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2014 Standings
After Pocono
Driver Standings

1 Will Power 446
2 Helio Castroneves 446
3 Simon Pagenaud 402
4 Juan Pablo Montoya 391
5 Ryan Hunter-Reay 388
6 Carlos Munoz (R) 340
7 Marco Andretti 325
8 Scott Dixon 297
9 Ryan Briscoe 285
10 Sebastien Bourdais 271
11 Tony Kanaan 267
12 James Hinchcliffe 266
13 Mikhail Aleshin 263
14 Justin Wilson 253
15 Charlie Kimball 239
16 Jack Hawksworth 227
17 Carlos Huertas (R) 224
18 Josef Newgarden 220
19 Graham Rahal 202
20 Sebastian Saavedra 196
21 Takuma Sato 189
22 Mike Conway 152
23 Ed Carpenter 138
24 Oriol Servia 88
25 Kurt Busch (R) 80
26 JR Hildebrand 66
27 Sage Karam (R) 57
28 James Davison (R) 34
29 Jacques Villeneuve 29
30 Alex Tagliani 28
31 Luca Filippi 24
32 Townsend Bell 22
33 Pippa Mann 21
34 Martin Plowman (R) 18
35 Buddy Lazier 11
36 Franck Montagny 8

Rookie of the Year
1 Carlos Munoz 340
2 Mikhail Aleshin 263
3 Jack Hawksworth 217
4 Carlos Huertas 204
5 Kurt Busch 80
6 Sage Karam 57
7 James Davison 34
8 Martin Plowman 18

Wins
T1 Ryan Hunter-Reay 2
T1 Will Power 2
T1 Simon Pagenaud 2
T4 Mike Conway 1
T4 Helio Castroneves 1
T4 Carlos Huertas 1
T4 Ed Carpenter 1
T4 Juan Pablo Montoya 1

Podium Finishes
T1 Will Power 5
T1 Helio Castroneves 5
2 Ryan Hunter-Reay 4
T3 Carlos Munoz 3
T3 Juan Pablo Montoya 3
T6 Marco Andretti 2
T6 Simon Pagenaud 2
T8 Mike Conway 1
T8 Carlos Huertas 1
T8 Scott Dixon 1
T8 Tony Kanaan 1
T8 Graham Rahal 1
T8 Charlie Kimball 1
T8 Ed Carpenter 1
T8 Jack Hawksworth 1
T8 Mikhail Aleshin 1

Lap Leaders:
1 Will Power 348
2 Helio Castroneves 174
3 Ryan Hunter-Reay 165
4 Ed Carpenter 116
5 Tony Kanaan 79
6 Juan Pablo Montoya 74
7 Takuma Sato 67
8 James Hinchcliffe 56
9 Simon Pagenaud 53
10 Jack Hawksworth 32
11 Scott Dixon 27
12 Marco Andretti 22
13 Justin Wilson 20
14 Sebastian Saavedra 14
15 Graham Rahal 10
16 Mike Conway 8
17 Josef Newgarden 8
T18 Oriol Servia 7
T18 Carlos Huertas 7
19 Ryan Briscoe 5
20 Mikhail Aleshin 4
21 Alex Tagliani 3
22 Sebastien Bourdais 2

Entrant Points
Pos. # Entrant Points
1 12 Team Penske 446
2 3 Team Penske 446
3 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports 402
4 2 Team Penske 391
5 28 Andretti Autosport 388
6 34 Andretti Autosport/HVM 340
7 25 Andretti Autosport 325
8 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing 297
9 20 Ed Carpenter Racing 290
10 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing 285
11 11 KVSH Racing 271
12 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing 267
13 27 Andretti Autosport 266
14 7 SMP Racing 263
15 19 Dale Coyne Racing 253
16 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing 239
17 98 BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian 227
18 18 Dale Coyne Racing 224
19 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing 220
20 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 202
21 17 KV/AFS Racing 196
22 14 A.J. Foyt Racing 189
23 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 112
24 26 Andretti Autosport 88
25 21 Ed Carpenter Racing 66
26 22 Dreyer and Reinbold 57
27 33 KV Racing Technology 34
28 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 29
29 68 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing 28
30 6 KV Racing Technology 22
31 63 Dale Coyne Racing 21
32 41 A.J. Foyt Racing 18
33 91 Lazier Partners Racing 11

