All or nothing: Most of Fontana field aims only for race win
As the condensed 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season comes to a close Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway, there are many other storylines than the battle for the series championship.
Juan Pablo Montoya (left) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (right) have both won races this season, but are not in contention for the championship.
By Bruce Martin
FONTANA, Calif. -- As the 2014 IndyCar Series season comes to a close on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway, there are many other storylines than the battle for the series championship.
To some of the drivers in the 22-car field, they could care less about the points race; it's a last chance for them to score a victory this season.
Team Penske driver Will Power has a 51-point lead over teammate Helio Castroneves in the championship battle but Power qualified 21st in the 22-car field after a poor qualification performance on Friday. Meanwhile, Castroneves won the pole and is determined to race to win in the 500-mile race that pays double points to the winner.
Power may actually move up one position after Mikhail Aleshin crashed in Friday night's practice session that sent him to Loma Linda University Hospital with fractured ribs, a broken right clavicle, a concussion and chest injuries. He was admitted to the hospital and listed in serious but stable condition. Aleshin, a rookie driver from Russia, qualified eighth. Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports could find another driver to replace Aleshin in Saturday night's race or simply withdraw that entry, but that would adversely impact teammate Simon Pagenaud's efforts to win the title.
Pagenaud is 81 points out and has to win the race, have Power finish 21st or worse and Castroneves finish worse than third.
While Power, Castroneves and Pagenaud have their own race to the championship, there are 19 other drivers that want to win the race including several drivers who are winless thus far.
One prime candidate in that group is Target/Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Kanaan has five finishes of third or better this season but has not won a race. In the past six races, Kanaan has three third place and one second-place finish but has also had his momentum halted after fininishes of 21st and 13th.
Kanaan starts eighth in the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
"I feel good," Kanaan said. "We've been knocking on the door for the last six races. This is one more race to do it. It's a 500-mile race, a long ways to go. Very difficult conditions on a slippery track so it will be a survival race like it was last year."
Josef Newgarden is searching for his first career victory and has a great starting position -- the outside of the front row in the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda. Newgarden is getting closer to a win and it could come Saturday night.
Graham Rahal is another driver who has run up front but hasn't found the path to victory lane. In fact, Rahal hasn't won a race since he became the youngest winner in IndyCar history when he won in his very first race in IndyCar in 2008.
"It would be nice to get a win but I won't be celebrating because for me it has been a tough year," Rahal said. "We just want to have a good result and move on to the offseason."
While there are only three drivers that can win the championship, there are plenty of drivers in the field that can win the MAVTV 500.
"There are a lot of guys that can win this race because it's 500 miles and this track picks up quite a lot of dirt and the radiators gets stuffed and the engines blow," Rahal said. "Who knows, we might have to have a helmet change because of all the dirt and you can't get enough tear-offs on the helmet. A lot of stuff happens in this race in a short period of time."
Honda driver James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport won three races in 2013 but is winless this season. Although he hasn't scored a win, he doesn't believe it's time to panic.
"Everybody needs wins -- that's why we are here," Hinchcliffe said. "I said halfway through this season when we didn't have any good results that a win won't make or break our season. We've had some of the worst luck of anyone in this series but we've had a lot of pace. We are going to try our best in the race but if it doesn't end up in victory circle, it's not suicide watch just yet."
Ryan Briscoe hasn't won a race in two years and gets one more chance in Chip Ganassi Racing's Chevrolet at Fontana.
"It would be huge," Briscoe said. "You are only as ever as good as your last race and you want the last race of the season to be a win."
When it comes to racing at this massive 2.0-mile speedway, Ed Carpenter may be the best. He won this race two years ago and finished second to Power last year. Carpenter has already driven to victory this year when he won at Texas Motor Speedway in June and he is certainly a leading contender on Saturday night.
The hottest driver in the series at the moment is Scott Dixon, who has won two of the last three races this season and is targeting a third win in the final four races to close out the year.
"That would be big to close out the season on a high note," Dixon said. "That's what we are after. If things go our way we could have a crack at finishing second place. It's been a horrible year for us so we are trying to salvage as much as we can."
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin's Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. ET.