Team Penske president Cindric sizes up Power vs. Castroneves title fight
Cindric has the unique ability to assess the two Team Penske drivers that are battling it out for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
Penske Racing president Tim Cindric (right) believes Helio Castroneves (left) needs another win if he wants to take home the 2014 IndyCar Series Championship.
By Bruce Martin
FONTANA, Calif. – On race weekends Team Penske president Tim Cindric is in charge of Will Power’s race strategy, but throughout the week he is the man who runs Team Penske. That gives Cindric the unique ability to assess the two Team Penske drivers that are battling it out for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship.
The final race of the season is Saturday night’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway. Power takes a 51-point lead over three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves into the double points race. There are a variety of scenarios that can determine the championship but in its simplest form, if Power finishes sixth or better he wins his first IndyCar title.
Castroneves needs some help in order to make up the 51-point deficit but his first and foremost objective is to win the race and see how things fall after that.
Castroneves enters the race with just one victory this season – the same as last year when he finished second to Scott Dixon in the championship by 27 points.
“Typically it takes more than one victory in the series to win the championship and I think that will come out to play here because in a lot of ways he needs to win here,” Cindric said. “If that one win turns into two, it would be a big victory. Obviously, he almost won the Indy 500 and he had his shot at a few other races.
“You do have to win more than one race in this series. If you look at Will’s season where he won three races -- without a few things that happened in that world -- he would be running the gamut in some ways. Will has been having a typical championship season if you take away a few drive-through penalties and unforeseen situations. But Helio has to win here to have a shot at it.”
This is the fourth time since 2010 that Power has gone into the final race of the season as the points leader. He lost titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012 in the final race and was not in contention for the championship last year when he went out and won the final race of the season at this track.
In the past, Power has generally started out fast and faltered at the end. This year, Power had a great start to the season, slumped midway through the schedule but battled back to some impressive finishes including a dominant performance at the Milwaukee Mile two weeks ago where he led 229 laps in the 250-lap race to claim the victory.
“Last year he ended the season on the flourish but he wasn’t in the battle for the championship,” Cindric said. “Last year there were so many bad races so early in the year; he couldn’t catch up from that point on. Again, what has kept him from winning have been the real bad days -- and knock on wood -- we haven’t had any of those this year. He has improved on the ovals and we have given him a better car.”
Power has taken an attitude of racing to win rather than racing to protect a points lead. He is on offense more than defense.
“I contribute most of it to his confidence on the ovals,” Cindric said. “He gained confidence on the ovals last year. There were a couple races on the ovals he should have won and didn’t. Winning here last year was a big deal after what happened to him here the year before (when he crashed and lost the championship to Ryan Hunter-Reay). That put his confidence together across the board where he came into this year without any weaknesses. He entered the year confident and has been very consistent this year.”
Cindric believes Castroneves has been a constant near the top of the standings and has improved on street and road course qualifications. But the difference is three wins for Power to just one for Castroneves.
That is why it is so important for Castroneves to get win No. 2 in the final race this season.
If one of the Team Penske drivers can lock up the title -- and it would take something catastrophic to stop that -- it will be the first championship for Team Penske since Sam Hornish Jr.'s in 2006 and only the second championship since joining this series in 2002.
“It’s been way too long but when you look at the statistics we should have won quite a few of them,” Cindric said. “But we haven’t for whatever reason it’s been a different circumstance every year. When you look at number of wins and number of poles and all the other statistics we would be on top of every one of those from that period.
“But when it comes to the championship, two, three or four got away from us and we didn’t execute when we needed to.