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IndyCar Open Wheel

Pagenaud Falls Short In Defense Of Crown

The odds were not in his favor entering the final chapter of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series on Sunday; however, Simon Pagenaud fought hard to keep his No. 1 plate for another year.

Going off-sequence with an aggressive, four-stop pit strategy to move from the second row of the grid to the top spot by the end of the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the Frenchman did what he had to do to win his second title. But, the needed luck unfortunately never came about. Despite driving the wheels off his DXC Chevrolet, even going off course on back-to-back laps at the challenging turn nine chicane, the veteran never gave way. Pagenaud managed to reach the checkered flag first, but his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden finished behind him in second, just enough to take his first series championship by 13 points.

“It was Kyle Moyer’s (race engineer) idea to go with four stops, it was a great call from and probably the only way we could win (today),” said Pagenaud to IndyCar Radio after the race. “We did everything we could do, but Josef did enough to hold us off, he deserves it.”

It is not that Pagenaud has had a bad season in 2017; it is just a step below what he achieved in 2016. In his championship-clinching campaign, the Chevrolet pilot opened the year with an astounding first five races where he either won the event or placed second. With the big surge, not even a two-race skid at Indy and Detroit, nor a similar dominant phase from Australia’s Will Power with six straight podiums could deny the French-based chauffeur from lifting the Astor Cup.

This year, the win count dropped from five a season ago, to just two including Sunday’s win at Sonoma; however, the Frenchman was much more consistent as a front-runner. After claiming 10 top-five’s in 2016, Pagenaud improved the count to 13 in 2017. Unfortunately, the same two rounds that hampered him a season ago, were prevalent in keeping his name off the championship trophy this time around. Despite having a goal to win the Indianapolis 500, the Frenchman struggled throughout May, only qualifying on the eighth row and settling for a 14th-place finish. The following weekend at The Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan was equally challenging, and he was credited with a 16th in the first of two scheduled events.

While Newgarden also was a non-factor at the Brickyard, placing 19th after being collected in a late-race pile-up in llturn two, a similar run of wins and runner-ups in rounds 12 through 15 were enough to top Pagenaud’s results. The Frenchman was equally strong though, posting no finishes worse than ninth in Toronto.

“We won the race. It wasn’t enough,” explained Pagenaud after the race. “It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong at every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year.”

Although the make-up of Team Penske next year is still in question with whether Helio Castroneves will return to contest the full season in 2018 or not, most of the key players are in place for Pagenaud, Newgarden, and Will Power should be back in full force. If the transition to a new look Dallara DW12 causes a few headaches, the experience should keep the Captain’s trio or quartet near the front of the proceedings, and if things work out, Simon Pagenaud may reclaim his title in 365 days time.

Still, when one looks back on his 2017 campaign, a runner-up placing is far from a failure.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

POINTS OUTLOOK: Newgarden Continues Dominant Run At St. Louis

It was not without controversy, but Josef Newgarden has moved another step closer to securing his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

After taking the checkered flag first in Saturday night’s Bommarito Auto Group 500k at Gateway Motorsports Park, his third victory in the last four events, the Tennessee-native added another ten points to his lead in the standings. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who placed second behind Newgarden, heads into Watkins Glen International in upstate New York trailing by 28 points. In this case, that’s the difference between a victory and a ninth-place finish.

While the New Zealander’s result on Saturday keeps him within shouting distance of the Team Penske pilot, the tide seems to be moving away from the four-time IndyCar champion. While Newgarden has outclassed the competition in recent weeks, the St. Louis output was the Iceman’s first top-five effort, since his victory at the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America two months ago.

Dixon continues to represent Honda’s case for the championship, and although it remains a solid one after 15 of 17 races, the chances for success still favor the quartet from Team Penske. Despite that reality, the potential for the title going toward one of the other three members of the Captain’s trio not named Josef certainly took a hit at Gateway.

After winning the pole position on Friday, Will Power entered the proceedings Saturday as a bonafide threat to possibly enter the final two acts of the 2017 season at the top of the standings. However, things were altered substantially in just two corners. After losing out to Newgarden on the start, the Australian suddenly lost control of his No. 12 Chevrolet exiting turn two and made contact with the outside wall. The incident was made even worse when Ed Carpenter also spun and then launched over the top of Power.

