Helio Castroneves will be leading the field to the green flag at Auto Club Speedway, which will feature 22 drivers battling it out for 500 miles under the lights. Castroneves, the last qualifier of the day, won the pole with a 2-lap average speed of 218.540 mph. The 2014 IndyCar season will be put to rest tomorrow night, where a new champion will be crowned. Points leader Will Power will start 21st after a very loose qualifying run. Power was fastest in the first practice session on Friday, at 221.389 mph, with Castroneves only 0.0051 of a second behind. Power will need to finish in the top six in order to clinch the title.
The lead is now 50 points, as Castroneves grabbed the bonus point for winning pole position. Pagenaud is still 81 points behind Power, and will need a lot of things to go his way tomorrow night in order to have a real shot at the title. The situation could not be better for Helio, who has his other teammate Juan Montoya starting alongside him on the front row. He is on pole, and Power is starting in the last row. Josef Newgarden and Takuma Sato will share row 2, while Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball start in row 3.
While the field is set, things are not yet set in stone. There will be one final practice session tonight (10:15 PM ET) before tomorrow’s 250-lap race. If there is an incident, or a engine needs to be changed, that will shake up the order.
For Roger Penske, this is shaping up to be his first championship season since 2006 with Sam Hornish Jr behind the wheel. Power has finished runner-up in the standings three of the last four years, and Castroneves has also been a bridesmaid three times in his career.
It all comes down to one race. The MAVTV 500 begins at 9 PM ET on NBC Sports Network. Tomorrow night, one Penske driver will be crowned an IndyCar Champion, while the other finishes runner-up yet again. Lights, cameras, action.
Below you can watch highlights from today’s qualifying, courtesy of IndyCar.