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VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES TITLE RACE APPEARS TO BE TWO-MAN RACE
The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series title chase appears to have come down to Team Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.
Power blamed himself for being overtaken late by Pagenaud in the last race at Mid-Ohio in July. The victory by the Frenchman gives him a 58-point lead over Power with only four races to go in the season.
Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves is in third 111 points behind Pagenaud. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden is 120 back. Defending series champion Scott Dixon and Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan are each 127 points behind.
Those drivers still have a chance as race winners receive 50 points. A few bonus points are available for winning the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying (one point), leading a race lap (one) and most laps led in a race (two). The season finale at Sonoma offers double race points (100 for the winner), which means those chasing need to stay in the hunt until then.
“I just want it to be one of them,” Team Penske president Tim Cindric said of Pagenaud and Power. “I want to go into Sonoma thinking it’s one or the other. That’s all I care about.
“We just need to keep doing what we’re doing, let those guys race it out, but make sure we don’t let these other guys back in the game. They’re more than capable. Dixon can win the last four races, no problem. He’s shown that.”
Dixon, a four-time series champion, has won at each of the four remaining tracks ”” Pocono (Aug. 21), Texas Motor Speedway (Aug. 27), Watkins Glen (Sept. 4) and Sonoma (Sept. 18).
Before celebrating his series-best fourth win of the season at Mid-Ohio, Pagenaud also mentioned Dixon as the driver who elicits the most concern.
“I’m actually excited about it. It’s great for the fans. I think it’s going to be a good show. It’s down to the wire,” said Pagenaud. “I tell you, Scott Dixon is going to be there at the end. He’s going to come back. There are a few tracks he’s really strong at, quite dominant. Dixon, in my opinion, is the biggest threat.”
Dixon crashed out at Mid-Ohio in last place after tangling with Castroneves. Even if the New Zealander finishes strong, he’ll need Pagenaud and Power to falter more than once.
“(Pagenaud) should probably be a little more worried about his teammate,” Dixon said, referring to Power. “(Power is) on a pretty good roll there.
Dixon just hopes to give himself a chance.
“Simon has had a pretty smooth year," he said. "It’s just whether we have enough time left.”
Power has had an exceptional run of late with three wins and two runner-up finishes in the last five races. But if anyone knows what it’s like to finish second in the points, it’s the Australian native. He was runner-up in three consecutive seasons and then fourth before finally breaking through with a series title in 2014. He finished third last year to Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya.
“This is the type of the year you’d think you’d be clear for the championship,” Power said.
If not for missing the season-opening race at St. Petersburg with an inner-ear infection, Power suggested the title chase would be “bloody close.” Power won the pole in qualifying before sitting out the race.
Pagenaud finished second in the race as part of his own impressive five-race stretch, starting the season with two runner-up showings followed by three consecutive wins. In this breakout year for him in his second season of driving for Roger Penske, he’s finished worse than 13th only once, 19th at the Indianapolis 500.
As he closes in on what could be his first series championship, Pagenaud reiterated the key is to worry about himself and not anyone else.
“You can focus on that battle and everything, but at the end of the day, it’s you and the car, right?” he said. “I’ve got to reproduce special moments. If I do that, I don’t have a worry in the world.
“I have the best car, I’m driving really well this year, I just need to keep putting my foot down and things will take care of itself.”