Neither driver suffered injuries in the shunt, but the resulting 20th-place effort all but ends the road course ace’s hopes for a second IndyCar crown. Now 74 points adrift heading to New York next week, the Australian may need to not only win the final two races, but also have problems strike the other contenders to have any shot at a championship celebration.

With Power’s chances on life support, his fellow teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud may each look back on Saturday’s race as one that featured missed opportunities. The Brazilian looked poised to back up his win at Iowa Speedway last month, building a three-second advantage on Newgarden just past half-distance.

The chance to aid his case for the title suffered a setback, however; when the three-time Indy 500 champion stalled his engine on his second to last pit stop, dropping him from first to the fourth position, where he would end up at the checkered flag.

Pagenaud meanwhile, had run in the top-three all evening and then vaulted to first during the final round of pit stops, which took place under the yellow flag. The Frenchman appeared stout following the restart, but could not hold off a surging Newgarden, who cleared the Menards Chevy entering turn one with 30 laps to go. The two drivers made contact, forcing Pagenaud to chase his car up the banking. The close call allowed Dixon to overtake the Penske chauffeur and despite attempts to regain the second spot, Pagenaud would settle for third.

Looking ahead to the penultimate round of the 2017 IndyCar season, the pressure to control one’s own destiny at the finale in Sonoma, California will be paramount. Despite maintaining his second-place classification, Scott Dixon may have the toughest road to victory. While the New Zealander-based driver has four wins in the ten editions of the Grand Prix at the Glen, he does not have the better car and engine option in 2017.

As for the Penske quartet, Power must match his 2010 triumph in New York to stay in the running, while his three teammates must avoid the bad finish. Momentum is critical at this point of a title chase, and for now, Josef Newgarden has it. Now the question staring ahead of the visor-shielded eyes is simple: can he maintain it?

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Gateway Motorsports Park

With only three races for Firestone Fantasy Challenge players, the opportunity to gain ground is getting limited.

That is certainly the case for yours truly, as my quartet for last weekend’s ABC Supply 500 failed to impress. To recover lost ground, those who fared well at Pocono Raceway’s “Tricky Triangle,” have been called upon to rake in the points as the Verizon IndyCar Series competes at the Gateway Motorsports Park oval for the first time since 2003.

Last week’s winner Will Power from Team Penske leads this Sunday’s foursome. Although known more for his exploits on road courses, the Australian has exceeded expectations on ovals in 2017. Two of his three triumphs have been oval-based, and he has a second and a fourth also on the scorecard. The only blemish suffered was a 21st-place finish at the Indianapolis 500, when Power was eliminated in a multi-car accident, not of his own doing.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan is not the same victory threat across the board that he was when he started his efforts in IndyCar in 2003. However, the Brazilian continues to remain potent on the high-speed layouts, earning a top-ten finish in every oval race so far this season. While not normally a good value concerning fantasy-wise, TK has earned his place on my team this weekend.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand unexpectedly struggled at Pocono, only placing 19th after suffering contact with James Hinchcliffe. Despite the setback, the Californian has excelled on the shorter ovals in 2017, collecting his two best finishes to date. He placed third behind two Penske cars at Phoenix and settled for runner-up honors at Iowa Speedway.

Alexander Rossi rounds out my roster for St. Louis, but may have the lowest credentials on oval tracks compared to the other members of the trio. But, the 2016 Indy 500 champion has momentum, collecting top-six results in each of the last three rounds.

With the oval portion of the schedule coming to a close, expect the edge Honda may have had on Chevrolet at Pocono to be lessened at St. Louis. If that plays out, Team Penske could take over the proceedings much as they did at Phoenix Raceway.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Power Joins Elite Group With Career Pole Position No. 50

MADISON, Illinois (Friday, Aug. 25, 2017) – Andretti, Foyt, Castroneves … and now Power.

Will Power joined an elite group of 50-time Indy car pole winners when he captured the Verizon P1 Award in record fashion this evening at Gateway Motorsports Park. Power will lead the Verizon IndyCar Series field to the green flag to start Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline.

BOMMARITO AUTOMOTIVE GROUP 500: Qualifying results

Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power turned two laps at an average of 189.642 mph under twilight conditions. Power’s first lap of 189.709 mph (23.7206 seconds) shattered the 20-year-old track record set by Raul Boesel (24.324 seconds, 187.963 mph) in qualifying for the first Indy car race at the 1.25-mile, egg-shaped oval in 1997.