Finishing Average
1 Helio Castroneves 5.81
2 Kurt Busch 6.00
3 Will Power 6.09
4 Simon Pagenaud 6.72
5 Sage Karam 9.00
6 J.R. Hildebrand 10.00
T7 Scott Dixon 10.18
T7 Carlos Munoz 10.18
9 Juan Pablo Montoya 10.45
10 Ryan Hunter-Reay 10.72
11 Ryan Briscoe 11.75
12 Marco Andretti 12.125
13 Carlos Munoz 12.375
T14 Oriol Servia 12.5
T14 Justin Wilson 12.5
16 Alex Tagliani 13.0
17 Sebastien Bourdais 13.25
18 Charlie Kimball 13.625
19 Mike Conway 13.66
T20 Jacques Villeneuve 14.0
T20 Ed Carpenter 14.0
22 Carlos Huertas 14.25
23 Mikhail Aleshin 14.875
24 James Hinchcliffe 15.125
T25 Takuma Sato 15.5
T25 Jack Hawksworth 15.5
27 Sebastian Saavedra 15.75
28 James Davison 16.00
29 Josef Newgarden 16.375
30 Graham Rahal 16.625
31 Martin Plowman 20.5
32 Franck Montagny 22.0
33 Pippa Mann 24.0
34 Townsend Bell 25.0
35 Buddy Lazier 32.0

Pole Positions
T1 Takuma Sato 2
T1 Will Power 2
T1 Helio Castroneves 2
T4 Ryan Hunter-Reay 1
T4 Sebastian Saavedra 1
T4 Ed Carpenter 1
T4 Simon Pagenaud 1
T4 Juan Pablo Montoya 1

Appearances in the Firestone Fast Six
1 Ryan Hunter-Reay 4
T2 Scott Dixon 3
T2 Will Power 3
T2 James Hinchcliffe 3
T2 Helio Castroneves 3
T2 Jack Hawksworth 3
T7 Simon Pagenaud 2
T7 Josef Newgarden 2
T9 Takuma Sato 1
T9 Marco Andretti 1
T9 Sebastien Bourdais 1
T9 Tony Kanaan 1
T9 Sebastian Saavedra 1
T9 Mike Conway 1
T9 Juan Pablo Montoya 1
T9 Ryan Briscoe 1
IndyCar Press Conference with Dixon and Castroneves

Title contenders
Thursday, October 10, 2013

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Helio Castroneves led the points all year but a bad weekend in Houston saw him lose the lead to Scott Dixon
MODERATOR:
For the eighth straight season the IZOD IndyCar Series championship will be decided in the final race of the season. Scott Dixon leads the series points standings by 25 points over Helio Castroneves. Scott has won four races this season, including the opening race of the Houston doubleheader last weekend.

Q. Scott, it's been brought up a couple times already that you've won your previous championships five years apart.  You won in 2003, you won in 2008 and now it's 2013.  Is there some sort of formula that you have every five years?

SCOTT DIXON: No, and like I've mentioned before, I think if (team owner) Chip (Ganassi) had known it was an every five years thing I might have moved around a bit. But you can't rely on stats like that, especially for us, every year we compete we try to win the championship, and I think definitely over the last five or six years we've had a good shot sort of going into the last one each of those years.

It's a good situation for us to be in and one that we'll dig deep and try and carry out next weekend, but obviously with the competition against Penske and Helio, a very accomplished team and a very accomplished driver, it's not going to be easy at all.  As typical of many IndyCar Series championships, I think it's going to come down to the last lap, last corner scenario. For us, we just hope that we're on the good receiving end.

Q: You could win the title with a finish of fifth Fontana.  Does having the championship lead change the way you approach the finale or does seeing what happened to Helio at Houston or last year to Will Power at Fontana change the way you approach the race?

SCOTT DIXON: I think for us the easiest way to approach it is how we typically approach a race weekend, and that's to go there setting our sights on winning it.  If we can achieve that, then it makes the championship story just sort of unfold. It'll be a tough situation.  Helio and Chevy were quick at the (Sept. 24) test. Chevys have proven to be very fast on these bigger circuits, two mile, two‑mile plus.  It's not going to be easy by any means and something that we're going to have to fight to the bitter end. We'll go into the weekend obviously trying to achieve a win.

Q: You're one of the two drivers, you and Tony Kanaan, are going into this final 500‑mile race with a chance to win the Fuzzy's Triple Crown, a bonus of $250,000.  Obviously talk a little bit about the win at Pocono and setting you up heading into this 500‑mile race.

