The IZOD IndyCar Series’ championship scenario is easy to digest for new points leader Scott Dixon, who finished first and second in the 90-lap races Oct. 5-6 that constituted the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.
Finish fifth in the 250-lap twilight MAVTV 500 INDYCAR World Championships at Auto Club Speedway on Oct. 19 and, no matter the result posted by Helio Castroneves, he’ll secure his third series title.
It’s the eighth consecutive year that the series champion will be decided in the season finale.
“It’s really going to come down to the wire,” said Dixon, who claimed the prize in 2003 and ’08. “It’s going to be the last lap, last corner kind of situation that we’ll expect. At least I hope it ends that way. You don’t want somebody crashing out on Lap 3 or even midway through the race.
“(Castroneves is) strong at the big oval, definitely speed wise. I think both engine manufacturers have got some updates for Fontana. So we’ll probably see a lot of grid penalties before the race (for unapproved engine changes). It’s going to be a fun race.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve got to go with the mindset of trying to win the race. If you can do that and be on the top three in the podium, then job accomplished.”
Dixon accomplished his task on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn circuit at Reliant Park with a 74-point swing. He takes a 25-point advantage into the last of the season’s 19 races.
“I think we had a good shot of making the points level coming out of here,” Dixon said following his runner-up finish to Team Penske’s Will Power in Race 2. “But to make that gain, I think we as a team know that we have potential to have a good shot at winning both races, especially street courses at the moment.
“But you can never predict, basically, how the competition is going to be or the problems they may have. I feel bad for Helio with the weekend that he had. You see most of the championship contenders have problems throughout the year, and he’s been pretty consistent throughout the year up until now.”
Castroneves entered the weekend riding a streak of 12 races in which he finished in the top 10 and had been the only driver to complete all 2,003 laps. He took the outright points lead with a victory at Texas Motor Speedway and held it for nine races over four months.
But the No. 3 Team Penske entry developed mechanical issues early in both races, which relegated the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion to 18th- and 23rd-place finishes.
“I feel bad for the team because they’ve worked so hard to get us in a position to win this championship,” said Castroneves, who started on the pole for the Race 2 standing start as a rainstorm washed out the 30-minute morning qualifying session and the lineup was set by entrant points. “And there is still a lot of racing left. We know we have a strong car in Fontana. We were fast in the test there (Sept. 24) and we will definitely be going for it.”
Both drivers have had moderate success at the 2-mile D-shaped oval with 14 degrees of banking in the turns.
* 2012 – Qualified fifth and started 15th because of a 10 grid spot penalty for unapproved engine change. Led 15 laps and finished third.
* 2005 – Started 15th and finished 10th.
* 2004 – Started second and finished eighth.
* 2003 – Started third and finished second. Led 13 laps.
* 2012 – Started 17th because of a 10 grid spot penalty for unapproved engine change. Led two laps and finished fifth.
* 2005 – Started sixth and finished ninth.
* 2004 – Started first and finished seventh. Led 145 laps.
* 2003 – Started first and finished sixth. Led 39 laps.
The standings heading into the final race the past five seasons:
2008 — Dixon 606 Castroneves 576
2009 — Dixon 570 Franchitti 565
2010 — Power 587 Franchitti 575
2011 — Power 542 Franchitti 531
2012 — Power 453 Hunter-Reay 436