Indianapolis 500 qualifying could do much more than set the field for next weekend’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It could also help determine a series champion.
As part of the new ‘500’ qualifying format, Verizon IndyCar Series championship points will be on the line both tomorrow and Sunday.
33 points will go to tomorrow’s fastest qualifier with the points then descending by one per starting position, and the winner of Sunday’s Fast Nine shootout for the pole will earn nine additional points.
It makes up a good chunk of the maximum total of 145 points that a driver can earn from the ‘500.’ That particular bounty also includes the 100 points for the race win (remember, the ‘500’ is a double-points event), one point for a lap led, and two points for most laps led.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske figure to play heavily into this weekend’s events, but TCGR managing director Mike Hull would not be drawn into revealing a specific strategy for his team going in.
“The way that we’ll approach tomorrow is the way that we’re going to approach today,” Hull said today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We’re going to get the most out of it. That’s the way that we work. That’s really the simple answer. The strategy is developed simply from there. Yeah, we’ll have a very defined strategy internally for us. But we work really, really hard to get the most out of the day we have in front of us.”
Hull’s boss, Chip Ganassi, didn’t add much to that save for his team being ready to “play every card” they had tomorrow.
As for the view from the Penske camp, Roger Penske and his drivers – Helio Castroneves, Will Power, and Juan Pablo Montoya – mentioned the importance of putting themselves into the Top 9 on Saturday to ensure their place in Sunday’s shootout.
But in Power’s eyes, the points scenario could force him and his teammates to take a risk on a second qualifying run and try to get higher up the pylon.
“This point spread is really close between positions,” he said. “You would expect all the championship contenders would be pretty close anyway.
“I’m sure if you were the one with the fast cars at the front competing for the championship, you would definitely go back out to gain some points.”
After finishing eighth in last weekend’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Power’s lead in the IndyCar championship is down to one point over Ryan Hunter-Reay and six points over GP of Indy winner Simon Pagenaud.
Castroneves and defending series champion Scott Dixon are tied for fourth and farther back at 47 points behind Power.