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IndyCar: Power vs. Pagenaud shaping up to be classic championship battle

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When an inner ear infection caused him to miss the season-opening race at St. Petersburg – and all the potential points that came with it – it appeared Will Power would have a hard time making up that lost ground.

Some observers even wondered if perhaps Power’s season was already over before it had even started.

But not only has he made up that lost ground, Power has stomped and trampled and pounded that ground, particularly in the last five races.

Just when it appeared Penske Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud would make the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season championship a runaway, Power has suddenly given IndyCar fans what they want: a real championship battle.

Power has won three of the last five races, and finished second in the other two, to climb from 12th to second in the standings with four races remaining.

In addition, he’s cut deeply into Pagenaud’s lead, to the point where entering Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Power is just 58 points behind his teammate. Granted, Pagenaud scored a seismic win at Mid-Ohio that saved the gap from closing even more.

With four races remaining – including Pocono – Power looks to continue as the hottest driver in the series, while Pagenaud continues to do anything and everything to protect his lead.

“We’re in the championship hunt and that’s all I could ask at this point after missing the first race,” Power said. “The whole team has worked so hard to get ourselves back in it. We just need to finish strong.”

Pagenaud won the most recent IndyCar race, his series-leading fourth of the season, nearly three weeks ago at Mid-Ohio.

And as the pair head to Pocono this weekend, they’re literally in a dead heat when it comes to who might have an advantage at the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle.”

In three prior starts at Pocono, Power has two fourth-place finishes (2013 and 2015) and a 10th place showing (2014), giving him an average finish of 6.0 (an and average start of 3.0).

Pagenaud, meanwhile, is just a tick behind Power with an average finish of 6.3, the result of a pair of sixth-place finishes in 2013 and 2014, and a seventh-place showing last year (plus an overall start of 7.0).

Frankly, Sunday is anybody’s race. And with Pocono being the kickoff to the final fourth of the season, instead of Team Penske’s all for one and one for all team attitude, it’s more of every man for himself when it comes to the championship battle between Power and Pagenaud.

“The Verizon Chevrolet team is ready for Pocono,” Power said. “We have a lot of momentum right now and it’s a track that we’ve had some good performances.

“It’s a track made for these cars. There is a lot of passing and jockeying for position.”

While Power is clearly on the attack and wants to close the points gap on his teammate, Pagenaud, meanwhile, is trying to take more of a relaxed, one race at a time approach.

“Pocono has such a great history with Indy car racing,” he said. “The list of winners at the track is amazing. The track was designed with these cars in mind.

“The racing produces a lot of passing and lead changes. It’s very similar to Indianapolis in many ways. … I like the gains we’ve made in our oval-racing program. Pocono suits our team very well and it will be a very competitive race.”

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IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.