Castroneves can be fifth straight driver to overtake points leader in final race

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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.

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski