Will Power

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Dixon, Castroneves, Power solid at Sonoma, but come up short

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Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, and Will Power had solid runs on Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, with all three of them finishing in the top five.

However, their efforts were ultimately not enough to see any of them take a championship away from Josef Newgarden, who clinched his first first Verizon IndyCar Series championship by finishing second to teammate Simon Pagenaud, who moved up to second place in the standings as well.

Of those three, Dixon ranked highest in the championship order after finishing a distant fourth, over 12 seconds off race winner Pagenaud. Castroneves was even further behind in fifth, and more than 22 seconds off the lead, while Power managed to get on the podium by finishing third, but couldn’t get close enough to challenge either Newgarden or Pagenaud.

For Dixon, the result caps a year in which he won one race and remained his usual consistent self, but could not overcome the Penske quartet.

“It seemed like the 3 (Castroneves) covered us. He was a massive roadblock at certain parts on the track. It was circumstance. Once we got clear track we could hunt them down. Huge credit to everyone on the NTT Data crew. It was a strong season. Congrats to Penske and Josef on a job well done,” Dixon told NBCSN.

“I think we had good speed but we should have won quite a few races and we didn’t. We got crashed out a bit. It was all valuable points lost. We learned a lot this season. Going back to Honda we made some good gains. We’ll have a bit of a break and get going.”

For Castroneves, the chance to battle for a win likely went by the wayside due to strategy, with the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet group not following Pagenaud’s four-stop strategy. Castroneves detailed that he tried that last year, only to see it fail, so he wasn’t sure about trying it again.

“I last year did that strategy and it did not work, so I said, ‘I don’t want to be that guinea pig again and do the same thing. I want to change,'” Castroneves said of his team’s strategy.

Helio Castroneves finished fifth Sonoma and ended up fourth in the championship standings. Photo: IndyCar

For Castroneves, this comes at a time with his future still uncertain, as he has not yet been confirmed as returning to Team Penske in the Verizon IndyCar Series or moving over to its new Acura DPi entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

While he noted that not decision has yet been made, Castroneves asserted that his goal will remain the same regardless: win races.

“Now, you know, whatever happens in the future – sometimes you can use that in different ways, and something that I learned in the past: Sometimes we’ve got to dance according to the music. But at this point we’re definitely going to announce — I feel whatever it’s going to be, if it’s moving on or not, I’m going to continue to motivate and keep working hard to achieve my goals, which is winning races,” he declared.

Teammate Power ran a quiet race to finish third, and ultimately ended up fifth in the final standings. However, Power’s day began with a little drama, as Team Penske swapped his and Newgarden’s pit crews before the race began.

Power remained matter of fact about it afterward, and admitted that he understood why the team made the last-minute change.

“It’s probably something they were thinking of, the team. Basically just assemble the pit stop competition winners from Indy, which is understandable,” he explained. “They needed to make sure they had the absolute best possible chance, had everyone come in under yellow, the best chance to have Josef get out first.”

Will Power finished third at Sonoma, and ended up fifth in the final IndyCar standings. Photo: IndyCar

Power added that, while he entered the race with a mathematical shot the championship, his season never truly had him in a position to make a championship push.

“I just never quite got on a run, never,” he revealed. “I think back to the ones that hurt, and it’s failure at St. Pete and we’re leading at Barber, that’s a huge points swing for me right there that would have put me right in contention here, but getting the puncture. So there were a couple. But yeah, just up and down all year, up and down.”

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Penske makes last-minute crew swap before Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. – The Verizon IndyCar Series’ season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), will have one additional wrinkle going into it.

Team Penske has made a last-minute crew swap between its No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, for Josef Newgarden and Will Power, who will start on the front row of the race.

The outside tire changers, so the right side tire changers, and airjack crew will be swapped between the two cars.

