What to watch for: ABC Supply 500 at Pocono (2 pm ET on NBCSN and Live Extra)

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Today’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra) sees the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season enter twilight as the countdown to the season finale at Sonoma next weekend continues.

The penultimate race of the year on Sunday will set the stage for the championship showdown, whittling the number of drivers bidding to follow in Will Power’s footsteps down from its current tally of ten down further.

The Sonoma finale may be worth double points, thus reducing the importance of this weekend’s race, but as the momentum continues to swing between the championship contenders, the pressure will be on the men leading the way.

Juan Pablo Montoya arrived in Pennsylvania with his advantage over Graham Rahal standing at just nine points following a recent dip in form.

The Colombian did his hopes of ending the rut few favors in qualifying on Saturday, finishing down in 19th place. Rahal, meanwhile, qualified fifth, six places ahead of Scott Dixon, currently third in the championship.

As the title fighters failed to seize the initiative at the front, it was Helio Castroneves who stormed to his fourth Verizon P1 Award of the 2015 season on Saturday at Pocono, heading up a Penske 1-2-3 as Simon Pagenaud and Will Power followed him at the top of the timesheets.

However, with 500 miles of racing coming up today, there is still everything to play for. Here are a few things to watch for in today’s ABC Supply 500.

A LITTLE HELP FROM JUAN’S FRIENDS? 

If any silver lining can be taken from Montoya’s 19th-place finish in qualifying on Saturday, it is that his teammates locked out the top three positions, thus creating the opportunity for Castroneves, Pagenaud and Power to get tactical.

If Penske can get some clever team movements working at the head of the field, and if Montoya can rediscover his pre-Iowa form, the Colombian may be able to make up for his qualifying misery.

CASTRONEVES, PAGENAUD, POWER BID TO END PENSKE RUT

That said, Montoya’s own championship aspirations are unlikely to come before those of the team. Despite taking seven pole positions in the nine races since the Indianapolis 500 in May, Penske has not won a race in that period. If there was ever a weekend for the team to get back in the groove, this is it.

Helio Castroneves is also in dear need of a win, given that he is yet to visit victory lane thus far in 2015. Will Power knows that his crown is slipping away, but a perfect finish to the year could give him a glimmer of hope. Pagenaud’s tough first year with Penske could yet be given some joy with a win at Pocono, meaning all three have more than the team game to play for this weekend.

KIMBALL GETS BACK IN THE SADDLE

The stand-out moment of qualifying on Saturday was Charlie Kimball’s terrifying crash at turn three, which despite damaging much of his Ganassi car and the catch fencing left the American driver with nothing more than a cut to his chin.

Kimball was unable to get out for practice later in the day, meaning that he will line up 23rd for the start of today’s race with limited track time. That said, after topping the first practice session of the weekend with some very impressive times, be sure to keep an eye on him fighting from the back.

RAHAL AND DIXON LOOK TO CAPITALIZE

With Montoya starting so far back, a golden opportunity has been handed to championship contenders Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon this weekend. Even though neither could make it into the top four on Saturday, both have won at ovals this year (Rahal in Fontana, Dixon in Texas), and should take heed from their performances there.

For as Dixon proved in Texas that qualifying and the race can be two different stories. He and Ganassi teammate Tony Kanaan could only qualify sixth and seventh at Texas Motor Speedway, yet both were untouchable in the race on the Sunday. Pocono could be where the championship swings into Dixon’s favor, or where Kanaan claims that elusive first win in 2015.

PARTY POOPERS

As with any good drama, there are always villains and spoilers that look to ruin the fun of the main cast (or in our case, the title fighters). Josef Newgarden continued his good run in 2015 to qualify fourth on Saturday, whilst the Andretti trio of Carlos Munoz, Justin Wilson and Ryan Hunter-Reay could be a force to be reckoned with starting sixth to eighth.

Elsewhere, keep an eye out for Takuma Sato (starting P9), Sebastien Bourdais (P10) and even the likes of Ryan Briscoe and Marco Andretti fighting from the back of the pack.

You can watch the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2 pm ET on Sunday.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”