SCOTT DIXON: I think for us Pocono was, as I've mentioned many times before, I think I got out of the car and said to Chip it would be fitting to be in this position at the end of the day. Going into that race we did have an engine change, which was different, a little bit better, but still only qualified seventh, I think, which was the fastest number for qualifying that weekend.  It was dominated mostly by Chevy. It was a tough race and a race where strategy played out a little bit.  We just didn't have to really lean out at all, whereas the Chevys struggled a little more on fuel mileage, which seems like they've taken care of that at recent races. So it'll be interesting to see how that plays out over a 500‑miler. It was a dream weekend for us obviously sweeping the podium with all three Ganassi cars. Target Racing was lined up to win its 200th and it was I think my 30th career win.  It was a pleasant surprise, and to be able to be one of the people to have the opportunity, both the two wins out of the three for the Fuzzy's Triple Crown deal, it's exciting.

I obviously have to thank Fuzzy’s Vodka for bringing back the Triple Crown and obviously supporting it the way that it has. That's another added bonus of where we'll have to dig deep and try and win that race.  It would be pretty special.

Q: We talked about a week or so go getting ready for the Auto Club Speedway, and I don't know if you've noticed but it's been raining like crazy for two days, but it looks like the weather is going to be good.  Any different strategy that you're going to have to apply for Auto Club Speedway, even though it doesn't look like a technical track but it is for your types of cars?

SCOTT DIXON: With the changes that INDYCAR has made throughout the last couple years, the two-mile ovals typically hadn't been massively technical. It was more sort of a race strategy and trying to put yourself in the right position with pack racing. I think last year we saw a fantastic race come down to the wire.  It's a track that has a lot of character.  It's got seams but opposite the car, a few bumps and different grip levels, mostly on Turn 2 and some big bumps going into 3, and obviously the time the race starts sort of adds another area of difficulty to it with the glare and obviously some ‑‑ for the drivers. It's a tough track. The cars are very light on downforce.

The last two weeks, a big falloff from 215s all the way down to 200s or below.  Firestone has changed the tire slightly, which it seems like the speeds are up which is due to probably engine performance somewhat, and then obviously the falloff is slightly less than what we had last year. For sure we get an hour‑and‑a‑half practice before we go into qualifying, and every one of those sessions is going to be a big deal for how the weekend plays out and obviously preparation.

Q: Scott, IndyCar drivers, you guys always race on the edge.  Does that help you, being that that's your job, help you when more is on the line, like one more race to the championship?

SCOTT DIXON: I think with the different personalities throughout INDYCAR, some are better with pressure than some of the others, but I think everybody, once you're at this level, to get to this level in racing, you've had to achieve quite a lot throughout your career and everybody is really accomplished.    But it's hard; racing is a little different to some other sports where it can be the one person, whether you look at athletics and running or something like that, it's just you yourself out there and you can make the difference.  With auto racing, you've got a lot of people that play big parts in the race but also the preparation of the cars, and also mechanical issues that we saw strike Helio on the weekend.

You can go in, and the way I look at it is that you can make sure that you're prepared the best that you can, and when you're done with the race, the only time you should feel happy is if you've put in your 100 percent and done everything that was possible. It is tough. There are many highs and lows to racing, but sometimes I've gone through something that you do specifically.  I don't know.  I think everybody in this situation would react somewhat similar.  It's just depending on the difficulties that you have on race day that may change some of the outcomes?

Q: So there really isn't kind of any magic way to handle the stress of knowing what you're going into?

SCOTT DIXON:  Well, I think it's going back to what I said earlier, just making sure that you've prepared yourself, you've made sure that you've given it your 100 percent.  That's all that you can do.  If that makes a difference, that's fantastic. But I think you can over-analyze situations too much.  In the race you can't be constantly thinking, OK, if I'm here, Helio needs to be there.  You need to keep a fresh mind, a clear mind so that you can make good decisions at the time when it's tough. I think it's about not putting too much pressure on yourself, giving it your best, and not over-analyzing things.

Q: Obviously the big team announcement this week.  Two parts, actually:  First, with Tony joining up for 2014, but we'll get to that later, more importantly (Alex Tagliani) stepping in next weekend, what are your thoughts on that and what do you make of having the chance to have another teammate this weekend at Fontana.

