MAVTV 500 2014
Power Pounds for Points
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Fri, Aug 29, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Brian Kennedy
You’ll enjoy the spectacle of IndyCar racing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana Friday and Saturday no matter who wins. It’s impossible for it to be otherwise. The noise, the smell of exhaust, the way the enormous track dwarfs the cars, how they look flying down the back straightaway with palm trees, mountains, and a railroad in the background, all of this makes for an enchanting experience.
But you’ll enjoy it slightly more knowing what’s really at stake in terms of the World Championship that’s up for grabs amongst four drivers (of the 22 or more who will start).
Well, maybe “up for grabs” is a bit exaggerated. More like “Will Power’s to lose,” but he didn’t help himself—much—on Sunday the 24th, when he had the chance to solidify a huge lead over nearest rival Helio Castroneves in the second-to-last race of the season in Sonoma. To put this in perspective, this is the third time in his career that Power has led the points race this late in the season. He has never closed out the year as champion yet.
In Sonoma, Power started on pole, Castroneves sixth. Just sitting on that lead would have helped Power out considerably, and anyone who watches racing knows that passing on road courses is tough. Sometimes, pit strategy is what helps, but Castroneves did Power a huge favor early by getting caught up in not one, but two, incidents.
The first one happened on the first turn. Power jumped out ahead of the pack, leaving a tangle behind him that saw some cars spin and others bang into each other. Castroneves damaged his front wing in the event, and so when they restarted on lap 5, Power once again jumped out front and Castroneves was 17th. It was the tenth race Power had led this year.
On lap 22, Castroneves pitted for the third time to try to get on a different strategy than the field. He reentered the race in last place, 22nd, and was 63 seconds behind the leader.
Things were going along well for Power, who was no longer in the lead by lap 36, when Scott Dixon took the lead in the pits. Then on 40, Conway made a brave inside move to grab that spot. Meanwhile, Power, almost for no reason, spun his car coming out of the hairpin turn and ended up in 20th spot, behind Castroneves and with his points lead shrunk to 41. In addition, while trying to avoid the spin, he’d cooked his tires and so didn’t have much to attack with in trying to get back ahead of his rival. This despite the fact that Castoneves had had another incident of contact in the field.
By lap 50, the two title rivals were 16th and 17th, with Power behind, and at lap 54, Power was both loose and slow and had a partly off-track run coming out of a turn. The lead was being contested for by Graham Rahal, who had it for a long while, mainly on pit strategy, and way back in the pack, Power was 15th, at least now ahead of Castroneves and in the clear for the championship by 48 points. With 7 laps to go, Power was 14th and his challenger 20th, but he wouldn’t leave well enough alone. Power, that is.
On the last lap, trying to solidify tenth place, Power came out of the final turn and squeezed between two cars, hit Bourdais, and barely cleared the wall. He appeared to finish 9th, but the corner he made the mad pass in was under yellow, and so when it shook out, the stewards had moved him back to 10th.
He led 33 of 85 laps, obviously early on, and did make a charge from 12th to 9th (which became 10th) on the last lap to put Castroneves further back, his points totaling 626 to his nearest competitor’s 575, so a 51 point lead. That, on a normal weekend, would make it his championship to hold, because typically 50 points are available to the winner of a race and one is available for pole, one for leading a lap, and two for leading the most laps. So the most Castroneves could make up would be 54, and that assumes that Power gets none, which obviously would not be the case if he made it to Cali and started the race. (Assuming there are 22 entrants, finish last would pay 8 points.) But at Fontana, as the series’ culmination for the year, the points are doubled. 100 points plus the four bonus ones are thus up for the taking, and so the championship is very much alive.
It would be perhaps more certain that things could go topsy-turvy had not Power suddenly, starting with a win in the last race last year, become an oval master.
Last fall, he won the Fontana event, and this year took the oval victory at Milwaukee, after which he was heard to shout on his radio, “I love winning on ovals.” He got creampuffs jammed in his ears in victory lane and had to go to the hospital for that after, but he’d likely win again if he could, especially as there’s no dairy/creampuff tradition for the winner to endure in Fontana. Nonetheless, the point is this—after losing both the race and the points championship in 2012 at Fontana (Ed Carpenter won the race), Power determined to get that win in 2013, even though the championship was not his to earn by that point. He did win the race, and it made him a new man.
The Milwaukee win was one of three this year for Power, the other two coming on street circuits (St. Petersburg, FL, and Detroit). Castroneves has one win, also at Detroit, a dual-race weekend.
Distantly third in points, by the way, is Simon Pagenaud, who could, mathematically, still win the season’s title. He’s back by 81 coming into Fontana with 545 points, two wins, and one pole on the year.
So there’s more to take in than just what happens on track any given lap in this, the bigger story of the season’s championship. But knowing this makes each lap more intense and interesting, and in a race as long as this one—250 laps, 500 miles, and perhaps three hours—there will be a lot of ups and downs, comings and goings, and being at the track, you’ll see the whole story unfold, rather than just the limited version of things that TV is limited to showing you.
Stay tuned to LA Car for more information about qualifying Friday and driver reactions to what’s happening to them as the weekend unfolds.