After a race filled with strategy and speed on the streets of Toronto, the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers are set to focus on solely turning left in the next three races as they begin a stretch of three unique oval events. That stretch will begin on Saturday night with the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.
Josef Newgarden enters this weekend with confidence on his side after his CFH Racing team swept the top-two spots at the Honda Indy Toronto as Newgarden picked up his second career victory ahead of teammate Luca Filippi. The ovals haven’t treated him as nicely this year, though, as engine issues took him out of contention at Texas Motor Speedway and he finished ninth in the Indianapolis 500. He also only posted one top-10 in three career starts at Fontana.
“I am really excited to get to Auto Club Speedway,” Newgarden said. “We’ve had a lot of work to do since Texas and have put a lot of effort in at the shop to be as prepared as we can going into Fontana. Hopefully we can keep the good results rolling after Toronto. I have a lot of faith in all of our guys. We have a lot of good, smart people on the team and I am looking forward to a solid weekend in California.”
While Filippi won’t be behind the wheel of the second entry for CFH Racing, it will be past Fontana race winner Ed Carpenter. Carpenter, who solely runs the oval events, won the event in 2012 and boosts an average finish of 8.5 in six starts, highlighted by three top-fives. The previous two ovals events this year haven’t gone well, though, as engine issues took him out of Texas while a wreck took him out of the Indianapolis 500.
“It is always exciting to go back to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana,” Carpenter commented. “It has been a track that we have had a great history at the past three years, with a podium each year. We have really been struggling on the ovals so far this year, but I feel like Fontana is a great track to get things turned around. We have been working very hard to make sure we go there with a good plan to address some of the struggles that we have had. I can’t wait to get on track and get back up to speed.”
Though if CFH Racing wants to score a second victory in a row, they’re going to have deal with the Team Penske quartet. Leading that quartet is Juan Pablo Montoya, who enters this weekend as the points leader, 27 points ahead of Will Power. He has only made one career IndyCar start at Fontana, finishing fourth in last year’s event. He has also been real strong on the ovals this year, winning the Indianapolis 500 and finishing fourth at Texas. He is looking to bounce back after finishing seventh in Toronto. A victory would be great, and put him one step closer to winning the Triple Crown.
“I’m definitely excited to get to Auto Club Speedway this weekend for another 500-mile race,” Montoya sounded off. “This No. 2 PPG Chevy team excels on the speedways and on the longer races. The Triple Crown is not something that I really focus on, but it’s something cool that the Verizon IndyCar Series brought back a few years ago and we are proud to be competing for it. Only one team is able to win the Triple Crown this year and it’s ours, so that is a cool feeling.
“Now that we had an off weekend to catch our breath and regroup, I am happy with where we are as we head into the final six races of the year. We’ve been able to mix in a lot of consistency with our two wins, but we need to get at least one more before the end of the year. Fontana and Pocono would be great tracks to do that for the Triple Crown.”
Another driver within the Team Penske organization to watch will be Will Power, as he continues to get stronger on the ovals despite being known as a road course expert. That was evident by his victory at Auto Club Speedway in 2013. He didn’t have the run that he wanted at Texas, finishing 12th, but he kicked off the oval races with a second at the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s going to be a bit different going to Auto Club Speedway this year and not having it as the season finale,” Power said. “You know, I’m always going to think back to winning my first Verizon IndyCar Series championship there last year, so it’s always going to have that ‘end of year’ feeling to it. For me, Fontana has been a rollercoaster of emotions over the last few years. We missed out on the championship there in 2012. I came back to score what I consider one of my greatest wins there the next year. And last year we finally closed the deal there to win the title.
“I love racing there; I think we all do. It’s amazingly fast, but it’s wide enough where you don’t really feel wheel to wheel. It’s just a great place for our cars and I’m excited to go back and try to put the Verizon Chevy in Victory Lane there once again.”
The other big team to watch will be Chip Ganassi Racing as they have won this event twice, with Dario Franchitti winning the event in 2005, followed by Tony Kanaan last year. Kanaan was solid in Toronto two weeks ago, posting a sixth place finish as he currently sits ninth in points. The ovals have been a sweet spot for him this year as he in contention for the win at Indianapolis before a wreck took him out of the running. He then posted a second place finish at Texas.
“I’ve had some solid finishes at Auto Club Speedway, especially last year with finally getting a win on the oval, and I’m just a big fan of this track,” Kanaan said. “It’ll definitely be an adjustment for us as drivers as well as the team and engineers to race here in the middle of the afternoon and without the added pressure of it being the season finale, but I have full confidence in the NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing team to make those adjustments happen and work for us.”