Simon Pagenaud lurks behind leaders in Toronto

By The Sports Xchange  |  July 15, 2017 at 7:01 PM
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TORONTO -- Verizon IndyCar Series points leaders Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves should not go to sleep on another championship contender, Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud not only is the reigning series champion, he is the pole sitter for Sunday's Honda Indy Toronto, and he figures to have something to say about how this title is decided.

Pagenaud entered this event only 31 points out of the lead, a deficit that's easily surmountable, especially with the last race, at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway on Sept. 17, offering double the normal of points. He also has nine career wins, including one last year at Sonoma.

Toronto's street circuit at Exhibition Place is one of the venues where Pagenaud has not won. In fact, he has never finished higher than fourth, and he was ninth last year in his Team Penske debut.

But Team Penske could make Sunday's race (3:30 p.m., NBCSN) its personal playground. Will Power has won this event three times, including last year, and he joined Pagenaud and Castroneves in Saturday's Fast Six qualifying session.

Castroneves will start the 85-lap race from the third spot; Power will start fourth. Pagenaud's lap of 58.912 seconds shattered Power's year-old track record (59.7747 seconds).

Dixon, who leads Castroneves by eight points with six races left, will start fifth. Dixon's car is one of three in the top six powered by Honda; the others are Graham Rahal (second) and James Hinchcliffe (sixth). Hinchcliffe, who hails from the nearby town of Oakville, is the hometown hero.

Castroneves is coming off last week's oval-track win at Iowa Speedway, which ended a 53-race losing streak. He had last won in June 2014 in Detroit.

Castroneves also is competing amid a flurry of rumors that Team Penske will relegate him to a part-time IndyCar role next season. Castroneves is considered a likely option to pair with Juan Pablo Montoya in Team Penske's new sports car team, which will debut this fall. Castroneves said the decision will be made by the team. He will focus on winning his first IndyCar championship.

This weekend's lone major accident came in the first round of qualifying.

Esteban Gutierrez, the former Formula One driver from Mexico, pounded the outside wall approaching the front straightaway. He was not injured, but the No. 18 Honda of Dale Coyne Racing took heavy damage to the right side. He will start at the rear of the field.

The field includes Sebastian Saavedra, who will make only his second start of the season. Saavedra was a last-minute replacement for Mikhail Aleshin, who has had his share of trouble in the No. 7 Honda of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Team officials decided to take Aleshin out of the car following his crash last week at Iowa Speedway. Saavedra finished 15th in the Indianapolis 500 for Juncos Racing.

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