SONOMA, Calif. (AP) Tim Cindric and Roger Penske insist they’re playing no favorites in the final two races of the IndyCar season. They just want a championship, and they don’t care which driver delivers it to them.
Will Power and Helio Castroneves have put Team Penske in position for an overdue celebration as the circuit wraps up with events on both ends of California. Power takes a 39-point lead over Castroneves into Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, with both drivers tantalizingly close to their first series titles.
Cindric is well aware Team Penske hasn’t won the IndyCar championship since 2006, a surprisingly long drought for an elite team. Even though Cindric calls Power’s races, the Penske Racing president won’t anoint a favorite among Power, Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, who’s still lurking in fifth.
After a Penske driver finished second in five of the last six years, they’ll all race to win in wine country, no matter the standings.
”The rules don’t really change internally as far as team orders, because team orders have always been, `Just don’t hit each other,”’ Cindric said.
”Even though Roger runs Helio’s car and I run Will’s car, we know that the first priority is to give our team the best chance to win the championship,” Cindric added. ”Both of us will be very content with either one of the guys winning the championship.”
It definitely matters to Power and Castroneves, who have both traversed rocky paths to the brink of a title.
Power has utterly dominated at Sonoma for the last four years. He also won last year at Fontana, where the season concludes with a double-points race next Saturday.
Power surged into the overall points lead earlier this month and cemented his spot with an impressive win at Milwaukee last week, but the Australian has been in this position before.
He led the overall points standings in 2010 and 2012 with two races to go, only to crash in the finale while losing the title both times. In fact, only three drivers in the last eight seasons have held onto their points lead with two races left to win the IndyCar championship.
Castroneves, who is making his 100th consecutive start, has nine top-four series finishes in his career, but the Brazilian still hasn’t claimed an overall title, repeatedly falling short in the final races.
”Nothing in the past few years has gone as it should at the end of the year – for us, anyway, and for all kinds of different reasons,” Cindric said. ”It’s hard to think that this year would be any different, but you just go through things that you know, and you let fate decide a few of the others.”
If past performance in Sonoma is any indication, Power could be in a commanding position when his car heads south to Fontana.
After a serious crash in 2009, Power has three victories and a second-place finish in the last four IndyCar races on the winding course that becomes even more treacherous with the notorious wind gusts on the north end of San Francisco Bay.
Another big finish would put Power on the brink of his first championship, but Castroneves is unlikely to be out of the hunt. Six drivers headed to Sonoma still in contention for the title, although some would need Power to crash twice to have a real shot.
Under last year’s scoring system, Power would have a healthy lead atop the standings, and only Castroneves would have any chance of catching him. The doubled points for IndyCar’s 500-mile events have kept the championship race more competitive, and that’s why Team Penske isn’t celebrating just yet.
”It’s probably something that the fans enjoy, seeing it come down to the last race,” Cindric said. ”For the teams, it’s difficult because you put so much into it all year long. For it to come down to the last race makes it difficult.”