One of two historical markers will be achieved when it comes to deciding this year’s IZOD IndyCar Series championship at Auto Club Speedway, the MAVTV 500 at Fontana, Calif. this Saturday night.
Either Scott Dixon will match his numerological run of a title every five years (2003, 2008), or, Helio Castroneves will become the fifth straight driver to overtake the points leader in the final race.
Dixon has only been in contention for the title at the last race once in the last four years. At Homestead in 2009, he entered the weekend with a five point lead on teammate Dario Franchitti. That was erased when the Scotsman won as Dixon and Ryan Briscoe, Team Penske’s title challenger that year, needed an extra splash of fuel and finished in arrears.
But in each of the last three years, the other member of Team Penske, Will Power, has held the lead and managed to lose it every single time.
In 2010, it was due to contact at Turns 3 and 4 at Homestead. In 2011, Power was hit by another car in pit lane at Kentucky. And in 2012, at Fontana, Power lost control through Turns 1 and 2 and crashed out. Franchitti took the 2010 and 2011 crowns with Ryan Hunter-Reay winning last year’s.
Castroneves – who had led the points for 10 straight races through Houston Race 1 – now enters from a position of nothing to lose, rather than in a spot where he has the same pressure to keep the lead a la Power.
“That’s the mentality; we have nothing to lose, and we are going for it,” Castroneves said in a conference call last week. “Whatever it takes, we are going for it. Taking risks, taking every risk, to be honest, to put ourselves in that position. We feel as a team we have the equipment and we have the power, so we’ve just got to believe it.
“I know he’s strong enough mentally because he’s been in these situations,” Castroneves added of Dixon’s mental state. “But who knows what could happen.”
Castroneves enters 25 points down to Dixon. Any top-five result for Dixon secures the Ganassi driver the title, regardless of Castroneves’ result. A title for Castroneves would be the first of his 16-year IndyCar career and the first for Team Penske since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.