restart by Takuma Sato.

Franchitti had dominated the first half of the race and looked set to really extend his championship advantage over Power and Dixon.

As it stands, Franchitti arrives in Sonoma 47 points ahead of Power and up 73 on Dixon. Five races (two road courses, one street course and two 1.5-mile ovals) remain.

"You've just got to do the best job you can," Franchitti said. "There's going to be good weeks and there's going to be bad ones. You saw that in Loudon. Anything can happen.

"We're going to approach each week the same way we have for the last few years: Just try to give it our best and see what happens."

All three championship contenders have won at Infineon Raceway -- a technically challenging, natural-terrain road course with plenty of elevation change.

Franchitti has finished third or better in four of his five starts, including a win in 2009; his Target Ganassi Racing teammate Dixon was the '07 winner and came second to Power last year.

Power's victorious return to Infineon after suffering a season-ending broken back there in 2009 would normally be the top story heading into the Sonoma race weekend. But that was before his "Angry Birds" infamy.

He said that most of the comments he's received on social media regarding the incident have been positive.

"It's starting to calm down a little," he said.

The budding rivalry between Power and Franchitti has been an interesting sideshow in their championship battle.

Power accused Franchitti of dirty driving when the two bumped during the Toronto race, sending Power's Team Penske car into a spin.

Their war of words via Twitter and other media continued for several weeks.

"It is very good for the series," Power said. "The best thing [Franchitti] ever did was take me out. Fans like passion and now that there is a bit of a rivalry between Dario and myself when we get together and race, fans like that. They want to watch."

There's a good battle for fourth place in the standings, with five drivers separated by 47 points. The group includes Servia, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti and Hunter-Reay.

Andretti scored his first IndyCar Series race win in 2006 at Infineon and was a winner earlier this year at Iowa Speedway.

Servia, Kanaan and Briscoe are all seeking their first win of the season.

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