Team Penske qualifies for season finale like it did for season opener: 1-2-3-4

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In one of the most unique twists of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Team Penske is ending things the way it started out: 1-2-3-4.

That’s the same way Team Penske qualified for the season opener at St. Petersburg. Will Power took the pole (although missed the race with concussion-like symptoms), Simon Pagenaud was second, followed by Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya.

And now, as we prepare for Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Team Penske has again qualified and will start the race in 1-2-3-4 order.

This time, it’ll be Pagenaud on the pole, followed by Castroneves, Montoya and Power.

“What a great job by Team Penske to qualify 1-2-3-4,” Castroneves said Saturday. “It just shows how well we are working together.”

Added Montoya, “It’s nice to see Penske sweep the front two rows. I know we did it in St. Pete but didn’t start that way after Will couldn’t race. It’s neat to be a part of.”

While the big story of the day will end with the determination of whether Pagenaud or Power wins the championship, its start is rather unique in IndyCar annals.

But at the same time, however, Team Penske’s qualifying achievement isn’t a complete surprise. In this season’s 16 races, when it comes to Fast 6 showings, Pagenaud leads with nine, followed by Power with eight, Castroneves with seven and Montoya with four.

More so, as a team, the Penske boys have earned 28 of 60 total Fast 6 appearances this season. In addition to the 1-2-3-4 qualifying efforts at St. Petersburg and Sonoma, they also were part of the half-dozen fast pack in one other race.

Castroneves said he was “pretty confident” that he had won the pole, but Pagenaud’s late-session final run not only displaced Castroneves, it also earned Pagenaud another point for earning the pole.

Pagenaud now comes into Sunday’s race with a 44-point margin over Power for the championship, as opposed to the 43-point edge it had been coming into this weekend. With double points at stake, every extra point counts.

“What a dream season, seven poles, I mean it’s unbelievable,” Pagenaud said. “Obviously, I’m super excited. I knew we could do it, but this has not been my favorite track in the past (this is his first career pole at Sonoma). It doesn’t seem to be the case anywhere anymore.

“… That is what I call the animal instincts and you don’t think, you just go. This is the best moment when you can drive this way.”

Added Castroneves, “Man, that was so close! We’ve been fast all weekend and we showed it again today in qualifying. We felt good with our approach and the car was really consistent. I made just a little mistake and that probably cost us in the end because Simon was so fast, especially on red tires. Congratulations to Simon – that is good for him in the championship.”

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