SCOTT DIXON: I'm sure as Tag has put out there before, it's a tough situation for anybody to be in.  Personally, I would have liked Dario (Franchitti) to be there next weekend and to be in fighting spirits and helping me win the championship.  But it's nice to know that Dario is doing OK. He's going to mend well, but obviously he can't race at the moment and won't be able to come out for a little bit. I think Tag was a solid choice.  As a team, the drivers and myself, we don't have much control in situations like that, but I think Chip and (managing director) Mike (Hull) and (team managers) Barry (Wanser) and Scott (Harner) and everybody, I think they picked the best guy.  I'm great friends with Tag.  We hang out a fair bit, and it makes it an easy transition. And obviously last year Alex was very fast at Fontana until he had a mechanical issue and exited the race, but he was running, I think, in first or second position for most of the later parts of it.  So welcome to the team, and as I said, he's a good friend and a hell of a competitor, and he's going to be tough to beat there next weekend, I think.

Q: I'm curious about your take on the track conditions over the weekend.  Did you ever feel unsafe at any point in that race?

SCOTT DIXON: I think with drivers you're just wanting to get around the track fast.  I think that the track had changed a little bit, either from when some of the other drivers had been racing on that track in '07 or from what I had seen visually on replays of the track itself.  But I think the biggest issue of the weekend was the frontstretch and how big the bumps were, which safety is not a massive issue, it's more about making the cars last and get through a race distance.  That was a bit of an issue that plagued us, I think, mostly on Friday, and then they seemed to come up with a better scenario come Saturday and Sunday.

It was a time crunch for everybody at the track to get it ready, and I think it was 96 hours or something, and I think they did a great job at that. But I think when we have accidents or scenarios like we did over the weekend, it makes you think different areas, makes you try and help some of the safety areas that might have been highlighted after the accident.  But myself personally, no, I didn't think that safety‑wise it was much of an issue.  The only time I kind of thought that was when it rained pretty hard on the Sunday morning, I think, for qualifying, with the standing water, and I think INDYCAR made a sound decision to start off on owners points.

Q: I assume you've been in touch with Dario.  What can you say about his condition and his spirits?

SCOTT DIXON: As we all know, he was pretty beat up.  I think he arrives back in Indy today, so that's a good thing.  I know he's got control of his phone again, so that's a good sign.  You know, he seems to be in good spirits.  I know he wants to come out to Fontana and support the team, so we'll see how his recovery goes and see what choice he makes on coming out to the West Coast. But very lucky and just sad that he's not going to be my teammate come next weekend to try and finish this out.

Q: I talked with you about a week‑and‑a‑half ago when you were going to go out and shoot a shotgun.  Seems that your aim is a little bit more focused than that, especially after the week you had in Houston.  About a year ago at this time it was quite interesting, there was a photo op with the four leading drivers, and you and Helio were basically filling out a photo opportunity.  How does it feel to be leading the points and having Helio so close to you a year later, actually being the photo opportunity?

SCOTT DIXON:  It's always nice to be in this situation.  It's what we race for each year.  We set two goals:  One firstly to win the Indy 500 and one secondly to win the championship.  Obviously we did a little poorly at the first, and this was kind of a late sort of stage, I think once we hit Pocono kind of thing, so as a car performance and team performance in general we needed to pick it up.  It's been sort of a strange season with the ups and downs we've had.  It's great to be fighting for it. Helio's year has been a little bit different in the fact that he's been I think in the top three of the championship for most of the year and led the points tally for a good part of the season. For us, we just hope to be leading at the right time of the year, after the race next weekend.

Yeah, it's great to always be in a fight for the championship, but obviously this year is a little different than the last.  Excited, a little bit nervous, butterflies.  Hopefully it's just competitiveness and wanting to do well and wanting to win this championship. It's a tough one to be a part of to start with, and then even tougher to be fighting it out where many of the other great drivers in the world.

Q: You mentioned starting out the season a little bit slow and then really coming on strong.  What do you feel is the biggest major component or change that you saw during the year that allowed you to come forward and start scoring the points?

SCOTT DIXON:  I don't know, hard work, I think.  I think the team, we had ourselves in a bit of a rut at the start of the year and struggled a little bit with where we went on the development side of things with the car.  We had a turnaround point with that before we got to Toronto with the (June 26) Sebring test, which obviously was a big deal for us. And then the next situation I think was with Honda, sort of with engine specs and development.  But all of it sort of comes down to hard work and making sure that they stayed in the hunt of it and trying to make the most of what we had.

