Storm of controversy around Will Power continues with latest penalty (VIDEO)

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At Houston last week, Will Power survived a dreadful pair of races without losing any points in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship chase.

At the Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco on Sunday, he not only lost the points lead, but re-entered the IndyCar Race Control doghouse.

The first 158 laps of the race went green but after the race’s lone restart, Power made a pair of questionable moves on his two Team Penske teammates entering Turn 1 that ultimately netted him his latest penalty.

First, he made a move to defend against eventual winner Juan Pablo Montoya that cost Montoya his left front wing endplate, but the move did not draw a reaction from Race Control.

But a second move on Lap 172, where he sliced from the outside of the track to the inside twice on Helio Castroneves caused Castroneves to slightly back off to avoid contact. Power was called for blocking and served a drive-through penalty on pit lane.

Neither Power nor Team Penske president Tim Cindric were amused. See the below tweet from MoreFrontWing.com’s Paul Dalbey:

That penalty and another pit stop on Lap 189 to top off for fuel dropped Power to an eventual 10th place finish, despite leading 69 laps. With Castroneves second and the race a double-points affair, Power’s 39-point gap was erased and the two are now tied.

A somewhat speechless Power, undoubtedly frustrated in the heat of the moment post-race, then told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis, “I’m sure Townsend (Bell) and them up in the booth will have their say on it.”

Both Paul Tracy and Bob Varsha had comebacks for the attempt. PT’s take? “They told me to call it like I see it, and that was a double move.” Tracy tweeted this after the race:

Varsha, filling in for Leigh Diffey this weekend and calling his first IndyCar race since the 2003 Champ Car season, simply said “It is what it is, dude,” when a graphic flashed up showing Power’s five penalties called this season.

Power hit pit equipment in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, got a pit speed violation in the Indianapolis 500 and at Texas, got a contact penalty for taking out Josef Newgarden, Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal in Detroit Race 2, and now had this penalty for blocking issued today. Surprisingly, Power has not been placed on probation by INDYCAR despite the rash of penalties.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (5)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Jack Harvey*

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate at this moment plans.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today but both acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.