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FIRESTONE 600 SET TO PLAY PIVOTAL ROLE IN CHAMPIONSHIP
FORT WORTH, Texas (Aug. 24, 2016) - It’s a whole new race for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship and the resumption of Saturday night’s Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway is going to play a pivotal role in determining the eventual champion.
By winning the weather-delayed race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway on Monday, Team Penske’s Will Power claimed his fourth victory in the last six races to close to 20 points of teammate and championship leader Simon Pagenaud.
Power held off pole sitter Mikhail Aleshin by 1.1459 seconds on the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” oval to collect the 29th win of his Indy-car career. It tied him with a pair of Team Penske greats for 11th on the all-time victory list - Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves.
Meanwhile, Pagenaud crashed out of the race on Lap 158 and finished 18th. The result severely trimmed the Frenchman’s lead over Power by 38 points with three races remaining – Saturday night at Texas, Watkins Glen (Sept. 4) and Sonoma (Sept. 18).
Pagenaud entered Monday’s race at Pocono with a 58-point lead over Power, but lost nearly two thirds of that cushion after ending his race against the wall on lap 158.
“The car bottomed and I went straight to the wall,” he said. “It was really weird because I had bottoming, but not to that extent. I just lost control of the steering. It felt OK leaving the pits. Turn 1 was fine. Turn 2 was fine. I don’t know. We didn’t have a really good car, but still it was important to score points. It was important to save fuel and stay in the top seven.”
“We still have this championship [lead],” Kyle Moyer, Pagenaud’s race strategist, said. “It’s going to be a big fight leaving here.”
Moyer is correct, as a closer look as to how 20 points can be overcome shows there is little margin for error in the final three races.
The difference of 20 points is first to fourth in a regular race, first to second when the points are doubled. Also keep in mind that Power has won at Texas Motor Speedway (2011) and Pagenaud has not. The next race is at Watkins Glen, where Power has won but Pagenaud has not, and Sonoma, where Power has won three times and Pagenaud has not.
It’s not like Pagenaud is giving Power the legitimate chance to win a second title; his first was in 2014. The Frenchman won recently at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the accident in Monday’s race was his first of the season. Until that point, he had completed all but one of the laps this season, that coming in the Indianapolis 500. He’s under fire now, and he knows it.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now, so we’ll move on to Texas,” he said. “I don’t think it changes anything. We’ve gone all out all season and that’s not going to change.”
Team Penske started the race at Pocono with three drivers holding the top three positions in the championship, but that trend was broken when Helio Castroneves was involved in a scary pit lane crash with Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi that ended their days just 63 laps into the 200-lap contest.
Josef Newgarden took over third in the standings from Castroneves with a fourth-place finish Monday. His rise into the top three is likely to be temporary, however, because Saturday night’s race at Texas is set to run without the No. 21 Chevy in the field due to his crash with Conor Daly prior to the rain stoppage in June.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who started 19th, motored to sixth at Pocono and used those points to move to fourth in the championship. Castroneves is now fifth.
And while it might just be the two Penske teammates fighting it out at the top, there is not much distance between the next group of drivers. Newgarden (-100 behind Pagenaud), Dixon (-111), Castroneves (-113) and Tony Kanaan (-117) have the most realistic shot at breaking into those top two spots with the final three races – starting at Texas Saturday – on the horizon.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s conclusion of the Firestone 600 that will resume on Lap 72 of 248, Power will re-start the race in fourth after starting seventh. Pagenaud, who started one place ahead of his teammate, has dropped back to 15th.
”¢ Simon Pagenaud leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with three races to be completed for the first time in his career.
”¢ Simon Pagenaud leads Will Power by 20 points. Pagenaud has led the championship since the second race of the season at Phoenix. With 54 maximum points available at Texas, the points lead could change for the second time in 2015.
”¢ There are 15 drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship: Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin. Any driver who trails the points leader by 158 points or more following the race will be eliminated from contention.
”¢ Three drivers were eliminated from championship contention at Pocono on Aug. 22 - Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti and Conor Daly.
”¢ Since the first Indy car race at Texas in 1997, the winning driver has won the championship six times: Sam Hornish Jr (2001 Race 2; 2002 Race 2); Tony Kanaan (2004 Race 1), Scott Dixon (2008 and 2015) and Dario Franchitti (2011 Race 1).
Key championship point statistic: The driver who has led the championship with three races to go has failed to win the championship in five of the last six seasons. Will Power in 2014 is the exception.
Point differential: The 20 points which separate Simon Pagenaud and Will Power is the third smallest margin with three races remaining since 2010. Will Power led Helio Castroneves by four points in 2014 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by five points in 2012. The average deficit with three races to go since 2010 is 23.16 points.
Championship-eligible drivers' results at Texas: Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Will Power have all won races at Texas Motor Speedway. Castroneves, Dixon and Kanaan have seven podium finishes. Pagenaud's best finish was fourth in 2014. Newgarden (who will not participate in the race's resumption due to crash on June 12) has never finished better than eighth.