FONTANA, Calif. (AP) Will Power struggled in qualifying for the final race of the IndyCar season on Friday, leaving the series leader starting in 21st place when he chases his first championship.
While Power had the second-worst performance in qualifying, Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves won the pole. Castroneves turned a lap with an average speed of 218.540 mph to win the 41st pole of his career, passing Rick Mears for fourth place in series history.
Castroneves trails Power by 50 points in second place heading into the season finale. Both drivers are attempting to win their first IndyCar titles.
Although starting position isn't exactly vital in a 500-mile oval race, the difference between the Penske drivers is stark. Castroneves was concerned by his teammate's poor performance in qualifying, even though it could benefit him personally.
Power says his qualifying went ''as bad as it could possibly go'' in 99-degree temperatures on the well-aged track that was built by Roger Penske, his team owner. Power won the Fontana race from the pole last year.
Castroneves handled the high temperatures splendidly, but doesn't anticipate much advantage under the lights.
''It's still 500 miles,'' Castroneves said. ''It's still a long way, and we've just got to continue doing what we're doing.''
Simon Pagenaud, who trails Power by 81 points in third place, will start 13th. He focused more on choosing his lines and improving his track strategy during qualifying.
''It's a good track for passing,'' Pagenaud said. ''Good racing here. Certainly it's one of my favorites for this reason. It allows you to be creative with your line and understand what your tires are doing. It's easier to do what you want to do to pass them.''