With 50 poles in his 13-year Indy car career, Power is tied with Helio Castroneves for third on the all-time list. The Team Penske teammates trail only legends Mario Andretti (67) and A.J. Foyt (53) in Indy car annals.

“The Verizon Chevy is very quick, obviously,” Power said. “Fantastic, 50 poles. Wow! I never would have dreamed of that when I started. I am very humbled to be up there with A.J. Foyt and Helio Castroneves.”

Power, who won last week’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, collected his sixth pole position of the season and led a Team Penske sweep of the first four qualifying spots. Championship leader Josef Newgarden was second in the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet (188.316 mph).

“I knew it would be tough to keep Will out of that top spot,” said Newgarden, who equaled his season-best qualifying effort of second accomplished last month at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “Sure, I would like to have the pole position, but we’re right there. I think we’ll get there, so it’s nothing that’s super disappointing or anything. We’ll start second and see what happens.”

Castroneves was third in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet (187.457 mph) and 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud fourth in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet (186.747 mph).

Power has now won six or more pole positions in four seasons (eight each in 2010 and ’11, six in 2015). Team Penske has won 10 of the 15 pole positions this season and now has 255 poles in its Indy car history.

“Very gratifying,” Power said. “We got all four Penske guys up there. … I love oval racing. It was something that took me time to learn, but once I learned it, it has been good.”

Team owner/driver Ed Carpenter was the top non-Penske qualifier, ranking fifth in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing (184.528 mph). Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato was sixth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (184.186 mph).

Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais made his return to competition following the May 20 crash in Indianapolis 500 qualifying that left the four-time Indy car champion with factures to his right hip and pelvis. Bourdais qualified 19th in the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda.

“It was a disappointing qualifying run,” Bourdais said. “I knew coming in that it was going to be somewhat difficult. I don’t have the confidence and I didn’t get a good read on the qualifying trim in our simulation run in practice, so we stayed a bit careful with the balance of the car and I wasn’t aggressive enough with it.

“It’s a bit of a shame. The guys did a really good job and the car is actually pretty good in race trim, so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

With three races remaining in the 2017 season, Newgarden holds an 18-point lead over Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who qualified seventh (183.848 mph). Castroneves trails Newgarden by 22 points, Pagenaud is 26 points back and Power, with the point earned for winning the pole, is 41 points behind the leader.

A taped replay of qualifying airs at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN. The 21-car field returns for a pit stop practice/competition that takes place at 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Indy cars raced at Gateway Motorsports Park annually from 1997-2003, but this year marks the Verizon IndyCar Series’ first return since then. Live coverage of the 248-lap event begins at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.  

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IndyCar Open Wheel

What We Learned from ABC Supply 500 at Pocono

The Big Picture:  It’s a sprint to the finish for the remainder of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Four races to go including Pocono, with two ovals and two fabulous road courses. Pocono is a late-comer in the schedule but has much to offer the series in terms of being a competitive venue.

Event:  And yet, NASCAR also runs here, and in front of much larger crowds than IndyCar draws. If the series and the track are willing to take the time to build this into a quality event, the bones are there.

Qualifying:  It looked for some time as if Simon Pagenaud was going to take the pole with his two blistering laps. Then Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed during his run, injuring himself in the process. The only driver left to go was RHR’s teammate, Takuma Sato. Whether it was timing or track conditions, the 2017 Indianapolis 500 victor easily picked up pole position.

Race: The ABC Supply 500 may just be the event of the year. There were 42 lead changes among 10 different competitors, adding suspense with fans continuing to try and guess the winner almost until the end.  Four drivers led more than 30 laps: Scott Dixon, 51; Alexander Rossi, 44; Will Power, 34; and Tony Kanaan, 32. They all had solid performances and would have been deserving victors. Power prevailed, though, for  his 32nd IndyCar  triumph to put him  in sole possession of ninthplace in overall victories in series history. In addition, the Australian is the first ICS driver to win backtoback at Pocono.

Biggest Surprise:  Will Power’s come from behind victory. First, he had to pit for a broken front wing assembly on Lap 66, putting him a lap down. Later, he had to pit for a new rear wing. But he was able to get back on the lead lap and fight his way through the field, finally retaking the top spot for the final 10 laps.

Biggest Disappointment:  When the race was over.

Best Team:  Team Penske, mostly because they won the race but also because the four drivers work well together.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  ABC Supply, in addition to being one of A.J. Foyt’s major sponsors, also sponsored the race.

