IndyCar: Penske looks for fifth straight Sonoma win this weekend

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So at Mid-Ohio, we noted that Chip Ganassi Racing had a shot at a six-pack of consecutive victories at that track – and come Sunday afternoon, courtesy of a strategic and fuel-saving gem from last to first by Scott Dixon, they’d achieved it.

Heading into the next permanent road course on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, it’s Team Penske that has a win streak on the line.

Dating to 2010, Penske has won the last four races at Sonoma Raceway, with Will Power winning in 2010, 2011 and last year. Ryan Briscoe won in 2012 in a result that in hindsight, may have cost Power that year’s championship.

Alas, a Penske win in 2014 would all but certainly secure the IndyCar championship for either Power or Helio Castroneves. Power leads his teammate by 39 points after his Milwaukee domination, and he heads to Sonoma seeking to extend a streak of four consecutive top-two finishes.

For good measure, Power also won three straight poles in Sonoma from 2010 through 2012, and faded to “only” third last year on the grid.

Castroneves has a Sonoma win on his record in 2008, but has generally struggled of late this season

The third member of the team who could add to this streak is Juan Pablo Montoya, who took one of his two career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Sonoma in 2007. Montoya may have raced here for the last seven years, but in a completely different car and course configuration. Either way, you’d still figure him to be a factor this weekend.

Not only is the Penske streak intact, but either Penske or Ganassi has won every Sonoma race since 2007 – the last outside of those two was Marco Andretti in 2006, for his first career win.

And as we noted last year, it’s not just wins – it’s top fives and Firestone Fast Sixs that the Penske and Ganassi squads have nearly locked out these last several years.

Last year was a rare year of diversity, with five different teams finishing in the top five. Power won from Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing) and Dario Franchitti (Ganassi), with Andretti and Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports) rounding out the top five. Hard as it is to believe, that podium was Wilson’s second most recent and Franchitti’s final career podium in an IndyCar.

The diversity of IndyCar in 2014 has been consistent; there have been 10 different race winners and 20 different podium finishers in the first 16 races. But adding to those numbers at Sonoma, based on history, will be hard to accomplish.

F1 2017 driver review: Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Renault
Car No.: 27
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 43
Championship Position: 10th

Expectations were hard to peg for Renault heading into its second full season back in F1 with a factory team, but Nico Hulkenberg was surely expected to be the man spearheading its charge.

With teammate Jolyon Palmer severely underperforming, Hulkenberg did exactly that, bringing home all but 14 of the team’s points in the final standings. However, consistency was never something he truly found.

Many of Renault’s issues were down to reliability issues, sidelining Hulkenberg for six races – four coming in a five-race stint from Singapore to Mexico – yet he only scored points in consecutive races on three occasions.

When Hulkenberg and Renault were on form, they proved to be a potent combination, often topping the midfield fight and even looking faster than Force India come the end of the season. His run to sixth at the final race in Abu Dhabi was crucial for the constructors’ championship as Renault jumped Toro Rosso, securing an extra slice of prize money in the process.

But for a driver who was so often tipped as being a future star in F1, Hulkenberg still has a lot to prove. Renault is set to offer a good platform for the German moving forward with factory support, yet if he cannot beat new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. through 2018, concerns will surely be raised.

Season High: Charging to sixth in Abu Dhabi despite a penalty.

Season Low: A tough run to 16th in Malaysia.