Team Penske sweeps front row for season finale
Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, enters the IZOD IndyCar Series finale 25 points behind Scott Dixon as he aims for his first series championship. Castroneves was holding the provisional pole with a two-lap average speed of 219.677 mph (1 minute, 5.5598 seconds total) on the 2-mile D-shaped oval when AJ Allmendinger slotted in second (218.894 mph) in qualifications.
Two qualifiers later, Power recorded a two-lap average of 220.775 mph (session-high 221.057 mph on Lap 1) to claim his third pole of the season (32nd of his career to tie Michael Andretti for seventh on the all-time list) and bump Castroneves.
"It’s hard to predict the lap you’re going to do anyway, but obviously would have been nice for Helio to get the point," Power said. "He needs to lead the most laps and I’ll just do whatever I can to help him out. I want to have a good race, and if that means just sitting behind him all day, that’s fine. It’s about the team.
Dixon, driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, posted a two-lap average of 217.979 mph to qualify seventh.
The final race of the season on a superspeedway will feature a three-wide start.
Dixon won Race 1 and was runner-up to Power in Race 2 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston two weeks ago to make a dramatic jump in the standings ahead of Castroneves, who experienced mechanical issues in both races. The No. 9 crew decided to switch to its sixth engine of the season between events.
"For us, it was more paramount to change the engine and make sure we took maybe the performance gain than sort of just have the straight-out speed and go off whatever qualifying we would have qualified," said Dixon, who is taking aim at his third series title. "Three-wide should be pretty interesting around here.
"It's fun to come back to Fontana for the championship finale. Also with the Triple Crown, me and (Tony Kanaan) have an opportunity to win two of the three races (an earn a $250,000 bonus from Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka). I don't mind if he wins actually because that will help me in the points. We'll see how that goes. It's fun to be in this position and to fight for the championship."
Sebastien Bourdais, in his final race in the No. 7 Dragon Racing car, qualified a season-high fourth on an oval (218.513), while Charlie Kimball followed at 217.986 and James Jakes also qualified a season-best sixth on an oval (217.979).
The No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing car driven by Takuma Sato and No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing car driven by Pippa Mann did not make qualifying attempts because of contact in separate incidents in Turn 4. Both were checked at the infield care center and cleared to drive. The No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing car driven by Justin Wilson developed a mechanical issue as it left pit lane for the qualifying attempt and was rolled back to pit lane.
"Really tough way to start the weekend, obviously," said Mann, who has competed in three other races this season. "The seams here are pretty treacherous and I just was trying a different line through (Turns) 3 and 4, trying to run in traffic for the first time and it caught me out.
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "We struggled a lot this morning. The car only ran a few laps that were good and then the car got worse with each lap. I wasn't sure if it was me or the car. It was frustrating. But when we got the car back in the garage after practice, we found a big problem that caused our troubles. We had a broken damper (shock). Unfortunately, we didn't get to try a simulation of our qualifying run. I know we would have been faster with some additional laps with the proper setup. I'm just glad we figured out our trouble before qualifying. Now we can work on our race setup in tonight's practice. It's a long race on Saturday with 500 miles. We learned how to win last year and we really want to get back to that Fuzzy's 19th Hole Victory Lane."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 5 Team Venezuela PDVSA CITGO Chevrolet): "Yeah, it was really difficult my first time in the IndyCar this morning was really tough; it was completely different from the (Firestone) Indy Lights practice. You have to drive it a lot physically, there are a lot of issues with the conditions, so it's not always the same especially when the tires were gone. In qualifying, I ran my first lap flat, so I felt like 'Yeah, I can do it flat,' but I think I need more miles on the track to get used to it. The other guys tested here before, and I think I'm getting there; we still have one more practice. It's more experience for me, hopefully for next year, so that's what I'm focusing on."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 GoDaddy Chevrolet): "With the race starting when it does here, the track and temperatures are going to change a lot over the course of the race, and it's going to be the team that stays on top of that the best, the team that's there at the end and still in contention to win. For sure if you're not good at one stage of the race, as long as you're in the final stint, you can definitely come back from that. I don't think our qualifying run was quite as quick as it could have been, but a 500-mile race, like I said, you don't have to start on pole to win this one. We'll do what we can with the GoDaddy car and hopefully we'll be there (in the winner's circle) at the end of 500 miles.
