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INDYCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 19, 2015
ARNI SRIBHEN: Welcome, everyone, to today's IndyCar media teleconference. This weekend the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway will mark the 15th of 16 events in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Today we'll be joined by five drivers in contention for the 2015 championship. Later in today's call we'll be joined by Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske, Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing, and Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Racing.
First we'll start with the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power, who drives the No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet for Team Penske. Will, welcome to the call. With just two races remaining in defense of your 2014 title, we have a 500‑mile race this weekend at Pocono and double points at Sonoma, a place you've done really well. Do you still think that a championship and defending your title is still in the cards for you?
WILL POWER: Yeah, absolutely, as long as it's mathematically possible. You've got to keep your head in the game. Two pretty strong tracks for me coming up here. I really like Pocono, and obviously Sonoma has been really good for me in the past.
All I'm thinking about is winning two races, that's it. I'm not thinking about anyone else or anything else. At that point we'll see what the end result is. If we can do that, I think that we'd actually have a pretty good chance at winning.
Q. Will, I was just wondering how would you rate your season so far out of 10?
WILL POWER: Out of 10? Yeah, it's probably about a 6. You know, it's kind of been just circumstance. As far as speed goes, we've been right there. In all the races that we've been crashed out of we've been definitely in the top 5, and in a couple of them contending for the win. It was just one of those years. We're still not out of it. Still with double points for the last race, I'd still say that can really swing things in a big way, so keeping our head in the game and trying to win two races.
Q. Will, how are you?
WILL POWER: Well, I'm $50 short actually.
Q. We'll get on that, surely. When you look at where the season is at, and now that you've had a full year of all four cars, has there been an increased benefit for that, or has it gone kind of as expected or not entirely to plan?
WILL POWER: Well, it's actually gone very smoothly. Obviously running four cars requires a lot of things to fall in place and work well together, and that's been the case. You know, it's created a lot of information for us all to look at. I think the four drivers have a lot of experience, and that helps, and they've worked with‑‑ they understand how to work together as a team. To me it's made the team stronger as a whole, so I've really enjoyed it.
Q. Will, I just want you to talk about being in the position that Juan Pablo is in and also Graham Rahal. You've been in that position with leading the points two races ago. What is it like being in that position? Do you feel more pressure at all, and also in the spot you're in right now hoping to catch both of those guys in the next two weeks?
WILL POWER: Well, if you're in the position that Montoya is in, you definitely do feel the pressure, because sometimes it becomes unclear what you have to do to win the championship, whereas if you're in the position that I'm in right now, it's very clear what you have to do, which is win two races.
You know, I've been there a number of times before, but obviously Juan has won a championship before, so you know, he kind of understands how‑‑ and he's got a lot of experience, as well, so he knows how it goes. Yeah, and it can be tough being chased, honestly.
You know, like I said, it's tough to understand how aggressive and how not aggressive to be. It kind of puts you out of your comfort zone, but when you understand what you have to do, it becomes a little easier and less stressful and less pressure.
Q. A lot has been made about how well Juan has been in 500‑mile races, but if memory serves you were the leader at Pocono last year when you got penalized for blocking. That kind of changed the dynamic of that race. If you can just recall a little bit about how strong your car was that day and how you might have been in victory lane if it weren't for that penalty.
WILL POWER: Yeah, you're dead on. It was looking like a really good day for us, a great chance at a win, and yeah, I had a drive‑through penalty, which was a real pity. We had a strong car, and I really thought this is going to be good. I think we're going to win this. But that's how things play out. I learnt my lesson on the whole blocking thing.
Yeah, I'll be coming back, honestly, to a‑‑ I really want to win that race. I felt like I should have won it last year. Just, yeah, going to do the normal thing and focus on what I can control and try to get the absolute most out of it.
Q. Do you feel your car last year was better than his?
WILL POWER: I felt like I had a really good car. You know, it's not really‑‑ I couldn't comment on what sort of car he had because we spent a lot of time in that race saving fuel. But when it came to push and shove, I felt like we were very strong, and I thought I was as strong as anyone else. Yeah, we were right there.
Q. Also looking ahead to the double points at Sonoma, how well do you feel you are for that track, and to determine a season champion on a road course, it's going to be the first time that's happened since the combined IndyCar Series started in '08?
WILL POWER: Yeah, that's going to be interesting. I think as far as pace goes, I mean, I'm obviously very good around there. I really do. I feel like I can always qualify in the Fast Six, and then it's really going to come down to what's governed the majority of road and street courses this year which has been yellows. To me it's a real pity that it comes down to luck rather than the‑‑ the luck of the draw, more of a lottery rather than on pace and someone who's done a good job all day. That's all going to play into it, a lot of points on hand, and I think you've just got to be on your toes and try and make the right decisions.