What We Learned:  That Will Power is still as awesome as he ever was. That under the right conditions, superspeedway racing can be the most exciting way to compete. Also, that this race deserves some serious investment because the quality is there.

Schedule:  On August 26th, the final oval of the year, when IndyCar returns to Gateway for hopefully a great race under the lights.

Quotes of the Weekend:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “What a crazy day for us. I mean, we had a really strong car. The Verizon Chevrolet was getting back to the front, and then suddenly, boom, the wing broke. Lucky I didn’t hit the wall. We went a lap down, and then I was thinking to be smart and anything can happen. You get your lap back and get through the field, and that’s exactly what we did. So very, very good day. Once I got my lap back, I was like, all right, it’s game on. I can definitely get back up there. I was thinking like top 5, but when I was pumping out like 217 laps, I’m like, okay, we’re going to make some serious hay here. The crew guys did a fantastic job in the pits having to do all that and still able to go ahead and win the race.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I’ve been through 500 miles plenty of times, but I’m just beat after this one. It was a great run though, we started with a lot of downforce since we started at the back of the field. Because we didn’t have a final practice or warmup after qualifying, it took a while to get the balance of the car right. We started really slicing our way through it and I thought ‘Hey, we really have something here.’ We were leading at halfway. I thought it was going to be a good end to the race, but we just didn’t get enough downforce out of (the car). I was getting big runs on guys, but just couldn’t complete it. But I’m really happy to just get back in the car today and put the effort forward. We put on a good showing for DHL and for the fans out here, and that’s important. It was a test today; it was a mental test, no doubt, and a physical one as well. I was really glad to roll back into pit lane after the race and see the crew here with smiles on their faces.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda): “The fuel mixture knob came off about two-thirds of the way through, so we didn’t have full power there at the end. We know these Honda engines have something for the competition. The Military to Motorsports car was great all day. The NAPA Know How crew was stellar all day. It’s a really good result, but when you come so close to a win, it’s sometimes difficult to swallow. Looking back to where we were at Pocono last year, when we had a strong car and didn’t finish, to come back to be on the podium is a testament to Andretti Autosport and the entire team and the work that they’ve done all year.”

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management, or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News Open Wheel

Power Recovers to Repeat as ABC Supply 500 Winner

LONG POND, Pennsylvania (Sunday, August 20, 2017) – Will Power overcame numerous obstacles to get to the front, then held off charging Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden to win the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway for a second straight year.

ABC SUPPLY 500: Box score

Power defeated Newgarden by 0.5268 of a second to become the first Indy car driver to post back-to-back wins on the three-turn, 2.5-mile oval in the event’s 24-race history. It was also Power’s third triumph this season and the 32nd of his 13-year career, moving the 36-year-old Australian into sole possession of ninth place on the all-time Indy car victory list ahead of Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy.

“It seriously means a lot. I love racing on ovals,” said Power, whose win today is his sixth on an oval track. “Every oval win I get, I really, really enjoy because we don’t have many of them.

“To come back and win it again in a very different way this year – it was a crazy race, exciting to me – but feels fantastic to go back-to-back.”

The results also kept the battle for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship tight with three races remaining. Newgarden leads Scott Dixon by 18 points, Helio Castroneves by 22, Simon Pagenaud by 26 and Power by 42. The top 15 drivers in the standings remain mathematically alive for the title.

Starting the 200-lap race from fifth, Power made an unscheduled green-flag pit stop on Lap 66 to replace a front wing assembly on his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and went a lap down. He later had a damaged rear wing assembly replaced during a caution period. Still, Power persevered, was back on the lead lap with 75 to go and worked his way through the field.

A lightning-quick pit stop on Lap 177 put Power ahead of the other front-runners who had stopped before him. When race leader Marco Andretti, who was off pit sequence, stopped for fuel on Lap 190, Power assumed first place and withstood pressure from Newgarden and Alexander Rossi over the final 10 laps.

“Once I got my lap back, I was like, ‘All right, it’s game on,’ I can definitely get back up there,” said Power, who has four top-five finishes in the last five races. “I was thinking like top-5 (finish), but when I was pumping out like 217 (mph) laps, I’m like, ‘OK, we’re going to make some serious hay here.’

“The guys did a fantastic job in the pits having to do all that and still able to go ahead and win the race.”

Newgarden took consolation that his points lead expanded slightly with the second-place finish.