This will mean the following:

  • Newgarden’s usual outside front (Vance Welker), outside rear (Clay Turner) and airjack (Adam Baranski) will move to Power’s car.
  • Power’s usual outside front (Matt Jonsson), outside rear (Shaun Rinaman) and airjack (Blaine Hardy) will move to Newgarden’s car.
  • Both Welker (Newgarden) and Jonsson (Power) are the chief mechanics for both entries.

The team has confirmed the changes to NBC Sports. Jonsson was spotted in a hum by Verizon (No. 2) white crew shirt in the paddock, rather than his usual Verizon (No. 12) gray shirt.

Per Tim Cindric, Team Penske president, the change was made to place some of Power’s race-winning crew from Indianapolis earlier this year onto Newgarden’s car. Cindric is Newgarden’s race strategist, having moved over from Power’s box earlier this year.

Both drivers will start the race on Firestone’s black primary tires.

IndyCar’s Sonoma points permutations

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The final race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season is upon us, and with seven drivers mathematically eligible for the championship entering – five of whom will actually have a legitimate chance once the race begins – it’s time to get out the calculators to begin analyzing who needs to finish where in order to secure the championship.

Earlier this week, IndyCar released a spreadsheet of points possibilities for each of the top six drivers (seventh place, Graham Rahal, will be mathematically eliminated when the green flag waves on Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). That chart is below.

An initial look makes the overall picture seem complicated. However, it’s actually quite simple for the most part. Below are permutations for all of this year’s championship contenders. 

JOSEF NEWGARDEN – 1ST PLACE, 561 POINTS (Note: Newgarden entered the weekend with 560 points, but securing the pole netted him one bonus point heading into Sunday’s race)

AVONDALE, AZ – APRIL 29: Josef Newgarden, driver of the #2 Team Penske Chevrolet walks to driver introductions before the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 29, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

For points leader Josef Newgarden, the picture is beautifully simple: a race win automatically nets him a championship. In the event none of the championship contenders wins, simply finishing ahead of all of them would also secure him his first IndyCar championship.

Further, with four wins to his name in 2017, Newgarden holds the advantage in the event of a tie. The only driver who could challenge him here is teammate Will Power, but Power would need a victory and a lot of help to do so (more on this later).

The element of bonus points does make things somewhat trickier. Dixon had the opportunity to jump ahead had he secured all four bonus points – pole (1), leads one lap (1), and leads the most laps (2) – if both finished outside the top-10.

But if they slip that far down the order, the door is blow wide open for Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and even Will Power to sweep in and steal the championship.

Regardless, Newgarden is in complete control of his destiny entering Sunday’s season finale.

SCOTT DIXON – SECOND PLACE, 557 POINTS

Scott Dixon celebrates victory at Road America. Photo: IndyCar

Scott Dixon, like Newgarden, controls his own destiny. Only four points behind Newgarden, a race win nets Dixon his fifth championship no matter what anyone else does. And, as previously mentioned, finishing in the top 10 would also see him, at minimum, jump ahead of Newgarden if he finishes ahead of Newgarden by at least one position.

Still, as previously described, finishes outside of the top 10 for both Newgarden and Dixon give Castroneves, Pagenaud, and Power a chance to swoop in and take the title. Consequently, although it is possible, it is highly unlikely Newgarden or Dixon win the championship if they encounter problems and finish lower than tenth.

Still, Dixon controls his own championship fate at Sonoma.

HELIO CASTRONEVES – THIRD PLACE, 538 POINTS

Helio Castroneves celebrates his victory at Iowa Speedway. Photo: IndyCar

Helio Castroneves does not control his destiny in quite the same way as Newgarden or Dixon, but a win would put him even on points with Newgarden…if Castroneves scores at least three bonus points along the way.

Doing so would give Castroneves a final tally of 641 points. Newgarden finishing second would put him on 641 as well, but he would own the tiebreaker (four race wins to Castroneves’ two).

