Pagenaud on verge of title with pole at Sonoma


Roger Penske has sponsorship locked down for three of his IndyCar teams next season, with Menards signing on for 10 races with Simon Pagenaud to drive the bright yellow colors of the home improvement store.

Simon Pagenaud, of France, kisses the Astor Cup after winning the IndyCar auto race and IndyCar championship Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Sonoma, Calif.

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.

He is the ninth driver to win a title for Penske, who now has 14 open-wheel championships in US racing spanning USAC, CART and IndyCar.

The Team Penske driver continued his qualifying mastery and will start from pole position in Sunday's season finale, winning the Verizon P1 Award today at Sonoma Raceway. Pagenaud's lap of 1min 16.2565secs in the Firestone Fast Six - the third and final round of knockout qualifying - earned the Frenchman his seventh pole of the season and extended his points lead to 44 over teammate Will Power. Then he led the most laps and won a race that was worth double points in the standings. The ground I covered since is quite incredible.

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“I think at this point if I hadnt won one, I probably would have just been like, ‘Im not going to win one, “ Power said.

Of note: Graham Rahal finished second at Sonoma, once again leading the Honda effort and topping off a solid season for a one-car team battling the Chevrolet juggernaut. It marked the first time the same team took the top three championship positions since Penske also accomplished the feat in 1994 with Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy. Prior to that, Pagenaud needed to finish in the top four to lock Power out of contention.

Montoya finished third at Sonoma to bookend the year with podium finishes. Pagenaud has won four times on road/street courses in 2016, and Power has three victories on such tracks. No matter what Power does Sunday, a finish of sixth or better gives Pagenuad the title.

Regardless which racer claims the throne, he will give auto owner Roger Penske the title in Penske Racing's 50th year in motorsports. The first lap we put the red Firestone tires on, I went on the radio and said, 'Wow, this is going to be good.' We were able to replicate the lap time every time. "I've had a lot of highs and a few lows there, but it is going to provide a great venue for the final race of the season". Maybe we could have beaten him for the (race) win, but I doubt it if everything just played out as it was. We won a 500-mile race - not the right one, but we won a 500-miler and 1-2-3 in the championship for the team, which is really good considering the way it turned out a year ago. But Power started the season in a 42-point hole to Pagenaud after missing the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg because of concussion symptoms. The partnership between Ganassi and Target was one of the longest in professional sports at 27 years.

"We'll see", a dismissive Rossi said, which nearly suggests he has another opportunity for 2017 aside from IndyCar, which you'd think would only be a return to Formula 1.