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.
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.