Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Fontana, Calif. – Team Penske’s Will Power will begin the final race in his attempt to win the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship from 13th position after an impressive qualifying run Friday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway.

Power had a two-lap average of 215.940 mph around the two-mile oval in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, which was the third-fastest of the 26-car field. However, since Power was one of 14 drivers to incur a 10-spot grid penalty for changing engines, Power will start mid-pack for the start of Saturday’s MAVTV 500.

Ryan Briscoe, who enters the season finale sixth in the championship standings and did not change his engine, will start second after his average of 216.058 mph in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. Helio Castroneves, who also changed engines prior to the race, recorded the 10th-fastest average of the day at 214.409 mph in the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet and will start 17th.

Power said he was pleased with the speed in the Verizon car and unconcerned about the grid penalty or the starting position. He enters the race for his first IndyCar championship with a 17-point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“Sometimes I'm glad when I start on pole, but sometimes when I start back in the pack, it's been great,” joked Power. “Hopefully that's true here. It's a 500-mile race. It would have been nice to get the point for the pole, but we are happy where we are in the Verizon car. We’ll just hang in there and hopefully have a shot at the end.”

Briscoe, who has never raced at Auto Club Speedway, said he expects a thrilling event in IndyCar’s first race at the Fontana oval since 2005. Briscoe will be trying to close the season strong with his third consecutive podium, which would tie Power for Team Penske’s longest streak of the season, after winning at Sonoma and finishing second at Baltimore.

“The IZOD car was good. I went into qualifying saying there are two things I need to do – I need to be flat (full throttle), and I need to not be in the limiter,” said Briscoe, “I was able to hold a pretty good line around the whole track. We just missed (the pole). In a race like this, it doesn’t really matter where you start. There’s plenty of room. It’s a big, long, fast track.”

Castroneves was also pleased with the speed in his car, noting that the qualifying position for a 500-mile race on a large oval isn’t terribly important. A two-time winner in 2012, Castroneves is still mathematically eligible for the series AJ Foyt Oval Course championship.

“Qualifying in the Auto Club of Southern California machine did not go the way we expected,” said Castroneves, whose 241 career laps led at Fontana leads all active drivers. “The speed we felt was a little bit better, especially than what we had in practice. Conditions are very difficult for everybody – over 100 degrees.

When you have to do an average speed (two laps of qualifying) it is becoming very difficult. What happened is the first lap there was a tremendous push in turn one. I adjusted for the second lap, and we were able to gain two miles-an-hour from one lap to another. It is what it is. We have a great car.

The Auto Club car is actually very fast during race conditions. We are looking forward to the race tomorrow.”

If the team is able to secure the series title on Saturday it would mark the record 13th IndyCar championship for Team Penske and its first since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the crown in 2006. On Saturday, Power could become the eighth driver to win an IndyCar title for Team Penske.

Saturday’s 200-lap race is scheduled to begin shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET.

Source: Penske Racing