FONTANA, California – Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves enters the final race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season in the same position he was in last year. He trails the points leader by virtually the same amount of points too.
Last year, he entered the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway 25 points behind Scott Dixon in the final race to the championship. Dixon would prevail to win the title by 27.
This year, Castroneves enters the MAVTV 500 51 points behind Team Penske teammate Will Power but, with double points being awarded for Saturday night’s 500-mile race, it is essentially the same as a 25-point deficit using the single-point system from last year.
Castroneves has experienced success in the greatest race of them all, winning the Indianapolis 500 three times in career. But, in a career that began in CART in 1998 and continued in IndyCar in 2002, Castroneves has never won a series championship. It is the one accomplishment missing from his career and one that he desperately wants to achieve, even if it means knocking off his Team Penske teammate to do it.
“Win,” Castroneves said Wednesday night during an IndyCar Series test session at Auto Club Speedway. “That is what we have to do. We have to make it happen. We have to win the 100 points. We don’t have much of a choice.”
The IndyCar Series championship will be determined in the final race of the season for the ninth year in a row.
So how did Castroneves get to this point for the second straight season?
Just like last year, the driver from Brazil was remarkably consistent with seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. Although he doesn’t lead the series, he is tied with Power for most bonus points this season with 55 points each.
He got off to a fast start with a third-place finish at St. Petersburg, Florida but faltered with an 11th place at Long Beach and 19th place at Barber Motorsports Park. Castroneves rebounded in two races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. He finished third in the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and came within 0.0600-seconds of becoming the fourth four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, losing out in a dramatic duel with Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Those two races served as a spark to his season. The following weekend, Castroneves finished fifth in the first race of a double-header at Detroit and came back the next day to win the second Detroit double. That put him squarely in the championship battle, where he would remain for the rest of the season.
After three races in Texas where Castroneves had disappointing results, he rallied back to finish second in the 500-mile race at Pocono. He led the standings for the first time after an eighth-place finish at Iowa in July and then began a tight battle between himself and teammate Power.
Castroneves was the points leader at the beginning of August and appeared to be in control before a stretch of three-straight races knocked him out of the lead and put him in a tenuous position. His car couldn’t leave the starting grid at Mid-Ohio after a throttle issue and he would finish 19th. He finished 11th at Milwaukee in a car that didn’t have the same speed as his two teammates – race winner Power and second-place Juan Pablo Montoya.
Then came last week’s race at Sonoma, California where Castroneves couldn’t make it out of the second turn on the first lap without being part of a four-car crash involving Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Briscoe. He went on to finish 18th and was saved when Power spun out midway through the race and finished 10th.
“I’m frustrated,” Castroneves said. “What happened at Mid-Ohio was out of our control and at Milwaukee we still don’t know what happened to the car. Last week in Sonoma, Bourdais hit us and it threw us a wrench there we didn’t expect.
“When those things happens we hope to turn the page and get those 100 points.”
But even a victory won’t matter unless Power finishes worst than sixth. Castroneves could have a dominating performance and drive to victory but, if Power finishes sixth or better, he wins the championship.
And Power is the defending winner of this race, driving to a convincing victory last year.
“We had some really good chances to win more races at St. Pete and in Detroit in the first race,” Castroneves admitted. “We could have collected more points in those. In the 500-mile races we didn’t win but we got some major points in those races.
“So far, I would give my effort a B-plus but I need an A-plus in this race on Saturday night.”
And even acing the final test of the season may not be enough to get Castroneves the championship. But he is certainly not giving up.
“I have to move on and catch my friend, Will, at this track,” Castroneves said. “I’m all in. It’s a different poker game and, on Saturday night, I hope to have the winning hand.”
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. ET.