Q. How is the process of defending a champion been similar to or not resembled what you expected heading into the season?
WILL POWER: Yeah, last two definitely flowed very smoothly for me; I didn't have any of these DNFs and crashing. I haven't been crashed out of a couple of races. They all flow differently and they all end differently. That's just the nature of the sport and the nature of life, and you know, we're still there‑‑ we've still got a shot. Definitely have a shot with double points in the last race. That's going to sway things massively if certain people have bad days and others have good days. We'll be on our toes.
Q. Does having won a championship provide any sort of psychological advantage or not for someone coming down to crunch time like this, whether it takes pressure off, or does it have any impact at all?
WILL POWER: Well, it gives you the absolute belief and know that you can do it, and it does take pressure off, no question. You know you've got one in the bank, so you can really just focus on the job and try and get absolutely the most out of every situation and not be thinking is something going to go wrong to prevent me from winning once again. For me personally, yes, less pressure and more confidence.
Q. Will, first of all, what happened in last year's Sonoma race? Why did you finish 10th?
WILL POWER: Well, I had a yellow, surprise, surprise, and pits were closed, so on the restart, I was not aggressive because obviously I had a points lead, which takes me out of my comfort zone. I like to race one way and one way only, and I spun because of it, and that put me way back at the back of the pack actually, and I actually made my way back up to ninth and got docked one place because it was yellow on the line at the finish.
Q. A little bit hypothetical because I was interested in your response earlier, you said that it would be a little‑‑ it's unclear for the leader what he has to do to kind of finish the season out. If you're Montoya, what do you think you need to do? You can't sit here and say probably just win both races, but mathematically do you have an idea of kind of where Montoya needs to finish if he's going to be the champion? I know that sounds a little awkward to say it like that.
WILL POWER: Well, Montoya, it's difficult because there's five players in the game, right, which makes it even more complex, because as it sits, you just say, well, he just has to finish ahead of Rahal and that's it. But no, he's got four other guys or three other guys, as well, on top of Rahal that have a chance, and each of them are further and further away.
If he was just competing with just me, he'd have to be somewhat conservative and he doesn't necessarily have to beat me to win the championship. Like I said, it becomes a bit of a confusing game for him of how he's got to play it as far as aggression and where he qualifies, all that sort of stuff. I mean, he's a professional. He'll put his head down and it will be clear to him.
Q. Will, can you talk a little bit about how well you've been able to qualify this season and how important it's going to be this weekend to qualify well at Pocono?
WILL POWER: Yeah, definitely been strong in qualifying this year. I think last year I struggled quite a bit on street courses, but if the race is like it was last year at Pocono, I really think you want to qualify definitely in the top six to have a shot at the win because it seems as though it stays very green, and it's an absolute track position race. But the aero package is going to be quite different with these body kits, so who knows how the race will actually play out. I think you've got to take it as it comes, but definitely qualifying well is always a benefit, puts you right in the mix from the word go.
Q. And just these last four races where you've had some bad finishes, has it been any one thing, or has it just kind of been circumstantial?
WILL POWER: It has been circumstantial. You know, mid‑Ohio was just simply going yellow and the pits closed. You've done a really good job all day, sitting in the top 5, and you're going to‑‑ it looked like we're definitely going to finish on the podium, and it goes yellow, you almost get shuffled to the back. It's almost like getting a drive‑through penalty for doing a good job, which to me is very frustrating. But that's the name of the game. I'm sure a lot of other people are feeling that way, as well, about the fact that the pits close when it goes yellow.
But it's been that type of thing that's been getting me.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Will, thanks for your time today, and best of luck this weekend at Pocono.
WILL POWER: Thank you.
ARNI SRIBHEN: We're now joined by Will's teammate at Team Penske, Helio Castroneves, who will race the No.3 Shell V‑Power Team Penske Chevrolet this weekend at Pocono. Helio is fourth in the points standings. Helio, the last few years you've sort of been the guy marked at the top of the standings that everyone is trying to chase. Do you appreciate your role as a hunter this season in the championship?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, thank you. I'm excited to be honest. I've been in both situations. Certainly we've got to do something different, and when I say something different, we've got to take chances, and if it's a strategy, if it's risk out there on the track, being aggressive, we've got to do something for sure to accomplish the championship. We need to do everything we can. Running short on time, I know it's two races, I know it's two races but basically three races because it's double points, and we've got to make things happen.