“It was a good day for points,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet. “Tough when you have an opportunity to potentially win a race at the end of it, but I don’t think we had enough for Will, to be honest with you.

“I’m happy for Team Penske. It’s a 1-2 at the end of the day, so keeping it in the family. When one car wins, we kind of all win.”

Rossi led 44 laps and finished third in the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda to earn his second podium finish in the past three races.

“It’s a really good result, but when you come so close to a win, it’s sometimes difficult to swallow,” Rossi said. “Looking back to where we were at Pocono last year, when we had a strong car and didn’t finish, to come back to be on the podium is a testament to Andretti Autosport and the entire team and the work that they’ve done all year.”

Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Pagenaud was fourth in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, with Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Tony Kanaan and Dixon (who led a race-high 51 laps) finishing fifth and sixth, respectively.

Hunter-Reay, who sustained left hip and knee injuries in a qualifying crash Saturday, charged from the 21st starting position to lead 12 laps before finishing eighth in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport.

The thrilling race featured 42 lead changes – a Pocono race record – among 10 drivers. At one point, Kanaan and Graham Rahal swapped the lead for 12 consecutive laps. The race was slowed by three cautions, including one when James Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand collided in Turn 1 on Lap 125. Neither driver was injured.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action on Saturday, Aug. 26 with the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. It marks the return of Indy car racing to the St. Louis region for the first time since 2003. Live race coverage begins at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.  

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Commentary Open Wheel

Newgarden Opens Path Toward First Championship At Pocono

Following an ill-timed caution flag with 85 laps to go in Sunday’s ABC Supply 500, Josef Newgarden’s Verizon IndyCar Series title hopes were on life support.

After jumping from 14th at the green flag to the top-five in the opening 115 laps, the No. 2 Fitzgerald Chevrolet had dropped to 15th place, stuck behind those who already made pit stops prior to the yellow caused by Sebastian Saavedra’s accident in turn one. Unable to advance his position on the following restart, the diagnosis appeared headed for a massive reversal in the points table, with Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon being the potential benefactor.

A window of opportunity however, opened for the Tennessean when an accident in turn one on Lap 125 eliminated both James Hinchcliffe and J.R. Hildebrand. Electing to go off sequence, Newgarden and his Team Penske teammate Will Power pitted to top off their fuel tanks, allowing them the chance to take less ethanol than their rivals, meaning a faster final pit stop and the possibility to advance up the order.

The strategy play by Roger Penske’s squad proved to be the winning move as both drivers entered the top-five with ten laps to go. With the Australian leading, Newgarden with less gas on board zoomed past Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi to take second and began to close on his in-squad opposer. Although the Chevrolet pilot failed to overtake Power before the checkered flag, a runner-up effort further solidifies his case to win a series championship in his inaugural season of driving for the Captain.

As I mentioned in my recent look at the title picture before Pocono, the 2.5 mile triangle was perhaps the final hurdle where Newgarden could be vulnerable. Following Chevrolet’s struggles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, Honda appeared to have a wheel up on the bow-tie backers with Dixon benefiting the most. Entering Sunday’s action only 12 markers behind the American prospect, the Iceman looked poised to jump from third to first on the table headed to Gateway Motorsports Park next week.

The early good fortune, unfortunately, was absent when it mattered at the finish as an inability to efficiently save fuel on Sunday may have cost Dixon extra time in the final pit shuffle. The New Zealander placed sixth, losing ground to the championship leader.

The same story held true likewise for another member of Team Penske on Sunday: Helio Castroneves. Despite starting at the back of the pack after issues during Saturday qualifying, the Brazilian was on a similar pit stop plan to Newgarden, but could not exploit it to the full. In what could be his final full season on the IndyCar circuit, Castroneves’ hopes to finally snag the championship trophy were hampered as he finished one spot behind Dixon in seventh-place.

The situation also is getting darker for Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Rahal was upfront at the midway mark, but also was handicapped by needing more gas on the last stop and settled for ninth. Sato meanwhile, looked primed to rejoin the title picture after taking the pole position on Saturday. The reigning Indy 500 champion would plummet toward the back of the order in the opening stint and never recovered. The Japanese veteran’s 13th-place output all but ends his hopes for a series crown and the same tag could be placed upon Rahal likewise.

