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.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.