Q: I know you said you don't want to overanalyze things at Fontana once the race starts, but I'm just curious, knowing that fifth or better will get you the title, the first half of the race do you sort of let the race come to you and sort of let things play out, or are you going to be aggressive from the get‑go?

SCOTT DIXON: I think it's a hard situation to obviously look at, depending on how the race sort of plays out from the get‑go.  I think that's the biggest thing for us is making sure that we don't rush into things.  It is a 500‑mile race, and that's how we approach a typical 500‑mile race.  You're kind of just analyzing how the situation is, what stuff we need to work on, how we need to better it throughout the race distance, and then obviously maybe looking at the competition and seeing where they're strong and how we need to sort of change our approach, whether it's strategy and maybe turning it into a bit of a fuel race to try and win that race, or if we've got straight‑up speed then race as hard as we possibly can for the win.

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Q: I wanted to know, having won two championships already, does it give you maybe a mental edge over Helio, who's still chasing a championship, and do you think you can play on that during the race?

SCOTT DIXON:  Well, I guess there are two sides of the fence for that.  Having won it, you become complacent sometimes or not push as hard.  That's definitely not the case for me.  Once you win one, you want to win the next one even more so.  And then obviously Helio's side where he hasn't had a chance of winning a championship, or he has had a chance but hasn't won one.  He'll be digging deep to try and pull that through, pull it off. Championships every year are so different.  The one I won in '03 I think we had five or six DNFs and won three races and still won the championship.  We came into the last race, I think there were five or six drivers with the opportunity to win, and we ended up pulling that off.  And then '08 I think we had an 86‑point lead with four races to go and almost lost it. Each year is very different.  Each final race is very different.  We just have to approach it how we normally do to try and win the race, and if that scenario works out then you're looking good.

I don't think it helps ‑‑ it helps that the team has been there and done that before in some areas maybe, but you also have to be very careful to not become complacent.

Q: The new cars were built hopefully to prevent the launching of the cars.  That's exactly what we've seen with Dario's incident.  As a driver, what do you feel, what areas should they move toward to prevent what happened?

SCOTT DIXON: I know a lot of the areas that were worked on the car were obviously the rear bumpers and trying to stop cars from running over each other front and back.  The side sort of stuff is a little more difficult, then with the addition of Turn 5 at Houston with the very off‑camber crowned sort of road, and then typically the speed and the way the car sort of collected, it's going to be a tough one to improve them greatly in a short period of time.  How they'd achieve that, I'm not too sure. I think on the other hand what the car went through and how Dario's crash sort of played out, you know, he was lucky, but the car did exactly what it should have, and a lot of the side intrusion things were vastly improved, which I think helped a lot.  Having seen the car after the wreck, it's done its job.

It's going to be an ever‑evolving side of racing in general and side to IndyCar racing to try and improve these situations and make them better.  Will you ever stop them?  Probably not.  That's the reality of cars racing very fast and achieving very high speeds in confined spaces. I think we definitely saw the advantages of some of the safety things that have been added to the cars throughout the years, and INDYCAR is as always ever pushing on and trying to make them safer, and they are.  That's the positive side of it.        But still reality, man.  It's racing, fast cars, and some tricky positions sometimes.

Q: Yesterday Penske announced they're adding AJ Allmendinger to their lineup with the express reason to help Helio win the championship.  You've got Tag joining you.  Can these guys actually play a part on track?  In the pits we've seen some shenanigans going on, but can these guys have an influence on what happens in the race?

SCOTT DIXON: I guess anybody in the race can change what's going on, not just the addition of a couple of guys.  Both are very accomplished and very good drivers, great track records, and obviously AJ spent some time at the start of the year, and also Tag did most of the year.  So I think they'll fit in great.  It's not just the driver's championship that's up for grabs.  There's a lot of emphasis on the manufacturer's championship, too, which is basically going to go to the highest place engine manufacturer for that weekend. I can see that definitely is more meaningful from Chevy's side adding another opportunity to try and win, and AJ was very quick in Indianapolis.  But to have team orders and to try and have them play out is almost impossible at races, where even you're in pit stalls or even close to each other is another thing.

It's good for the sport, great for competition, and it's definitely good to have Tag on our side of the team, and he's going to do extremely well, and it's great to see AJ back in the IndyCar Series.