Q. I was just wondering, do you find it more difficult or easier, the fact that you have two of your teammates in the championship battle with you?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, depends how you put it. Certainly they have the same thing that you have, which is becoming more difficult, but at the end of the day, we're working together. We're working together to bring this championship for Team Penske, and obviously if I cannot do it, hopefully one of my teammates can.
Q. Helio, as the season winds down, I know you've got a chance to get up there. As far as you and your team, you've maybe got a little bit of fatigue, a lot of anticipation rolling into it. How does that change your attitude with you and your team going into this challenge?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: What do you mean fatigue and‑‑ I didn't get the question. Now or before?
Q. You know, it's been a long season, let's just put it that way, and now you've got just two more races, and as far as that, the anticipation with your team after having gone through the season and looking forward to the next two races.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, the good news is we had two weekends off and we recharged the battery of everyone, especially the guys because they've been working their tails off. But going to Pocono and Sonoma, for sure everybody is ready. They're ready for not only obviously the long trips from one place to the other side of the United States, but we are ready. We feel that those two places, it's been good to us, to Team Penske. Last year in my case I came in second, and Sonoma we had a strong qualifying, we just unfortunately, the scenario‑‑ obviously the yellows at that place screwed up our strategy. But we feel that we have a great chance to collect very good points in this battle for the championship.
Q. Helio, just give me a sense of what the drivers, what the teams think of Pocono. This is year No.3, I believe, that you're back. Just a sense of how much the guys look forward to coming here, or maybe they don't look forward to coming here.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, everybody is looking forward to a great place. You're talking about Pocono, correct?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Pocono is a great place. It's unique. It's not an oval, it's a triangle, and I think it's great. It's 500 miles; anything can happen. A long race, three hours of racing, and no, I do expect great things. It's going to be a challenge, as always. It's going to be new because of the new aero kit, plus we have the new panel on the back like we started, I think, in Texas. So this is going to be interesting to find out all‑‑ starting all over again with brand‑new aero package, let's put it this way. So it'll be interesting to see.
Q. And just as a quick follow‑up, does the placement of the schedule, and this is toward the end here right before Sonoma now, it was back in July, does it make any difference to you guys where this thing comes? Is it set up nicer back‑to‑back with Sonoma, or not so?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. I'm not sure if‑‑ I think they should create more anticipation, to be honest, because it's going to be back‑to‑back. But the double points, obviously Pocono is an important race because it's going to dictate who's going to go to the big one. But the big one is still the big one. It'll be interesting to see. But I'm looking forward to Pocono for sure.
Q. Helio, Pocono has always been a track where a lot of Penske drivers have had success; Juan won there last year, Rick Mears has won there in the past. It's got a lot of history with Penske. How much of those old stories do you listen to when you talk to Rick and Roger?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, certainly Roger being my strategy would have been great to add to that amazing group, and anything you can. So we're looking forward to that, as well. Again, Pocono is an historic place that IndyCar has been there for so many years, and having that opportunity to do 500 miles, it's great not only for the drivers, teams, but especially the fans.
Q. And also you've shown success in the Indy 500, but I believe that's the only 500‑mile races that you've won at. What's the challenge when you run the 500 miles in the fast at Fontana and now at Pocono?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, the track is challenging for sure because Turn 1 is the one that dictates basically the whole entire speed of the racetrack, and to do that for 500 miles, it's very challenging, mentally especially, plus the track changes quite a bit with the grip.
But you know, restarts and things like that, it's a very exciting opportunity to everyone. So again, 500 miles, anything can happen.
Q. And what stands out about your two previous races at Pocono as far as your car, what happened to your race those days?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't know with the first one. Last year we finished second, and this year I'm looking forward to the big one.
Q. Do you think that drivers who have won championships have any sort of advantage coming into these crunch‑time situations like you're in now, two races with a bunch of guys fighting it out for the title? Do they have any pressure off or anything like that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: For someone that is in the battle or someone who's not in the battle?
Q. For someone who's in the battle, if a guy has won a championship coming into a situation like you're in and Graham is in and Juan is in, is there less pressure, any sort of psychological advantage for a guy who already has a championship in a previous season sometime?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. I don't know about the new guys, but I'm sure myself, Scott, Juan Pablo, Will, it's pretty much the same group, I guess, and the way I see it, it's no different when I go there. The only difference, instead of being worried about where they're at, I've just got to go try to do something different, and hopefully we'll be in the right position to make that happen.
