Showdown: Penske teammates top IndyCar standings, both aim for first title

(From left) Teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power have a sizable lead in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar points championship heading into next weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio. (Photo: Scott R LePage/LAT Photographic)

INDIANAPOLIS – With just four races remaining in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, Team Penske has doubled its chances of winning just its second championship since joining the series in 2002.

Helio Castroneves has a 13-point lead over teammate Will Power setting up a Team Penske showdown when the series resumes in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on August 3.

Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay is still in the fight but has dropped to 69 points out with Simon Pagenaud 71 back. A third Team Penske driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, is 105 points back and can still be a viable contender for the championship depending on how the final four races place out. And remember the last race of the season – the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California – pays double championship points.

It’s quite clear that the two Team Penske drivers at the top of the standings are in control of their own destiny in terms of the championship, but both drivers have been in that position before and blown the title. Castroneves had a 49-point lead over Scott Dixon with three races remaining last year and lost the championship mainly because of a disastrous weekend in the doubleheader at Houston. Power was firmly in control of the championship race entering the final contests in 2010, 2011 and 2012 only to throw it all away with crashes on the track.

"I’ve been so many times in a massive points lead halfway through the season, you get into a points race, and it’s just no good," Power said. "You have to think of the task at hand.  The last couple of races I have been thinking â€‘‑ to win a race you have got to finish.  At the end of the day it goes hand‑in‑hand; you get points if you win.  You’ve got to be smart in certain situations."

Team owner Roger Penske is the most successful team owner in the history of this form of racing. However, of his 12 championships, 11 of them came in USAC and CART. Since joining the current IndyCar Series in 2002, the only championship came with Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006 – eight years ago.

For Castroneves, a series championship is the only thing missing from his impressive list of career accomplishments that includes three Indianapolis 500 victories, 29 wins (six in CART, 23 in IndyCar) and 41 poles. He is certainly a sentimental favorite to win a title.

As for Power, he is probably the most aggressive and electrifying driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He was a two-time winner in CART before coming of age in IndyCar with 21 wins including two this season. But 2014 has also seen him nailed with five drive-through penalties for mistakes on the track and on pit lane.

If not for those errors, the driver from Toowoomba, Australia would have a sizable lead in the standings.

With four races to go, Team Penske has an excellent chance to win the IndyCar championship, and that means the battle lines may be forming between the two drivers.

"That’s good for us and good for the team to keep pushing away and that is what we want," Castroneves said of his potential title battle with Will Power. "If you look at Toronto on Sunday, as a whole, it was a good day. We came in with a nine-point lead and leave with a 13-point lead. But I got in that big mess there at the end of the race and that was upsetting."

"A lot can happen," Power said of the final four races. "Man, it can turn so quickly, I don’t know.  I’m sure Helio will be one of the guys that will be in the battle there for sure.  You’ve got to put your head down and not think about it and get the most out of every weekend. 

"It will get interesting with it being me and Helio. It’s something we have both finished second a lot and it’s the one thing missing from our careers that we both badly want."