Q: I believe Roger Penske said they're going to take the 10 spot penalty and give Helio a fresh engine.  Is that an option for you?  Have you discussed that yet?

SCOTT DIXON:  I don't know the complete details of it yet.  I know our engine is well within mileage.  I know probably from what everybody else hears that there are different specs or newer specs for Chevy and for Honda. For us, the problem is once I or Helio take ‑‑ it'll be a sixth engine, we both get 10 grid penalties, and then we're not viable to carry the points for the engine manufacturer after the fifth engine, as well. There's different things that fall into that.  Do you also want to be running a new spec at a 500‑mile race, another discussion that you probably ‑‑ at a superspeedway or two‑mile oval you probably want to try and take the extra horsepower that's probably on hand, too. I'm sure that's going to be a discussion throughout this week and obviously as we're getting closer to Friday when we're on track.  But a 10 spot penalty at Fontana is probably not going to make or break your day, and then with the addition of it being a 500‑mile race, it should wash out.

An interview with Helio Castroneves

MODERATOR: Helio did lead the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings for 10 straight races following his win at Texas Motor Speedway in June.  He has been among our title contenders the last four years but is still chasing his first series title.  Helio, do you think the pressure is on you being second in the points or do you think it's on the 9 team and Scott Dixon?

HELIO CASTRONEVES:  I'm not sure to be honest.  At this point I feel that I have nothing to lose, so there is no pressure to be honest, you just go for it.  We're going to look for our best result, and in the ovals, try to replicate what we did in Texas and hopefully we'll successful.

MODERATOR: Last weekend it looked like the championship was yours to lose, and then the events of Houston occurred.  I was in the garage when you were having your issues in the second race and you said that your team never gives up.  I think the same situation in 2008 when you were chasing Scott, you never gave up and just ran out of races.  Talk a little bit about that never‑say‑die attitude that you and the team are bringing into Fontana.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: This team is a perfect scenario built of hard‑working, everyone really trying to ‑‑ the entire season, not only in one race but the entire season has been work ethic and that sort of brought us in this kind of scenario.  Really excited to be honest to go to Fontana and go for it, all out, all in, as they say, and we believe that this team can do it and we'll do everything we can to make this happen.

Q: The MAVTV 500 is a 500‑mile race on a superspeedway.  You have five wins on superspeedways, three of them being 500‑mile races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Based on what you saw at the test a few weeks ago, what do you expect?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, always 500 miles, it's always a long race, almost three hours of racing.  Anything can happen, and at this point we had a fantastic test, were really super fast, extremely happy with the performance of the car two weeks ago in Fontana, and we just hope we continue with that and that will bring us a successful result.

Q: You'll be so excited if you win at Auto Club Speedway, do the fans need to all stand back about 10 deep?

HELIO CASTRONEVES:  I hope not.  I hope they will join us.  I don't think they should stand back, I think they should join us because it would be an awesome comeback, and that's what I'm counting on.

Q: Like you said, Auto Club Speedway is a unique track in that it's basically flat but it still takes a lot of work and takes a lot of strategy.  You've done quite well at that track if I'm not mistaken.

HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Last year we had a very good car, as well.  And as the night comes in, it changes a little bit of the setup and I feel that also the 15‑hour favor, it might help everyone, and it for sure is going to be competitive.  We have no question about that. But, according to the last two tests that we had, it was just awesome to see how fast the car was, and I was extremely excited.  In fact, I told them don't clean it, just leave as it is.  I know we have to swap polish to go to the AAA.  Brought us great luck in Texas, so we're counting on that again.

Q: Some drivers say they don't pay any attention to the points, and some will.  What's your take on that?  Do you watch the points all that much?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I wasn't watching to be honest during the whole season.  I was doing exactly what we're supposed to do.  When we have a good car, we go for it.  When we don't have a car we just play with what the car is able to give us.  And it worked.  Everything worked really well. But now the only thing we have in mind is a lot of points, is a win.  We're determined, we're ready, we're prepared, and that's why we're going for it.  There is no other opposition that we need to be thinking about, and right now that's our main focus.

Q: Kind of compare it to maybe a little bit of a similar situation to when Tony Stewart a couple years back, there was no way he could possibly win the championship unless he won, and that's exactly what he did.  Later he explained, I had nothing to lose.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's the mentality.  That's our mentality.  We have nothing to lose.  We are going for it.  Whatever it takes, we are going for it.  Taking risks, taking every risk, to be honest, to put ourselves in that position.  We feel as a team we have the equipment and we have the power, so we've just got to believe it.