Q. What is that something different? Are you talking about strategy, philosophy, how you react in a moment? How you approach a race?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, you know, sometimes you're saving fuel, and because you cannot pass anybody, or sometimes you pit early so that you can take advantage of the track. 500 miles, again, it's a risk position because if a yellow happens like it happened in Sonoma‑‑ sorry, in mid‑Ohio, it could pay off, and especially when it's the last race, and I believe that probably is an opportunity if somebody‑‑ might be that kind of an idea. I'm not sure because I'm not the strategy guy, thank God, it's Roger. He's the one that will take that. But at the end of the day, I just think we need to be in that kind of circumstances to make it happen.
Q. What do you see different in Graham this year, especially over the last month? Is he more aggressive? Do you see anything different in his style of driving?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Big time. I would say, yes, taking a lot of chances that fortunately for him, unfortunately for the others, ended up paying off for him. I guess a little bit of being in the right place at the right time. I don't consider it luck, but I'd say destiny put him there, but certainly Indy, I think, the packaging, maybe some of the ovals like Iowa, the car didn't‑‑ maybe the Honda package might be a little bit better on a couple of the tracks than maybe the Chevy cars, but like I said, it's a combination of a lot of things. Certainly all credit to the team and himself to put himself in that position.
But certainly the last five races he was the only guy to make a huge jump the last five, six races, was the only guy to make this jump from sixth, I believe, to second. So for sure, I mean, the whole thing helped him out, including obviously his team and his talent.
Q. And when you're in the middle of a championship fight, you've been a little higher up in previous years. Does it‑‑ do you catch yourself trying to figure out what you have to do instead of just doing the job? Is that a challenge for somebody who's first or second in the championship at this point?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I think in my position, like I said, I have not much to lose in terms of, you know, finishing fifth or third, even second in just the numbers. You know, you want to be a number. I will do exactly what I did not do regarding this challenge, because it certainly didn't work in the past.
ARNI SRIBHEN: We now welcome Scott Dixie of Target Chip Ganassi to the call. Scott is third in the standings, 34 behind Juan Pablo Montoya. Scott, you've been in the title position many times. Do you change your approach the last two races of the season, being 34 points behind the leader?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, I think we try to keep it generally the same at every race and try and go and try our best to win it. You know, I think at some point maybe in Juan's situation, you generally try to maintain and maybe see where some of the competitors are at that point, closing down to our last few races. But for us, you know, we've really just got to go out and try and win. It's something we tried to do at Iowa and mid‑Ohio where we had really good cars, but obviously strategy and a mechanical problem took us out of those possibilities.
Q. I was just wondering, do you draw on the experience of Tony Kanaan for the next two races as he's obviously a very experienced driver like yourself? Do you guys work closer together now in terms of setup when it's coming up to the championship decider?
SCOTT DIXON: No, you know, it's always‑‑ it's always an open book at Ganassi. I don't think we change anything for the last race or last couple races of how we were together. We were teammates for the whole season, have been for the last couple, and unfortunately with Tony and myself, we're quite a bit different, especially on the road and street courses. A little bit similar once we get to ovals, but we start somewhat similar and then kind of‑‑ there's definitely a trend over the last 16 months or year and a half that we've had that helps the transition between ourselves. But yeah, we always try to work together as much as possible, and not just us two but obviously Charlie and Sage, as well.
Q. Scott, 34 points out, two races to go, but three races' worth of points. How many points would you like to trim off this weekend so you feel you have a legitimate shot going into Sonoma of surpassing Juan?
SCOTT DIXON: I don't know. You know, statistically I'm not even sure by looking at that. You'd like to have it. Obviously we would like to be ahead going into Sonoma. But those chances are slim. Obviously I think there are championship contenders who are all going to be very competitive, very competitive teams, and you're going to have to just chip away at it. I think for us, you know, you're going to hope for a little bit of bad luck or a mechanical issue with Juan, but those are generally not seen too many times in the current racing formula.
We've just got to go with it, man. We've just got to try to do our job, focus on doing our job right, and if it's meant to be, it's meant to be.
Q. And when you go into a 500‑mile race there's two factors that are completely out of your hands. One is if it becomes a fuel mileage race, going the distance, possibly running out of fuel. The other is possible mechanical failure. How does a driver approach that when there's so many other factors that they're in control of except those two?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, that's every race, it's not just a 500‑miler. I think with 500 miles, you generally get a better sense of how the strategy is playing out, and you can try and correct it with a few stints to go. Mechanically it can be a short race and take you out.
I think as far as what we saw 10 years ago or even in the heyday, the 500‑mileers would be definitely detrimental to the engines and trying to get the whole mileage at an event would be a problem. But with Honda and obviously Chevy now with the current formula, especially with Chevy, it's been very strong and something that we hope isn't going to hinder you, and I think across the field, if you look at races, mechanical issues are few and far between.
