Coming in to this finale weekend, the two names on everyone’s lips have been Montoya and Rahal. They are the top two in points and have the best opportunity to become the next Verizon IndyCar Series Champion. The feat would be a first for Graham Rahal and a repeat for Juan Pablo Montoya, who earned a Championship with the series back in 1999. I broke down the stats for the two frontrunners yesterday – check those out here.
But there are four other mathematically eligible contenders for the Astor Cup today and one of those gentlemen is making quite a mark in Sonoma this weekend. Will Power, driver of the No. 1 Team Penske Verizon-sponsored Chevrolet managed to break his own fastest-lap record yesterday, when he went out for a third stint in qualifying during the Firestone Fast 6 round and ran a 1:16.2597. That shattered the record he set at the track as polesitter last year by nearly an entire second.
Power and Sonoma certainly do seem to get along cordially. He has now attained the 42nd pole position of his IndyCar career (5th on the all-time list) and will lead the field to green for the 5th time in his 6 starts in as many consecutive years. Team Penske has come out victorious in wine country 4 out of the past 5 races, with Power winning 3 of those. His most recent victory Sonoma was in 2013.
The defending race winner this year is Scott Dixon. The Chip Ganassi Teams driver had a less than desired qualifying session yesterday in his No. 9 Target-sponsored Chevy. He did not make it into the Firestone Fast 6 round and starts today from Row 5 (P9). He noted a significant amount of dirt kicked up onto the track as the reason his lap times (in addition to his teammate, Tony Kanaan’s) were slower than anticipated. Dixon has found success at Sonoma, not only last year but with another victory in 2007, a pole in 2006 and he’s the only driver to complete every lap at every IndyCar race in Sonoma – and for those of you keeping track, that’s 11 years of contests at Sonoma Raceway so far. Dixon is one of the six contenders fighting for the Astor Cup and he is no stranger to its glory – he is a three-time IndyCar Series Champion, winning the title in 2003, 2008 and most recently in 2013.
CFH Racing driver Josef Newgarden, is 6th in points and making sure that everyone knows he is still gunning for that Championship, even though he finds himself on the bubble for the Championship. He nearly had pole yesterday and even held the track record at Sonoma Raceway for a minute or so, before Power squeaked in and took the title back into his hands. Newgarden is having the kind of year that marks the true start of a notable career. The 24 year old Tennessee native won the first race of his career back in April at Barber Motorsports Park, edging out fellow Championship running-mates Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon and Will Power. He followed that up with his sophomore win on the streets of Toronto in June and has since enjoyed two podium finishes at both Iowa (P2) and Pocono (P2). Keep an eye on the GoPro-sponsored No. 67 Chevrolet today as he battles to not only make it to the podium one last time in 2015, but as he aims for the very top step.
Another driver that is hoping to come out on top today is the driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet – Helio Castroneves. The veteran driver has been fighting for a Championship in his 18-year-long career in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He has come out just shy of the Astor Cup on 4 occasions, finishing 2nd overall in 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2014. If there is one thing this man has other than an endless amount of optimism, its patience. Castroneves is one of the long-shots for the Championship this season, but the opportunity is there, and so long as it’s a possibility, he will go after it with gumption. Unfortunately, his qualifying results were less than desirable and he will start further back than the other 5 contenders, on Row 8 from P15. He is not afraid of a challenge however, and faces it with an upbeat attitude:
“It will definitely make it more challenging starting in the middle of the pack, but we know the Hitachi car is fast. As we’ve seen this year, anything can happen…”
The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will air in a live broadcast on NBC Sports at 1:00pm PT/4:00pm ET. If you want to keep up with timing & scoring, head over to racecontrol.indycar.com or indycar.com to watch real-time updates. The IndyCar 15 app is available for iOS or Android devices, giving you access to leaderboard stats such as position, lap speed and laps since last pit. You can also listen to the Advance AutoParts IndyCar Radio broadcast with Paul Page & Davey Hamilton on your mobile device or the aforementioned race control site. If your mobile device is powered by Verizon Wireless, title-sponsor of the IndyCar Series, you will also have access to in-car cameras, 3D views and additional features on the IndyCar 15 app.
Here’s to a safe and entertaining race at Sonoma Raceway, to end our 2015 IndyCar season!
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