FONTANA, Calif. -- Team Penske swept the front row for the MAVTV 500 on Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway, though the bonus point for earning the Verizon P1 Award was swept away from championship contender Helio Castroneves by Will Power.
Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, enters the IZOD IndyCar Series finale 25 points behind Scott Dixon as he aims for his first series championship. Castroneves was holding the provisional pole with a two-lap average speed of 219.677 mph (1 minute, 5.5598 seconds total) on the 2-mile D-shaped oval when AJ Allmendinger slotted in second (218.894 mph) in qualifications.
Two qualifiers later, Power recorded a two-lap average of 220.775 mph (session-high 221.057 mph on Lap 1) to claim his third pole of the season (32nd of his career to tie Michael Andretti for seventh on the all-time list) and bump Castroneves.
Click it: MAVTV 500 qualifying results
"It’s hard to predict the lap you’re going to do anyway, but obviously would have been nice for Helio to get the point," Power said. "He needs to lead the most laps and I’ll just do whatever I can to help him out. I want to have a good race, and if that means just sitting behind him all day, that’s fine. It’s about the team.
"Scott didn’t (get the bonus point), so it still kind of keeps it alive."
Dixon, driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, posted a two-lap average of 217.979 mph to qualify seventh.
The final race of the season on a superspeedway will feature a three-wide start.
Both Dixon (Honda) and Castroneves (Chevrolet) will receive a 10 grid spot penalty for an unapproved engine change, and with 500 miles of racing under the lights (8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network) both have said starting position isn't that crucial. But the bonus point could prove to be key in the championship duel.
Click it: Practice 2 results || Combined results || Listen to the post-qualifying news conference
“We're going to race as hard as we can and see what happens,” said Castroneves, who was second quick to Marco Andretti in the final practice session. “Good effort for the entire Team Penske. Unfortunately, we didn't have a crystal ball to tell my buddy (Power) to slow down. Those (No. 9 car) were behind him, so I'm glad he went for it. That's what the car was able to do. We showed that we did our homework. I'm proud of those boys. We just have to go for it."
Dixon won Race 1 and was runner-up to Power in Race 2 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston two weeks ago to make a dramatic jump in the standings ahead of Castroneves, who experienced mechanical issues in both races. The No. 9 crew decided to switch to its sixth engine of the season between events.
"For us, it was more paramount to change the engine and make sure we took maybe the performance gain than sort of just have the straight-out speed and go off whatever qualifying we would have qualified," said Dixon, who is taking aim at his third series title. "Three-wide should be pretty interesting around here.
"It's fun to come back to Fontana for the championship finale. Also with the Triple Crown, me and (Tony Kanaan) have an opportunity to win two of the three races (an earn a $250,000 bonus from Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka). I don't mind if he wins actually because that will help me in the points. We'll see how that goes. It's fun to be in this position and to fight for the championship."
Sebastien Bourdais, in his final race in the No. 7 Dragon Racing car, qualified a season-high fourth on an oval (218.513), while Charlie Kimball followed at 217.986 and James Jakes also qualified a season-best sixth on an oval (217.979).
The No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing car driven by Takuma Sato and No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing car driven by Pippa Mann did not make qualifying attempts because of contact in separate incidents in Turn 4. Both were checked at the infield care center and cleared to drive. The No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing car driven by Justin Wilson developed a mechanical issue as it left pit lane for the qualifying attempt and was rolled back to pit lane.
"Really tough way to start the weekend, obviously," said Mann, who has competed in three other races this season. "The seams here are pretty treacherous and I just was trying a different line through (Turns) 3 and 4, trying to run in traffic for the first time and it caught me out."