With the Verizon IndyCar Series championship chase for 2016 essentially down to just two drivers following Will Power’s victory Monday in the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, the Australian looks to gain further ground on his Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud on Saturday night as the teams and drivers return to Texas Motor Speedway to hopefully finally complete the Firestone 600.
The event at the 1.5 mile track dubbed the “Great American Speedway,” was originally scheduled for June, yet after two days of off and on rain showers plus persistent issues with track weepers, IndyCar elected to delay the completion of the event until this upcoming weekend allowing track promoter Eddie Gossage the opportunity to run the event under the lights as was the initial setup. The first 71 laps that were contested in June however, were not without incident as Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly crashed in turn four. Newgarden’s car rolled onto its side and made further contact with the outside wall near the start-finish line. Newgarden suffered a fractured clavicle and a broken right hand in the shunt, but was able to contest the following IndyCar event at Road America in Wisconsin two weeks later.
Unfortunately, due to the crash occurring before the race was halted, neither Daly nor Newgarden will be allowed to participate when the action resumes on Saturday night, a detrimental blow in the title hopes for the Tennessee native, who currently ranks third on the points table. While the two Americans will be absent, the spotlight could shift back to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe, who will lead the field to the green flag when the green flag waves. The Canadian, who currently ranks eighth in the standings, is enjoying his best season since winning three times in the 2013 campaign. In addition to winning the pole position for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May, Hinch has earned eight top ten finishes in 13 appearances in 2016.
Also in the hunt for a victory on Saturday night could be Hinchcliffe’s SPM teammate Mikhail Aleshin, who enjoyed his finest outing since making the move to North American open wheel racing from his native Russia. After claiming his first career Verizon P1 Award in time trials on Saturday at Pocono, Aleshin chased Will Power to the checkered flag on Monday to secure runner-up honors, three notches higher than his previous career best finish in IndyCar competition.
The main focus of course, will be centered on the two Penske teammates. Following Will Power’s fourth victory in the past six races, a run that has seen him finish no worse than second in any of those events, the gap between the Australian and Simon Pagenaud is down to just forty points. This is the closest anyone has come to catching the Frenchman on the points table since Pagenaud’s second win of the season at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
After starting the season in a fashion similar to his teammate’s recent surge, Pagenaud has missed reaching the top ten in four of the last nine races, including an 18th place effort on Monday at Pocono where he failed to finish. The target for Pagenaud on Saturday is to limit the damage to his point lead to the minimum since the season finale at Sonoma, California will offer double points for the second consecutive season. With a difference of 84 points between first and last place points earned for the season ending round, Power is well within range of taking his second title in the past three seasons, while Pagenaud looks to hold on for his first championship on the IndyCar circuit in what initially appeared to be an insurmountable lead at the 2016 season’s midpoint.