Will Power led a Team Penske sweep of the top-three qualifying performances by winning the pole position Friday for the MAVTV 500, the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway.
Power was clocked at 220.775 mph for two laps around the two-mile oval in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. It marked Power’s third pole position of the season as he continued his strong qualifying performances along with his impressive run at the end of the 2013 campaign.
Friday’s result also meant Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves will start Saturday’s race in front of championship rival Scott Dixon, who carries a 25-point lead in the title chase into the season-ending 500-mile battle.
“From the moment we got the Verizon car on the track it was fast,” said Power, who also won poles on the streets of St. Petersburg and at the Texas Motor Speedway oval this season. “We knew it was going to be a tough qualifying session but that all three Team Penske cars had the speed. It’s good to get our third Verizon P1 Pole award for the year and to get the point in the championship so it didn’t go to the No. 9 car (driven by Dixon). It would have been great to see Helio get the point and the pole but we knew we also had the speed and with the other guys going after me (in the qualifying order) we had to go for it. It will be a long race on Saturday and we’re looking for a strong finish.”
Meanwhile, Castroneves, who is trying to win his first career IndyCar championship, had the second-fastest two-lap average of the day — 219.667 mph in the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Dallara/Chevrolet. Unfortunately, Castroneves and his team will incur a 10-position starting grid penalty for changing an engine before the race and the No. 3 car will start 11th when Saturday’s race begins at approximately 9:10 pm ET.
“Really proud of the Auto Club team and the job that they did in qualifying,” said Castroneves, who won the pole at the Fontana track in both 2003 and 2004 for Team Penske. “It’s great for Team Penske to qualify 1-2-3 and for Will to win the pole and make sure that point stays in the family. We knew coming into Auto Club Speedway that we would take the grid penalty for switching engines but we still have a good starting spot, it’s a 500-mile race and we know what it will take to get to the front. We are ready to go for the championship tomorrow night and I can’t wait.”
AJ Allmendinger, who rejoined Team Penske for the season finale, had the third-fastest qualifying average– 218.894 mph – in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. Allmendinger will make his sixth IndyCar start of 2013 Saturday, after racing in NASCAR for most of the season, and he enjoyed his best qualifying result for Team Penske on Friday.
“Qualifying third here at Auto Club Speedway is huge,” said Allmendinger, the former open-wheel standout who’s made nine NASCAR Cup Series starts at Auto Club Speedway in his career. “I am a little bit behind in the race car right now so I’m just trying to play catch up. Obviously, it’s a lot different going around here in a Cup car versus an IndyCar so getting used to the corner entry right now for me is the biggest deal. It’s clear that Team Penske has really fast race cars and Chevy has brought a lot of horse power to the table for this weekend. Will (Power) and Helio (Castroneves) have been great teammates to me, as they’ve been all year. They have really helped me get back up to speed. It’s a long race tomorrow and our goal is to be there at the end.”
While Castroneves will start just outside the top 10 Saturday, he will be six spots ahead of the driver he’s trying to beat for the championship. Dixon, who qualified seventh, will also will be assessed the 10-position grid penalty for an unscheduled engine change and will start 17th.
For Power, Friday’s effort marked his 32nd career IndyCar pole and he has now earned eight front-row starts in 19 races this season. His average starting position in 2013 is now 4.5 – the best in the series. On Saturday, Power will be looking for his third win in the last five races to close the season.
Following qualifying, all three Team Penske drivers ran well in the evening practice, the final warm-up before Saturday’s race. Castroneves posted the second-fastest lap, Power was fifth on the timing sheet and Allmendinger was 11th under the lights.