As a result, Castroneves does need help – although only a little. A finish of third or worse for Newgarden would see Castroneves leapfrog him in the standings, and he’s close enough to Dixon (19 points back) that a victory would vault him ahead of Dixon irrespective of where he finishes…unless Dixon gets more bonus points. But, in the event those two end up tied, Castroneves would hold the tiebreaker, having two wins to Dixon’s one.

However, a Pagenaud victory would doom Castroneves’ chances, as the 2016 champion would move ahead of the three-time Indy 500 winner (the gap between them is 12 points, and the gap from first to second at the double-points Sonoma finale is, at minimum, 16). He can also fall behind Power by finishing seventh or worse, assuming Power takes the race win.

Still, Castroneves’ outlook is relatively clear: A race win is his best shot at the title, and puts him in a relatively good spot to do so.

SIMON PAGENAUD – FOURTH PLACE, 526 POINTS

Simon Pagenaud still has a chance at his second consecutive championship, but needs a little help to do so. Photo: IndyCar

The situation for Pagenaud is somewhat more desperate. A race win, of course, is his best chance to secure his second consecutive championship. But, he needs a bit more help than Castroneves does.

In the scenario where Pagenaud wins, he’ll need Newgarden to finish fifth or worse and Dixon fourth or worse (note: if he and Dixon were to end up tied, Pagenaud would win the tiebreaker by having more race wins, two to Dixon’s one, again assuming he gets the race victory).

Though he missed out on the pole, maximizing the bonus points on Sunday is also vital for Pagenaud’s chances. Doing so would see him on 629 points for the season, and assuming Newgarden finishes fifth or worse and Dixon fourth or worse, he would clear both of them without the worry of going to a tiebreaker.

Teammate Power could leapfrog him with a win and a Pagenaud finish of sixth or worse, which would obviously put paid to any title hopes for the Frenchman.

In summary, Pagenaud’s best chance is to win and score the remaining bonus points. Of course, he maxed out at this race last year.

WILL POWER – FIFTH PLACE, 492 POINTS

FONTANA, CA – AUGUST 30: Will Power of Australia driver of the #12 Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet celebrates after winning the IndyCar Championship during the Verizon IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship Race at the Auto Club Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Will Power, the 2014 champion, sits 69 points out of the lead. Quite simply, he needs to win, secure the remaining bonus points, and get quite a bit of help.

In a perfect scenario, one in which Power ends the year on 595 points, he’ll need Newgarden to finish 14th or worse, Dixon 12th or worse, Castroneves sixth or worse, and Pagenaud fourth or worse.

Note: a Power tie with Newgarden would go to Newgarden on the tiebreaker (four wins to Power’s three) unless Power scores a victory, in which case a further tiebreaker would be needed.

All told, Power’s championship picture may be the simplest of all: lead the most laps, win the race, and hope your competitors encounter major trouble or fail to finish.

ALEXANDER ROSSI – SIXTH PLACE, 476 POINTS

Alexander Rossi celebrates with his team in Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. Photo: IndyCar

Alexander Rossi’s hopes hinge on something almost unworldly happening to the lead title contenders.

Rossi, like Power, needs maximum points (lead the most laps, win the race), and must see Newgarden finish 22nd. He would also need Dixon to finish 20th or worse, Castroneves tenth or worse, Pagenaud seventh or worse, and Power second or worse.

With 22 cars entered this weekend, Rossi will be eliminated if anyone not named Newgarden drops out of Sunday’s race.

Behind the top six, seventh place Graham Rahal (466 points) will be eliminated from title contention when Sunday’s race begins.

While there are many more permutations on the docket depending on finishing positions and bonus points, the overall championship picture can be summarized in a few quick sentences:

1) Newgarden and Dixon are in complete control of their championship hopes.

2) Castroneves, too, holds a lot of control of his championship hunt and needs only a little help to break through.

3) Pagenaud has a chance, but needs everything to go perfectly in his favor to have a realistic shot.

4) Power needs all the bonus points on race day (most laps led and the race victory) and needs his title rivals, chiefly Newgarden and Dixon, to suffer significant misfortune.