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 25 Dr Pepper Chevrolet): "It was a big change from Lap One to Lap Two (of qualifying) in the Dr Pepper car, and you just take advantage of the new tire grip and the drop-off was pretty big - we got a little too aggressive. I wouldn't say it (tire wear) is going to be an issue; I think Firestone did a great job of shaking the race up - it's going to be a heck of a show."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 1 DHL Chevrolet): "We have some imbalances we have to work on, but I've got great memories of this track from last year and certainly felt the most pressure I've ever felt in my life, and I wish I could do it all over again. It's unfortunate we don't have it all to put it the DHL Chevy on pole today, but it's a part of racing. It's the ebb and flow of the whole sport and I couldn't be more thankful for the position I'm in. We have a shot to go for it (the championship) again next year, and I certainly believe that we can. We're going to have some fun (tomorrow); we're going to work on the car this evening in practice and hopefully make it a bit better. We're really working on trying to use all lanes - that's our biggest goal right now. We're going for it (the win)... it may not be possible, but we'll try it. I'm sure tomorrow night will be an exciting show."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "I think we did a really good job. We went as aggressive as we were comfortable going today and I think we pushed it pretty far. I'm happy with it. I wasn't quite able to keep up with the speed on the second lap especially through Turns 1 and 2. It was a good car, but we we're definitely on the edge and pushing it. I think that's about what we could run today and if you're maximizing that then that's good. I don't think we're really looking into this weekend as going for the pole. We need to be good for the 500 miles and that's the goal. I think we have a good car for the race."
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet): "Our qualifying run was good and the National Guard Chevy felt as good at its felt so far this weekend. The balance and the gears were great, the speed was just a little slower than we thought it would be. But as we know tomorrow is a 500-mile race and we definitely want to give all our partners at the National Guard and Chevrolet a great last race of the season, and we've got the car to do that."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton-HP Motorsports Honda): "My race car is really good. It's unfortunate that we didn't bring the qualifying pace today but we can't change that now. I felt very comfortable in the race trim in practice this morning, so we'll be ready to move up through the pack tomorrow. It could certainly be a fuel strategy race and then go our way, so I'm really looking forward to seeing what we can do. This is such a fun track with all of the different lanes you use. You have to protect your tires, use your tools and be very smart."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "As soon as I drove out of the pit today, I felt the car was pretty quick in qualifying trim. I thought we had a pretty good shot. The way the order worked out, Scott (Dixon) was after me; I was after Helio (Castroneves), ....it is hard to predict what kind of laps you are going to do anyway, and it would have been nice for Helio to get the point (pole winner gets one point for winning Verizon P1 Award). But Scott didn't (win the pole) either."
TRISTAN VAUTIER (No. 55 Angie's List Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "We didn't get as many practice laps as we wanted this morning, and we definitely had more speed than we showed this afternoon. I'm disappointed in our qualifying effort because I know we had more in our Angie's List car. There's a lot to learn on this track with the different lanes you can use and I'm trying to catch up with everyone. It's hard to predict what the race will be like tomorrow, but I know we'll have a good race car for tomorrow night."