Heading to St. Louis for its first IndyCar event since 2003, Josef Newgarden holds an 18-point edge on Scott Dixon, who may face the toughest route to the championship based in part on the dominant form Team Penske has showcased recently on road courses, which make up two of the final rounds of 2017. Castroneves drops to third, 22 out of first, with Simon Pagenaud, who charged late to finish fourth Sunday now within 26 points and race-winner Will Power 42 back in fifth.

With no other full-time competitors within 75 points of Newgarden at this point, smart thinking says that the above five names will provide the eventual champion, with the popular Tennessee chauffeur in a greater controlled placement regarding both position and momentum.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar

Time Running Out For Honda Runners

While Team Penske has not dominated the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series as they did a year ago, things are starting to appear bleak for those in pursuit.

Despite being outclassed significantly on the high-speed ovals this season, the Captain’s quartet led by current championship leader Josef Newgarden, looks set to secure yet another No. 1 plate looking ahead to next season. The Tennessee-native has been stout in winning the last two events at Toronto and Mid-Ohio. However, any of his three teammates could jump in and snatch the crown from him.

For now, the biggest challenge could be from Helio Castroneves. Although the Brazilian has only one win in 2017 at Iowa Speedway, he has been the more consistent Firestone Fast Six qualifier among the super team. The incentives could also be higher for Castroneves, as rumors about a potential jump to a Honda-supported sports car program for 2018 continue to gain steam. It’s difficult to believe that since his debut in CART in 1998 and with his three Indianapolis 500 victories, the popular veteran has not won a series title.

Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud has offered a solid defense through 13 of 17 rounds, trading in many victories from 2016 for his trademark consistency. Amazingly, 2015 title holder Will Power is still in contention, despite six placements of 13th or worse in 2017. After an ugly open, the Australian has righted the ship placing fifth or better in six of the last seven. If Power can survive the two oval events at Pocono and St. Louis, his potential to secure a second title increases considerably on the two road courses to close out the campaign at Watkins Glen and Sonoma respectively. The latter of those two outings, of course, offering double points.

As witnessed above, the grip for Penske and Chevrolet is getting stronger; however, at the same time, Honda’s challenge since winning the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato is slipping. Although some would view the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as a bigger prize than the national title, the pursuit of a single target as opposed to the full slate, could be a roadblock for Sato, Scott Dixon, and Graham Rahal’s hopes to claim the No. 1 for next year.

For the Japanese star, the next two events at Pocono and St. Louis have almost entered the must-win territory. Outside of the 500, Sato has only four other top-fives, plus seven runs of tenth or worse. If Honda Performance Development still holds the trump card on Chevrolet in the power department, it is time for Taku to play it.

The same scenario holds true for Dixon and Rahal. While Rahal has been one of the hottest drivers since Indy, finishing ninth or higher in the events since the Brickyard, the Ohioan is not yet in control of his destiny being 58 points out of first heading to the Pocono
500. Dixon, meanwhile, was regularly at the head of the standings for much of the year until his slip backwards began at Iowa. Since then, the Kiwi has placed eighth, tenth, and ninth since. Not overly disastrous, but costly considering Newgarden, Castroneves, and Pagenaud outran him in each of those same three races.

In summary, Pocono and St. Louis may be the last chance for a non-Penske pilot to take a significant stake in the hunt for the crown. Unless Honda’s big three can make a move, two of the three realities for the 2017 championship will be set in stone –  Roger Penske driver will win driving a Chevrolet. The only question then will be which one?

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News Open Wheel

Power Starts From Familiar Spot Up Front at Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio (Saturday, July 29, 2017) – Will Power will start from the front row in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio for the sixth straight year on Sunday after claiming the Verizon P1 Award in Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying today at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power’s best lap of 1 minute, 4.1720 seconds (126.672 mph) in the Firestone Fast Six was enough to earn his third pole position at Mid-Ohio, his fifth pole this season and the 49th of his Indy car career – tying the 2014 series champion with Bobby Unser for fourth on the all-time list.

“The Verizon car was really hooked up,” Power said. “Before qualifying, we made a few changes and kind of got it in the window. Really happy for all the guys, especially here. You’ve got to start at the front here; it’s really, really difficult to pass, so (winning pole is) giving us the best chance to win tomorrow.”

HONDA INDY 200 AT MID-OHIO: Qualifying results

Power, who has yet to win a race at Mid-Ohio, was among three Team Penske drivers to advance to the Firestone Fast Six, the last of three knockout qualifying rounds. Joining the 36-year-old Australian on the front row in Sunday’s 90-lap race on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn permanent road course will be teammate Josef Newgarden, who qualified second in the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet (1:04.3067, 126.407 mph).