All told, it adds up to a potentially thrilling season finale, and will yield a 2017 champion with a remarkable story to tell.

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IndyCar title contenders to start up front at Sonoma

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A concern for all the Verizon IndyCar Series championship contenders was that qualifying could see any of them slip down the starting grid due to any one of a number of different issues. However, that ultimately proved not to be the case.

The top five in championship standings all advanced to the Firestone Fast Six for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Below are quick reports on where the championship contenders will start.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN – POLE

Josef Newgarden’s second career came at an opportune time, as he increases his points lead over Scott Dixon to four and gives him a nice shot of momentum heading into Sunday’s race as he looks to secure his first career IndyCar championship.

On the surface, the momentum comes at a critical time for Newgarden, who looks to counter an error at Watkins Glen that saw him hit the pit exit wall after his final pit stop. However, this was something he downplayed.

“It helps for the start of the race, I think. You got to think it helps. But how many IndyCar races have you seen where being on the pole wasn’t the right thing for the race with the way yellows fall or whatever it is?” Newgarden quipped in the post-qualifying press conference.

Ultimately, Newgarden is hoping for a clean, smooth race on Sunday. “I hope it’s straightforward (on Sunday). That would make our job a lot easier. We just have to focus on making a fast race car that lasts. But you never know,” he added.

SCOTT DIXON – SIXTH

Scott Dixon will start Sunday’s race in sixth. Photo: IndyCar

Scott Dixon qualified the worst of the all the main title contenders, ending up sixth at the end. Dixon explained afterward that, while his No. 9 NTT Data Honda felt solid, it just lacked sufficient speed, especially through the corners, to make a run at the pole.

“As a team, I think this is always one of our most difficult circuits that we come to,” Dixon explained. “This morning, we made some good gains, but the conditions this afternoon, we just didn’t have the grip. It was kind of strange. The balance felt good. The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn’t carry the speed through the corners.”

Granted, Dixon is not surprised to be outqualified by the Team Penske Chevrolets, given the aero advantage they possess. “The other manufacturer’s aero kit is going to be strong at this track. We know the deficits that we have. But we can still as a team overcome those, whether it’s strategy or a car on the long run that’s hopefully going to be good,” he added.

All told, Dixon remains confident, even noting that he won this race in 2015 after starting ninth, a feat that saw him clinch that year’s championship. “Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there,” he asserted. “I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race. Definitely you’d want to be a little further up. But that’s the way it goes.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES – FOURTH

Helio Castroneves qualified the worst of all four Penske cars. Photo: IndyCar

Castroneves qualified fourth, the worst of the Penske cars. He revealed that setup problems at two specific corners ultimately doomed his chances of fighting for the pole.

“Unfortunately, I was having some issues in Turn 2 and Turn 6, so I was losing quite a lot of time,” he detailed. “We made some changes for the last one, the last qualifying. Unfortunately, this place is so much of a commitment, I had only one lap. I made that lap, in fact. The second one I was actually even a little bit faster, about 2/10ths faster, but still not quick enough for those guys. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the corner.”

Still, Castroneves believes he has a car that can fight for the race win, which could put him in position to secure his first IndyCar title. “The Hitachi Chevy was actually really good. The entire Team Penske did a phenomenal job. Today was Josef’s day. I’m happy for him today, but prefer have the win actually than the pole position,” he added.

SIMON PAGENAUD – THIRD

Simon Pagenaud made a gutsy run at the pole, but came up a little short. Photo: IndyCar

Simon Pagenaud made no bones about it: he was going for the pole and threw everything he had at it during qualifying. “I went all in, as hard as I could. Made a little bit of a mistake in turn six, asking for too much. But that’s how you get pole positions. Today it just wasn’t my way,” he discussed in the post-qualifying press conference.

In the end, Pagenaud starts third, a result he feels happy with, and noted that tire wear is expected to be a significant factor on Sunday’s race, and that anything could happen.