Q: Of course we know that AJ Allmendinger will join you and Will Power for Penske Racing this weekend.  We saw a great stint from him at Indianapolis.  Do you think he can help you win this title this weekend?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes.  At this particular point, (Penske Racing president Tim) Cindric and I discussed it, (team owner) Roger (Penske), as well, and I believe it's the best strategy that we can have.  The thing about strategy, they've got to be up there.  We've got to have all the cars up there.  We've got to have as many cars as possible up there.  So Chevy is also looking for the title, so there is a lot of things involved. I feel Will (Power) and AJ are definitely going to be there with the speed, and that's a big help for us. But again, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter about those guys.  We've still got to win this race.  The group No. 3 car, the AAA car, it's ready to do that.

Q:  About a year ago we had a photo opportunity with the four drivers that were leading in the points, and at that time basically you and Scott were there to fill out the photo opportunity.  How does it feel to be the photo opportunity this time around?

HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Well, to be honest it shows that we kept consistency.  Last year those guys were able to make it happen, and Will and (Ryan) Hunter‑Reay were able to put up good fights.  In my case and in Scott's case, we were doing everything we could, as well, to be there in the end.  And now 2013 happens, we are the ones fighting for this championship.  It just shows how competitive it is, how tough it is.  But even I, we always seem to fight at each other, doesn't mean if it's for first or second place or third or fourth place.  We are up there, and it shows that I respect Scott a lot in that aspect because he's a very tough fighter, and I hope he feels the same way.  At the end of the day it's great to be in this position.  I'm really happy, but we've still got work to do.

Q: The other thing I couldn't help but notice is that this season that you drove is marked by really great consistency and finishing and everything, and that Texas played a huge role.  It got you started in the points run leading, but it also took it away.  It's almost like Texas almost vexed you with a 15‑point penalty and two not‑so‑great finishes.  What do you have to say about Texas?

HELIO CASTRONEVES:  No, I still love Texas, don't get me wrong.  I think this is a misfortune.  We can't say there is anything to do with that.  It's an interesting comparison, but I believe there is more into it.  Certainly the team prepared as much as they do.  We still don't understand.  We know the problem in the first race and we fixed it, but the problem in the second race, we're still kind of like really disturbed by it because we did everything we could to make sure that the car is reliable, and all of a sudden one thing that's outside of our control ended up ruining the second race.

In the end we have a great chance.  I don't see that a negative, I see that a way to give us fuel to go out there and push as hard as we can.

Q: Again, it was great in the photos you leading the field there in Houston.  I hope to see some of that here in Fontana, and welcome to California.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you so much.  I'm looking forward to being there.

Q: Questions regarding kind of both the light and the track surface.  How bad is the glare going into Turns 3 and 4, and secondly, how bad is the bump between Turns 1 and 2 since we know that's what caught Will out last year?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: We had a test (Sept. 24) in Fontana.  We did face a similar issue.  I believe all the drivers agreed and exposed the situation, and I believe there is a scenario that might delay the race about 25 to 30 minutes.  I'm not sure about the time.  But I know about 5:50 or something is about when the sun is at a critical point in Turn 3 that we cannot see at all. So (INDYCAR president of competition and operations) Derrick Walker is already looking into it, and like I said, I believe they will make an adjustment in time so we won't have that kind of issue. The second thing about the bump and not only in 1 and 2 but in 3 and 4, the latest I heard is also they might do some touch‑up on those bumps so that we can prevent any kind of issues.

But at this point the track is much different than Houston.  I'd say it's much smoother, and I do believe it's going to create a great excitement of several lines, people can go below, can go middle, can go high, so that can create a great kind of racing.

Q: I'm curious about the bumpiness in Houston.  Can you describe just how harsh that was?

HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Well, interesting because we do have some racetracks that are very bumpy.  One perfect example is Baltimore going over the railroad tracks. The bump in front of the straightaway in Houston was very similar to that except that there was no railroad.  I mean, they did an incredible job on putting everything together, the whole track, the crowd enjoyed it.  I thought it was a great, successful event. Unfortunately there were some issues with the preparation, I think.  When they went there a long time ago to look, I believe they missed that kind of a bump.  You don't need to be a huge expert in surface to find that out.  When I looked, even when they tried to sand it out, unfortunately you could see it wasn't very smooth.