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva KVRT Chevrolet): I was actually looking forward to coming here, which hasn't really happened for a long time. Usually with the ovals, I was always not quite sure about them. But now I think I'm pretty confident on them for sure, so I'm a bit disappointed that our qualifying run wasn't great. It seems like when the track got hotter we started picking up a lot of under-steer. We had the same thing happening in the morning session. Maybe that's actually a good thing for the night race, because usually the car gets a little bit looser at night. I think our race car feels pretty good and the race is what's important. Wherever we start I think we can be consistent, especially on old tires, and I think that will be the key to the race."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Auto Club Team Penske Chevrolet): ""Good effort for entire Team Penske. The AAA boys, they did a hell-a-va job putting everything together from this morning. We had a little issue with the right rear shock. The good news is we found it, and the car was awesome. The car was exactly as we left here (after test)...pretty fast. It was unfortunate that we didn't have a crystal ball to tell my buddy here (Will Power) to slow down (LAUGHS). But Scott was behind him, so I am glad he went for it. The car was able to do what we needed. It showed we did our homework, and I am proud of those boys."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "It was more paramount to change the engine, make sure we took care of the performance game. Then just sort of had the straight up speed and go off whatever qualifying we would have qualified. It can still get pretty messy back there, and I guess we'll be 17th. I didn't know we did the same exact time [as James Jakes]. I think we're happy to start there, we'll be 17th. Three-wide should be pretty interesting around here, but it's fun to come back to Fontana for the championship finale, and also with the Fuzzy's Vodka Triple Crown. Me and TK have an opportunity to win two of the three races. I don't mind if he wins actually because that will help me in the points. We'll see how that goes, we're just excited to be here this weekend and it's fun to be in this position and fight for the championship."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Midas / Big O Tires Honda): "We're struggling with the balance here. Both ends of the car are doing totally different things. The challenge is 'How do we get it on the same page.' We can't get it to turn in one end of the track and its swapping ends in the other. We have really struggled with this on the high banked ovals all year. We'll start at the back but its 500 miles so it doesn't really matter. It's a long race."
JAMES JAKES (No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda): "The Acorn Stairlifts car has been good since the test really and we just really concentrated on the race setup because it's a long, long race and the best handling car out there is going to win. The guys have done a great job and Honda as well. Things look good but we try to not get carried away. The race is tomorrow and its going to be a long night. We just have to stay patient which is kind of the key. We need to make sure we stay on the lead lap and have a good car on the final 50 laps or so."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Hydroxycut/KVRT-SH Racing Chevrolet): "We went a little aggressive with the setup so I knew the second lap would be slower. It's a 500-mile race and we have a good race car. Hey, we started 12th at Indy."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 7 Dragon Racing Chevrolet): "That car was just a little too fast on the right. I kinda scared myself on this one. I convinced myself it was going to alright, but then as I was going through turn one counter steering a little bit, I wasn't too sure anymore. I am just glad it stayed with me. I am happy for Dragon Racing, McAfee, Variety-TrueCar effort. Thanks to Chevy, we have some real fast cars. Boy it is a great way to finish our relationship. Hopefully we can make it stick, and show we can do it on ovals."
GRAHAM RAHAL, No. 15 Midas / Big O Tires Dallara/Honda/Firestone: "We're struggling with the balance here. Both ends of the car are doing totally different things. The challenge is 'How do we get it on the same page.' We can't get it to turn in one end of the track and its swapping ends in the other. We have really struggled with this on the high banked ovals all year. We'll start at the back but its 500 miles so it doesn't really matter. It's a long race."
JAMES JAKES, No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Dallara/Honda/Firestone: "The Acorn Stairlifts car has been good since the test really and we just really concentrated on the race setup because it's a long, long race and the best handling car out there is going to win. The guys have done a great job and Honda as well. Things look good but we try to not get carried away. The race is tomorrow and its going to be a long night. We just have to stay patient which is kind of the key. We need to make sure we stay on the lead lap and have a good car on the final 50 laps or so."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Honda): "I'm pretty happy with finishing top-five in qualifying and being the top Honda feels pretty good. Overall, it was a little surprising to be that good because we had focused on the race car so much during practice. But, it's nice to have a good car. The No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen car has been good since we unloaded here and I think we'll be in good shape come 500-miles tomorrow night. We'll work on the car a little bit more tonight as it cools off, and the sun goes down, but overall I think the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi guys are happy with that."
AJ ALLMENDINGER (No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet): "Qualifying third here at Auto Club Speedway is huge. I am a little bit behind in the race car right now so I'm just trying to play catch up. Obviously, it's a lot different going around here in a Cup car versus an IndyCar so getting used to the corner entry right now for me is the biggest deal. It's clear that Team Penske has really fast race cars and Chevy has brought a lot of horse power to the table for this weekend. Will (Power) and Helio (Castroneves) have been great teammates to me, as they've been all year. They have really helped me get back up to speed. It's a long race tomorrow and our goal is to be there at the end."
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