The championship will again go down to the wire this season at Auto Club Speedway making it the 7th straight year that the championship will be decided in the final race of the season.
Helio Castroneves has held the points lead for most of the season, but he hasn’t done it by going out and kicking everyone’s butt every week. As I have said before Castroneves has stayed out of trouble for the most part this season, but of late, he has been down performance wise. This isn’t limited to the gearbox issues that he suffered at the Houston doubleheader. From the summer stretch, Castroneves has not been super competitive and has only led 2 laps. At Sonoma and Baltimore, he was caught up in early accidents and took advantage of yellows falling his way to get back into the top ten.
On the other hand, they system rewards the driver that has the best overall season and Castroneves has completed more laps than anybody and has capitalized when Scott Dixon had his issues at Baltimore and Sonoma, but as far as going out and dominating, Castroneves has only done that at Texas.
Dixon’s season has been highlighted by a summer surge starting with a win at Pocono and following it up with a doubleheader sweep at Toronto. The days where he has run bad, he has had it go very wrong with 7 finishes of 11th or worst (whereas Castroneves only has 3 finishes of 13th or worst) and had potential wins at Sonoma and Baltimore dampered by incidents with Will Power.
Both drivers were in a similar championship duel in 2008, where Dixon won the championship and Castroneves finished in second. That season Dixon won 6 races to Castroneves’ 2, with the latter finishing second 8 times, which made all the difference. With a guaranteed 10 point gain for winning a race, Dixon was able to be just a little bit more perfect than his rival to have that edge at the end.
With a 500 mile race ahead of these two, anything can happen during that time. Last years race shows how a championship can be lost with just a spin of the wheel when Will Power crashed out of the race, leaving Ryan Hunter-Reay with a chance to make up a 17 point deficit and had to last the whole night being that Power’s crew rebuilt his damaged car and made up one position which was equal to 2 points, forcing Hunter-Reay to make up one more spot.
On the superspeedways, Chevrolet has had the edge in power, but as we saw at Pocono, Honda has an advantage in the fuel mileage department. Castroneves was fastest in testing at Auto Club Speedway a few weeks ago, with Dixon posting the 5th fastest time.
It is also likely that both drivers will also take a 10 place grid penalty to strap in a fresh engine for the 500-miler, which could put them back with some backmarkers that they normally wouldn’t race with, too.
The mathematical numbers are in Dixon’s favor. If Castroneves wins and doesn’t lead the most laps or win the pole, Dixon needs to finish 7th or better to take the championship, but if Castroneves finishes in 2nd, Dixon only needs to finish in 15th and so on. Castroneves leading the most laps and getting the pole will make Dixon have to finish in 5th to take the title.
At the end of the day, it isn’t over until it is over and it will take 500 miles at Auto Club Speedway to determine the champion, and anything can and will happen.