JOLIET, Ill. (August 27, 2009) - With one of the closest championship battles in the history of the IndyCar Series going down to the wire, Team Penske heads to the track that has produced some of the closest racing and finishes ever in the series.
Chicagoland Speedway hosts this weekend's PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 and if the past is any indication, the Team Penske cars should be running right up front and competing for the win.
Over the past four IndyCar Series races held at 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway oval, Team Penske has produced five top-five finishes, including last year's dramatic result that saw Helio Castroneves win in a photo finish while teammate and polesitter Ryan Briscoe came home in third place.
The 2008 race was a memorable one as Castroneves edged Scott Dixon at the finish line, but it's just one of many down-to-the-wire IndyCar Series results witnessed at the track located just outside of the Windy City.
With the push-to-pass overtaking system and aerodynamic changes on the car designed to provide closer and more entertaining competition, Saturday night's race promises to add another chapter to the Chicagoland's thrilling history.
Briscoe enters this weekend as the leader of the championship that no one seems to be able to hold. After his seventh second-place resullt of the season last Sunday at Infineon Raceway, Briscoe reclaimed the series lead for the fourth time this season and it marked the 13th time in 14 races that a new leader emerged from the start of the race weekend.
With just a four-point cushion over last week's winner Dario Franchitti with three races remaining, Briscoe hopes to duplicate the results of the last 1.5-mile oval on the schedule, when he won at Kentucky in the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda.
“Team Penske had a great race in Chicago last season," said Briscoe. "I earned my first pole on an oval here and went on to finish third. My teammate, Helio, won after starting the race from the very back of the field. Hopefully, this year we’ll be just as quick and we’ll earn some solid championship points.
We had a good showing in Sonoma last weekend and regained the points lead. It seems like nobody wants to hold on to that top spot this year - hopefully that trend will change and I can lead for the final three races, all of which are on 1.5-mile ovals. Team Penske has found a lot of success on these types of tracks this year; I earned my first 1.5-mile oval win in Kentucky and Helio won in Texas. Hopefully this weekend will be more of the same and we can extend our lead in the point standings."
For Castroneves, battling for a championship is nothing new at Chicago. He competed with Dixon until the final lap last year at the venue as Dixon edged the three-time Indianapolis 500 champ for the title. It was still a remarkable race for Castroneves, however as he roared from the back of the field to claim the .0033-of-a-second victory.
“Last year, we had quite a race," said Castroneves. "Due to a penalty during qualifying, I had to start in the back of the field. We were able to work our way up to the front and I actually ended up leading the most laps on my way to victory. That race was especially exciting, because not only did I win after starting last, but we also had a photo finish in what turned out to be the second closest margin of victory in IndyCar Series history.
We had a tough race in Sonoma last weekend and it's going to take a lot of luck for me to win the title. But, I never give up and we're going to go for it this weekend. Hopefully, Chicago will be as good to me in 2009 as it was last year and we can make up some ground in the point standings. If I can't win the championship this season, I'm going to do all I can to help out my teammate, Ryan, as he goes for his first series title.”
With a two-day schedule, Team Penske will need to make the most of its time on track this weekend. After an hour-long practice session on Friday morning, qualifying will begin at 2:30 p.m. ET. Then the cars return for a late afternoon practice beginning at 5:30 p.m ET. Saturday night's 200-lap race will begin at 10 p.m. ET and will be seen live on Versus.