Will Power (Penske), Helio Castroneves (Penske), and Simon Pagenaud (SPHM) will all have a chance to take home the Astor Cup on Saturday night in Fontana, California. Power is ahead of Castroneves by 51 points, and has an 81 point edge over Pagenaud. There are a total of 104 points available during the 250-lap race under the lights. The 500-mile race will test the drivers, the cars, the engineers and crew members as they try to get a handle on the Auto Club Speedway’s changing conditions.
Power won last year’s season-finale on the 2-mile D shaped superspeedway. While he has fond memories here from last season, the 2012 race still haunts him. Power had a 17 point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay going into the race, before a crash led to him losing the championship by a mere 3 points. That was the third straight season where Power had a chance to win the title, but lost it in the final race. He’s hoping that the fourth time is the charm on Saturday night.
In last year’s race, Power won from the pole, and Pagenaud finished in 13th position. Castroneves was battling Scott Dixon for the series title, but came up just short after finishing behind Dixon in sixth place. The main theme from last year’s race was attrition. Cars (and engines) were dropping like flies, which wasn’t much of a surprise given the brutal length of the race, and the dirt and dust that was being collected by the cars. That will once again play a big factor in this race, where anything is possible.
Looking at this three man battle, it will likely come down to the two Penske drivers. There will be significant headlines, no matter which driver wins it. The winner will be seen as finally getting over the hump and capturing that elusive championship. The one that doesn’t win, well it’s just another runner-up finish, coming up just short once again. For Power it would be the fourth time in five years, which is just unfathomable to think about. Helio has finished runner-up in the championship four times in his IndyCar career. He’s finished in third twice, and fourth four times. In the last 13 seasons (counting this year), he will have only finished outside of the top six in the championship standings once.
The numbers are complex, but here is what you need to know. If Power finishes sixth or better on Saturday, he clinches the title. If Helio wins the race, he will need Power to finish eighth or worse. If Helio finishes second, he needs Power to finish 16th or worse. If Castroneves finishes third, Power will have to finish 21st or worse in order for the Brazilian to win the title. The bonus points for leading the most laps, and winning the pole for Saturday night’s race will be key.
There are so many different ways Saturday night can go, which is why it will be must see television. Someone is going to win their first ever IndyCar championship, and they will have plenty of time to savor it before the 2015 season begins. It’s been an incredible season so far, with many twists and turns along the way. There have been plenty of sensational moments, and many more to come this weekend.
There will be testing at the speedway from 4:30 – 10:30 on August 27. There will be two practice sessions on Friday, one before qualifications and one after. Qualifying begins at 5:15 PM ET, which rewards 1 bonus point to the pole winner.