My thoughts is one is hard and the other is not, so we'll try different lines when we come back and see what it is then.  I don't see why in the future and especially now that we can have at least some type of ‑‑ I know INDYCAR is awesome in terms of we'll race anywhere, doesn't matter what kind of surface we do race, but I think we should have at least some type of line, draw a line that it's becoming unsafe and it's becoming preventing of passing and things like that. Hopefully they will be able to address those type of scenarios, and we'll follow, because certainly even with that type of circumstance the race was still awesome.

Q: I'm curious if you've had a chance to exchange text messages or I know a lot of guys have been contacting Dario.  Have you had any contact with him since he's had his phone back?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I did.  Just joking around internal with all the drivers, they were kind of like send emails but were not having him respond, but we understand he probably was on medication.  But since finally he was able to answer to all of us, he mentioned that he is on a lot of painkillers so he's not feeling so much.  He is joking right now he's not feeling much.  But we are very glad that ‑‑ I mean, it could be more serious than that.  Certainly I do feel that the catch fence did their work, glad that it at least bend a little bit so the impact didn't hurt more than it was and also hit spectators. All about this, it's kind of like checking and make sure that those type of scenarios, at least the car did the job, the safety aspect did their job.  And for him, unfortunately he's in this situation, but he will have time to recover and not miss any races for next year.

Q: You know that Scott is a two‑time champion in the series.  Do you feel like you're at any disadvantage psychologically or in any way at a disadvantage to Scott because of that?

HELIO CASTRONEVES:  No, I don't think so.  I respect Scott and Team Ganassi and what they've accomplished in the past.  And to be honest, it's interesting to see that they were able to find all these championships together and we're here another one, which really shows that veterans still do it extremely well.  That's what I love about sports. But in the same way, you know, what happened last year with my teammate Will and Hunter‑Reay, they were kind of in a very similar scenario in the points and see what happens.  There was many factors.  We're talking about 500 miles.  It's a long‑distance race.  Anything can happen.  Certainly we're going to do our job.  We're going to try and push as hard as we can, not worry about them, which I wasn't even before going to Houston.  Houston was something extremely out of the ordinary.  But at this point we have to do our thing.  We have to focus on our speed, and they are probably the ones that are going to have to worry about us.

In that aspect, I know he's strong enough mentally because he's been in these situations.  But who knows what could happen.  There's many, many things that could happen to us.  But what I'm looking for is the AAA Machine to go as fast as they can so that we can have our opportunity here and a shot to win this championship.

Q: You've added AJ to the Penske lineup, they've added Alex Tagliani.  Do you see that as kind of cancelling each other out, given (Alex Tagliani) has won poles at Indy, he's won pole at Texas, he's a pretty good oval racer?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, you're right.  Tag is certainly a fast guy, but AJ, for the short amount of time that he was in the car, especially on the oval, he proved that he has enough experience on that.  Like I said, we've got to use every tool that we can to try to steal points away from Scott.  Glad that Will ended up winning the race in Houston, that he stole at least 10 points from him, so those type of things that we've got to do, and we felt that AJ is the best man to do this kind of job, and hopefully we have him up to speed up there with us.

Q: When you went back and looked at the video of Dario's crash at Houston, were you surprised that his car got as high as it did given the redesign, or is that just a matter of a car going very fast and you have that kind of contact and it's going to happen?

HELIO CASTRONEVES:  It's interesting.  Unfortunately, incidents at Indianapolis in the past, some of the road courses we had it, just kind of the angle that you hit.  You try to prevent as much as you can, but the car did their job.  It could be much worse.  The car could probably go outside of the fence in those circumstances if your car didn't have that kind of bumper.  It did the job, not only protecting the car from going away from the track but also protect the driver, as well. And, again, I'm never one that see anything, but we might try to design a little bit of the racetrack, because that corner itself was already difficult by yourself.  Imagine if you had some type of things.  I'm glad actually they listened to the drivers saying the wet qualifying would have been extremely dangerous.

Sometimes, like I said, we've got to look at how we position the design of the track, the layout.  You're trying to become too creative, and it doesn't matter, the safest car in the world could be an issue. In my opinion, that's my personal opinion.  We should at least change that kind of straightaway, which is not a straightaway so that we don't have that kind of scenario, so if Takuma got sideways and slowed down and Dario was coming really fast and crashed.  Those perfect storms sometimes are difficult unless we change the track. I'm glad that nobody was seriously injured.

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