Power, Newgarden and Castroneves run out of luck in championship hunt (VIDEO)

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Six drivers entered Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with something resembling a chance to win the 2015 Verizon IndyCar championship.

At the end it was Scott Dixon celebrating as everyone else was left to look back at the 85-lap race and figure out what went wrong.

For Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves, it is easy to pinpoint the causes of their demise.

In Castroneves’ case, it began very early. The only driver among the six eligible who hadn’t won a race this year, the Penske driver started 15th and had to bring his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet to pit road on Lap 3 after somehow damaging his front wing during the start.

The wing replaced, Castroneves returned to the track but never recovered, finishing exactly where he started.

Castroneves finishes the 2015 season fifth in points. Despite winning three Indianapolis 500s, has still yet to win a championship after 19 seasons in IndyCar/CART.

“We know we did have a fast Hitachi Chevy today but because of a bad qualifying we put ourselves in a tough position,” Castroneves said in a release.

“I’m disappointed for everyone at Team Penske and especially for Juan Pablo (Montoya) and the No. 2 car team, leading the championship up until the end. To have the team finish second just doesn’t seem right. But this team is strong we’ll come back even stronger next year.”

Power had earned his fifth Sonoma pole in eight visits to the road course, and was looking to turn that into a win and his second-straight championship.

The Australian led 26 of the opening 34 laps when the first caution came out. He and many of the leaders pitted while others stayed out. On Lap 39 restart, the field raced through Turn 5 when disaster struck from an unlikely source: Montoya.

The points leader struck Power’s rear, sending his No. 1 Chevrolet into the dirt.

“Unfortunately, the yellows came at the wrong time for the Verizon Chevy which has been the case all year for us,” Power said. “It is an absolute lottery. I feel horrible for Juan. Josef (Newgarden) went up on the inside and I went to switch back off of him and I damaged Juan’s wing. Then the yellow (flag) started and that set the day there.”

With the help of other cautions and having a better car, Power worked his way back through field to finish seventh, ending his season third in the point standings.

Newgarden, who started second, never led a lap in the race and found his chances at a title disappear on pit road over the course of two stops.

The first occurred on Lap 14. Newgarden was in his pit stall behind Power when the latter’s teammate, Simon Pagenaud, stopped his No. 22 Chevrolet next to Newgarden’s stall, which allowed Power to exit his stall cleanly. Newgarden, unable to exit properly, drove through Power’s pit stall.

With 23 laps remaining, Newgarden’s No. 67 stalled in its pit stall. Moments later a small fire broke out near the fuel nozzle that was quickly put out. The team struggled to refire the car before sending Newgarden back into the race. The two-time winner this season would finish 21st, one lap down and end the season in eighth.

“It was a good day in a lot of ways, we definitely had a podium car,’ Newgarden said in a release. “I really sealed our fate when I stalled the car and we just weren’t able to get it re-fired. It put us pretty far back and pretty much ended our day.

“It was hard to throw away a podium car, maybe even a winning car. I am proud of our effort all year, I feel really bad for putting us in a bad position at the end there.”

Scott McLaughlin will make IndyCar debut for Team Penske at St. Pete

Scott McLaughlin IndyCar debut
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Two-time defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with Team Penske in the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

McLaughlin, 27, drove for Penske in preseason IndyCar testing at Circuit of the Americas, Sebring International Raceway (in a rookie evaluation) and Texas Motor Speedway, and he was announced Feb. 5 as making his debut with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delayed the start of the season.

Travel restrictions also made it difficult for the New Zealand native to leave Australia, where he leads the points for DJR Team Penske in the Virgin Australia Supercars series with three races remaining. He set a Supercars record last season with 18 victories.

The Supercars season will conclude Oct. 18 with the prestigious 24 Hours of Bathurst. McLaughlin then will head directly to the States to drive the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet at St. Pete as a teammate of Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” McLaughlin, who also has won at Barber and Indianapolis while unofficially finishing first in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, said in a release. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my IndyCar debut.”

McLaughlin, whose wife, Karly, is from New York, said he has discussed racing in America with car owner Roger Penske since he was hired by the team for the 2017 season.

“I’ve always said I’d love to have a crack at something else,” McLaughlin told reporters in February during the preseason test at Austin, Texas. “My goal was always to win the championship in Bathurst and Australia. I ticked those boxes, and then opportunities arise over time. The conversation between me and Roger was pretty short. ‘Would you be interested in IndyCar?’ I’d literally drive a wheelbarrow with a Team Penske sticker on it. I’d race anything that comes with the opportunity.

“I’ve always intended I’d love to get America one day potentially if I’ve done my goals in Australia. I’ve always said whether it’s now or 30 years down the track, I’d love to finish up (in America). I’ve promised Karly that we would come back here eventually. She’s not pushing me by any means, but I’ve always had a passion for American motorsport and certainly would love the opportunity.”

McLaughlin also has indicated a desire to try racing in NASCAR for Team Penske. He discussed his comfort with stock cars during a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast (click on the link below to hear it).

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (September 17, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that Scott McLaughlin, the current Virgin Australia Supercars Championship points leader, is scheduled to make his long-awaited NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the series’ 2020 season finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday, October 25.

The two-time and defending Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) was set to compete in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race earlier this year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the COVID-19 global pandemic forced several delays and postponements on racing schedules, along with international travel restrictions. Before the pandemic shutdown, McLaughlin participated in the INDYCAR SERIES preseason open test at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, where he ran consistently well and posted the third-fastest time of the test session. The 27-year-old native of New Zealand also competed in separate tests at the Sebring International Raceway road course and the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” said McLaughlin. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my INDYCAR debut. I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop. I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”

McLaughlin currently leads the Supercars point standings with just three rounds of competition remaining on the 2020 schedule. McLaughlin has produced a series-best 10 wins and 10 poles and holds a 143-point lead over Jamie Whincup entering this weekend’s race at The Bend. Over the course of his Supercars career, McLaughlin has won an impressive 53 races and 71 poles, while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019 and winning the driver’s title in each of the last two seasons. He also earned his first win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in 2019 with co-driver Alex Premat. Though he is in just his fourth season competing for Team Penske, McLaughlin already ranks third on the organization’s all-time wins list, trailing only Brad Keselowski and Mark Donohue.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin made his “virtual” INDYCAR debut, competing in the series’ iRacing Challenge and winning two races among the full field of current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers that were competing against each other while traditional racing was put on hold.

“Our plan has always been for Scott to run a race in the INDYCAR SERIES this season, but we never wanted to take the focus away from the main goal, which is winning another Supercars Championship,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric. “COVID-19 certainly altered those plans early on, but with the way the schedules have lined up at the end of this season, St. Pete became an available option and we remain committed to getting him some INDYCAR seat time. We know Scott is ready for this challenge and this should add even more excitement to the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg.”

McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was postponed from its original date in March and will now take place on Sunday, October 25. The race on the 1.8-mile street circuit will be seen live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with radio coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network and SIRIUS XM.