Pagenaud close to IndyCar title, but Power still has shot in Sonoma

Will Power (12) races Simon Pagenaud, right, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Penske driver Simon Pagenaud holds a 43-point lead over his teammate Will Power as the 2016 IndyCar season wraps up this weekend at the beautiful Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. While it’s a long shot that Power can overcome the significant deficit and claim his second title, it’s not impossible.

For the final race of the season, IndyCar awards double championship points, which should keep the fight alive right until the finish. That was a key factor last year, when Juan Pablo Montoya seemed poised to claim the title until Ganassi driver Scott Dixon overcame a 34 point deficit to tie him in points and win the championship on a tie breaker.

Power’s performance on the 12-turn, 2.385-mile road course is another reason to believe he can certainly make a run for the title. Sonoma Raceway is known for high speeds with low downforce and features great changes in elevation, which makes it fun and challenging for the drivers. Power has won the pole five of the last six years and is a three time winner in Sonoma, claiming victory in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

Pagenaud on the other hand has been on pole six times this year and has nine top five finishes, including four victories. The Frenchman ran a smart race two weeks ago at Watkins Glen, collecting a seventh place finish after Power crashed out. Pagenaud has been a model of consistency all season and did what he had to do to get to the cusp of his first title.

According to my math, should Pagenaud finish fifth or better at Sonoma, there is no way Power can overtake him.

What is known is one of the two Team Penske drivers will capture the title, a nice prize to celebrate their 50th anniversary in motorsports.

Double points on the line this weekend also means there is opportunity for others to improve their final position in the overall standings. With all the speculation about driver roster changes, that could be an important factor in the decision making ahead of next season.

Contacts expire after this year for Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan. Will Newgarden stay with Ed Carpenter or will one of the big outfits like Penske or Ganassi come calling? Does 2005 Sonoma winner Kanaan keep his spot at Ganassi or move on? They sit fifth and sixth respectively in the standings heading into the final round and if one or both can move up, it most certainly benefits them in negotiations.

Others to watch this weekend include 2015 race winner and champion Scott Dixon who’s coming off a dominating victory at Watkins Glen. Helio Castroneves was a winner here in 2008 and is tied in points with Dixon for third in the standings.

Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe has headed north from L.A., where he’s participating in the current season of Dancing with the Stars, to return to his Schmidt Peterson car. Hinchcliffe has been knocking on the door of victory late in the season running strong at Pocono and Texas. He didn’t get the result but showed plenty of speed at Watkins Glen and should be one to watch again this weekend.

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