“Quite satisfied. I mean, overall it’s awesome for Team Penske, 1-2-3-4 once again here. A testament to the team doing such a good job. Nothing’s lost. Tomorrow is a long race. Lots of tire wear. I’m hoping for a really strong showing,” he added.

WILL POWER – SECOND

Will Power fell three hundredths of a second short in his effort for the pole. Photo: IndyCar

Will Power’s championship hopes suffered a little on Saturday. At 69 points off the lead (counting the point Newgarden gets for securing the pole), his best chance was to maximize his point total this weekend, which of course starts with securing the bonus point for the pole.

Power made a valiant run at Newgarden, but his lap of 1:15.5556 fell three hundredths of a second short of Newgarden’s 1:15.5205.

Despite missing out on that valuable championship point, Power knows he is still in the hunt, and that bad days for his title rivals would open the door for him.

“It’s absolutely possible,” he said of his title chances. “I mean, you know, if Scott and Josef have a bad day, I mean, I can be right there. Yeah, see how it all plays out.”

Of note: Alexander Rossi, who is also still mathematically eligible, will start eighth.

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Power looks to overcome knee pain, 68-point gap at Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. – Will Power doesn’t have anything to lose this weekend at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion has the longest odds of Team Penske’s quartet to try to overcome in the battle for this year’s crown, entering the weekend 68 points back of teammate and championship leader Josef Newgarden.

But it was Newgarden who already helped give Power a helping hand – or back – in a quick media availability earlier today at Sonoma Raceway. Power sustained a knee injury when surfing earlier this week, and has been limping gingerly around the track.

Newgarden promptly carried Power on his back into the press conference, in a funny-looking piggyback ride. Power explained Thursday his condition for the weekend.

“As long as it’s bent, it’s no problem. It’s just straightening it is the issue. The good news in the car is you’re always bent knee,” Power said.

Power is only alive for the title thanks to double points, with his 68-point deficit outside the standard maximum points number of 54 points achievable for a win, a pole, leading one lap and leading the most laps. He can win the title with either first or second place, and a heck of a lot of help.

It’s been something of a roller coaster season for Power, who has three wins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Texas and Pocono, and a series-high six pole positions. But that’s been offset by four finishes of 19th place or worse, including at the double-points Indianapolis 500.

By contrast, the four drivers ahead of him have rarely been outside the top-10. Newgarden has four finishes outside the top-10 while Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves have only one each, and Simon Pagenaud two.

With the singular focus of trying to mirror his past Sonoma dominance – Power won three times between 2010 and 2013 here – a pole and win may not net Power the title but it could well throw a curveball, or monkey wrench, into the title fight among the other four drivers.

“I mean, I’m just focusing on getting the best out of the weekend. I’m really focusing on getting pole, winning the race. Then I put myself in the best possible position for something to happen to these guys,” he said.

“But, yeah, I mean, that’s all you can do. Really no different than any other race. Yeah, maybe a little less pressure because you’re not right there, but still very determined.”

Power no longer has Tim Cindric as his race strategist, with Cindric having moved over to Newgarden’s No. 2 car. But Cindric knows the psyche of Power, as the two achieved a wealth of success with the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, including that 2014 title together.

“I think he’ll probably go into it a bit more relaxed than other years. He’s certainly got nothing to lose,” Cindric admitted.

“I think he knows realistically it would have to be a really, really odd day in IndyCar racing for him to have a realistic shot at the championship. So I think he understands that.

“Obviously, he’d rather it be a different way. He’d rather be in the fight overall. But I do think he understands how important it is to the team, and he understands that he’s been in that position before. I’m sure he’ll be in that position again.

“Yeah, it’s unfortunate because I think he fought his way throughout the year to get back in that position, and he just finally got to that, then things didn’t go the right way, fell back out of that realistic opportunity. I think he’s obviously bummed about that.

“But, yeah, I think he’ll be doing everything he can to win the race.”