It’s Will Power’s Championship To Lose

Will Power spins out at the 2012 Fontana race.

Penske driver Will Power leads the 2014 championship standings going into the final race of the season in Fontana, CA.  He goes into the race with a lead of 51 points, nearly double the lead Scott Dixon had on Helio Castroneves going into Fontana last year.  But all is not won yet for Power, the 500 mile Fontana race is a double points race, meaning a maximum of 104 points are available to any one driver.  Five drivers are currently eligible to win the championship (although some unlikely), so we’re going to take a look at how the points could play out:


Power’s dominance in the early stages of the Sonoma race was setting him up for a huge point lead going into the final race, but things didn’t stay that way for him:

After spinning the car around Power never really regained the great form we saw earlier in the race, only managing to put the car into 10th after qualifying on pole and leading 33 laps of the race.  This was an opportunity for Helio Castroneves to make up some real ground on the leader, but he failed to do so.  Castroneves finished the race in 18th place and scored just 12 points, not what he needed going to Fontana, a track Power dominated the last year winning from pole and leading over half of the laps run.  

As mentioned above, the top five drivers in the standings still have a shot at the championship, those drivers are: Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, and obviously Will Power.  

Update: 1:19 p.m. 8/29 – Dixon is out of contention for the championship now that Will Power has turned laps in the practice session.

Scott Dixon would have to have a perfect day; he would need to win the race, lead the most laps (and thereby lead a lap), win pole position and (here’s the secret ingredient) not have Power race. Yes, the minute the green flag drops Will Power could park his car and walk off the track and still beat Dixon.  Coming in last place of a 22 car field would yield him eight points. Even if Dixon has the perfect day described above, Will Power would finish the year with a seven point lead on him.  

Update: 1:19 p.m. 8/29 – Hunter-Reay is out of contention for the championship now that Will Power has turned laps in the practice session.

His next competitor is the 2014 Indy 500 winner and 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.  RHR came out of the Indy race and hit a slump, immediately.  He finished 16th, 19th and 19th again in the next three races, not unlike some of his other Indianapolis 500 winner brothers.  Tightening up in the last third of the season, Hunter-Reay has put himself fourth in the championship for the season finale.  In order to get a second IndyCar championship win, he’ll also need some help from Power.  If RHR wins the race, he’d have 635 points (not taking into account pole and most laps led bonus points) and Power would have 634 if he comes in 22nd. Again, this scenario is low probability but it has more of a chance than Dixon’s.  The Andretti team will have to hope for a mechanical failure or crash on the #12 car as well as poor results from Castroneves and Pagenaud if they want to claim the championship.  

Will Power crashed at Fontana in 2012, losing the championship to the aforementioned Ryan Hunter-Reay:
    




The Frenchmen Simon Pagenaud trails the leader by just 81 points, certainly doable in this double points race.  Pagenaud hasn’t been a fan of Fontana, with an average finish of 14.3 over the last three years.  That result wouldn’t get him anywhere near the top of the standings with two very dominant drivers ahead of him.  However, if he can manage a first place finish (he needs it), Power would have to finish 11th or worse.  This is not too far off, though, Power did crash out of the 2012 race and finished 24th.  Simon Pagenaud really needs a solid weekend and a poor one from Power and Castroneves. 

Since 1997, drivers going into the final race of the season with the championship lead ended up winning the championship 11 times out of 17, or 64.7% of the time.  The history bodes well for Power, but it certainly isn’t all that convincing.  Especially once you throw in the fact that in the last five years, the leader going into the final race lost it four out of those five times. Want something else to think about?  Three of those four times the championship leader (going into the race) was Will Power.  Power will be looking to hold onto the points lead this time round and win the championship.  

Helio Castroneves is the driver with the best chance of winning the championship and taking it away from Power for the fourth time.  To do that, he’ll need a good finish but not necessarily a win.  To help you figure out how the points will run during the race, we put together a chart below (click to enlarge) to see who would win the championship in each finishing situation.  The chart doesn’t account for pole position points (+1), leading a lap (+1), or most laps led (+2) points:  


As you can see, the chart is overwhelming black for Will Power.  It is surely his championship to lose this year.  Power has been driving a career best season, 602 points so far this year and an average finish of 6.3.  He’s been flat out dominant this year, no DNF’s and he’s led 28.7% of all the laps turned.  If Power can’t come through in the final championship race this year with as big a point margin as he has, I’m not sure if he will ever be able to.

For live, as-they-run points throughout the IndyCar season finale, follow Single Seater on Twitter.  

         – Drew Bennison

Update: 1:16 p.m. 8/29

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