FONTANA, Calif. – Friday’s qualifications for Saturday night’s IZOD IndyCar Series Championship finale – the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway – really didn’t matter for the only two drivers in the battle for the IndyCar title.
That’s because both Helio Castroneves and championship points leader Scott Dixon will change engines prior to Saturday night’s race and both will incur 10-grid spot penalties.
Dixon and Castroneves are also both over the allotted five engines in a season so those drivers will not earn points toward the Manufacturer’s Championship.
While that is a big deal for Chevrolet, which powers Castroneves, and Honda, the engine manufacturer for Dixon, these two drivers will determine who wins the series title. Dixon leads Castroneves by 25 points entering Saturday night’s race. Castroneves nearly won the pole, which would have earned him one more point toward the title but his Team Penske teammate Will Power knocked him off the pole later in the session.
Power claimed the pole with a two-lap average of 220.775 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet around the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway. Castroneves’ clocked in at 219.677 mph but he won’t start there because of the grid penalty. A.J. Allmendinger made it an All Team Penske Front Row with a two-lap average of 218.894 mph.
Saturday night’s race will feature a three-abreast start because it is part of the Fuzzy’s Vodka Triple Crown, which includes the Indianapolis 500, Pocono IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco and the MAVTV 500 at Fontana.
Dixon’s Dallara/Honda qualified seventh with a two-lap average of 217.979 mph, but he will start 10 positions further on the grid.
The official starting lineup won’t be issued until Saturday morning once IndyCar officials have a determination of which teams will change engines.
But the extra point for the pole could have made Castroneves’ quest a bit easier, by one point at least.
“The way the order worked out, Scott Dixon was after me,” Power explained. “I was after Helio. It would have been nice for Helio to get the point, but Scott didn’t, so it kind of still keeps it alive.”
Dixon can clinch the third IZOD IndyCar Series championship of his career if he finishes fifth or better in Saturday night’s 500-mile contest.
“It’s a 500-mile race,” Dixon said. “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.
“It can still get pretty messy back there.”
In another twist, Dixon and James Jakes both ran identical speeds of 217.979 mph but the tiebreaker went to the driver that qualified first.
“It’s rigged,” Dixon quipped. “It should be highest in points, c’mon.
“I think we’re happy to start there. We’ll be 17th. 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, Tony Kanaan and me 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.
“I’m excited to be here this weekend. It’s fun to be in this position and to fight for the championship.”