“I think we did a good job today,” Newgarden said. “The boys on the (No.) 2 car gave me everything I needed with a fast car. It’s been pretty good all weekend.

“It’s always tough to get pipped by your teammate by just a little bit, but ultimately it’s a good day for us on Team Penske. We have two cars up there on the front row.”

Takuma Sato, winner of the 101st Indianapolis 500 in May, qualified third in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:04.6792, 125.679 mph). Graham Rahal, who was fastest in his group in each of the first two qualifying segments, finished fourth in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1:04.7959 (125.452 mph) in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver won at his home Mid-Ohio track in 2015.

“A good qualifying session for us,” said Rahal, the Ohio native. “It was a shame that in (the Firestone Fast Six), I frankly just messed up. I didn’t have Power’s speed, but I kind of threw it away early in the lap and that was that. Disappointed, at the same time we showed we’ve got the pace. Hopefully tomorrow we can work from fourth.”

Helio Castroneves, a two-time Mid-Ohio winner (2000, 2001), qualified fifth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:04.8485, 125.351 mph). Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon extended his streak of reaching all seven Firestone Fast Six sessions this season and qualified sixth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda (1:05.1927, 124.689 mph). Points leader Dixon takes a three-point edge over Castroneves into the race.

Defending Mid-Ohio race winner and 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud missed advancing to the Firestone Fast Six by less than five-hundredths of a second and will start seventh in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

“I’m surprised that we didn’t get in (the Firestone Fast Six) because it felt like a good lap and I put everything I had in it,” Pagenaud said.

Conor Daly advanced past the first segment of knockout qualifying for the first time this season and will start 11th in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Alongside Daly in Row 6 will be Esteban Gutierrez, whose 12th-place showing in the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda is his best qualifying effort in six races with Dale Coyne Racing.

Tony Kanaan originally advanced from Round 1, Group 1 but was penalized for causing a local yellow that impeded other drivers’ laps. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver spun sideways in Turn 2 on his final lap, forcing other drivers to slow as he corrected the car to continue on track. The automatic penalty levied by INDYCAR is loss of the driver’s fastest lap to that point, which prevented Kanaan from advancing.

A final 30-minute warmup practice is set for 11:15 a.m. ET Sunday and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Live coverage of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, the 13th of 17 races on the 2017 schedule, starts at 3 p.m. on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. An encore presentation of the race airs at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.

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FANTASY HOT TIP: Honda Indy Toronto

Another week, another triumph. After placing sixth in my Firestone Fantasy Challenge League for the Iowa Corn 300, I am trending a little differently this week for Toronto.

While the target of winning is still well within reach, I have for once parted ways with my main cog for most this season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Although he still leads the championship points table, I have not selected Scott Dixon this week.

Sure, the Kiwi swept both legs of the Honda Indy Toronto when it was a doubleheader event in 2013; however, he has fared no better than eighth in his last two efforts. Considering he is one of the most expensive options for a driver selection, that kind of finish does not merit the cost.

Last year, Team Penske’s Will Power crossed the finish line first, and despite more hit or miss results from the Australian in 2017, the veteran has regained attention following a recent string of four runs of seventh or better. A second member of the Captain’s quartet is featured in my foursome as Simon Pagenaud joins the party for the first time since the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Toronto is not the best track for the Frenchman, yet if Penske continues its trend of Firestone Fast Six domination, the move may work out in the grand scheme of things. Helio Castroneves, who won this past weekend and placed second behind Power last year, would have also made sense, but like Dixon, the price was not right in this case.

With the cream of the crop in IndyCar in the top half, the bottom half sees a couple of new faces. Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones joins the fleet for the second time this season, while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton makes his debut for me.

Jones has scored a pair top-tens in his last three road course outings, better than most pilots available with his price tag, while his Englishman counterpart has two top-tens in the past four battles of twist and turn-type racing. For now, I have pushed aside the services of Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot who has placed no better than eighth in any output in 2017, a number bested by both the Dubai rookie and the ex-Formula One regular.

While a consistent lineup seems to net the greatest amount of success in fantasy sports gaming based on experience, let’s see if this new squad can net a similar amount of points to what I have amassed in the past two rounds.

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