Q. And also it's going to be the first time for you that a season championship, since you came over to IndyCar in 2003, that a season championship is going to be finished on a road course. How much do you think that's going to change the dynamic of the championship?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's going to be interesting. You know, my personal view is that it should finish on an oval just for the spectacle and obviously how quickly an oval can change. You know, a 500‑miler in the scenarios that we've had I think with Fontana are pretty exciting, and you can definitely sit high up. But I think Sonoma is fantastic venue. It's been a great place for us in the past. It's a huge event for our team, and obviously Target and all the partners, I think we have 400 or 500 plus guests that come out for that race, and obviously more for the finale this year. But yeah, the style is going to be a little bit different, and I think cautions are‑‑ yellow flags and strategy are going to be really tough to read, and I think that's the biggest thing that you don't want to get caught out on. It's very similar to what happened at mid‑Ohio where they throw a caution right before a pit sequence, and it flips the field. In that scenario you're better off to qualify for that.
Q. Scott, is there a best way for you and your team to prepare for the intensity of going into the final two races and being that you are a championship contender for you and your team?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, preparation, hopefully we've done that. I think there's obviously things that you try to do a little bit better once you get to the racetrack, with debriefs and trying to‑‑ if the car isn't perfect trying to figure out ways to make it a little bit better for the race and for qualifying. Qualifying for the 500 miler probably isn't going to matter too much, but obviously you want a car that's going to be comfortable and fast.
So yeah, I think it's just making sound changes, going about your day, and I think the biggest thing is you don't really want to change it too much. We've been in this situation before. This team has won a lot of races. We've won a lot of races together. You don't really want to change things up too much. You just want to go about your daily stuff and try and get the most out of it, which we try to do every weekend. Obviously there's a little bit more on the line with two races to go, but the thing with championships, it's not these two races that win you the championship, it's the whole year, and you can't reflect on or fix some of the bad races that you've had earlier.
Q. So your experience helps with that approach?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, you know, it's‑‑ I think it does, mindset and just the way you approach the weekend I think definitely helps. But there's a flipside of that, too, with people that maybe haven't been in the championship chase or maybe approach it a little bit different or are overthinking things.
Q. Is there any benefit to you being the only Ganassi car in contention for the championship, whereas the Penske guys have to go against each other and Graham doesn't have a teammate?
SCOTT DIXON: Good question. You know, I don't‑‑ I don't think‑‑ I think a team competition is always the best competition. You've got the same equipment and it definitely pushes the program forward. You know, I think Penske has obviously got, what, three, I think, in the championship hunt, so you've still got Pagenaud that could be in that scenario similar to other teams, as well.
I don't know. And then maybe with Graham, you know, it's‑‑ I don't know. He hasn't got that, I guess, obstacle of thinking of those options with the alternative teammates. Whether it really plays into it, I'm not really sure it does. Yeah, it's hard to comment with having been in the situation I have with the team for 14‑plus years now. Yeah, good question, but I don't know how to answer that one.
Q. Can you just talk a little bit about what you like about racing at Pocono, and since this is the last year of their contract, would you like to see Pocono continue to be on the IndyCar schedule in the future?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, you know, it's definitely a fun track. I think that's the biggest thing for most drivers. Obviously I think with being somewhat of a new venue for us, it's obviously a building block and something that we're trying to produce more people coming to the races and more awareness for that area and that demographic, so hopefully we can build on that. The worst case scenario is that we go there for three years and then don't return. Personally I hope that we return for many more years at Pocono. I think ovals are definitely a little light on the schedule right now as far as the track goes. It's very tough. It's very demanding with Turn 1, and then the opposing side of Turn 1, it's funny, it's always a bit of a balance switching issue between those two corners, but something that's very tough to get and very technical, but also the racing is fantastic, too.
Yeah, it's a race that I hope sticks around for many more years.
Q. Does a driver who has won a championship have any advantage when you get down to a two‑race situation like this, whether they just know how to finish or they have less pressure because they have a title on their résumé? Is there any advantage to that at all?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, you could kind of look at it both ways. Yes, because you've maybe been in that scenario before, but the problem is that every championship and the way it plays out is very different, you know, in how the last few races can play out, how the strategy works. There's definitely luck in racing, too, and how you catch your caution and how it can flip the strategy, as well.
You know, I think having been in those situations maybe helps you keep a level head, but in reality, you know, you're still going to get fired up. You still want to win. You're still going to do whatever you can and whatever it takes to try and get to that situation.
You know, I think in the past we've seen plenty of first‑time championship winners, and Will obviously is the most recent. It's achievable, and I don't think it's going to make or break how you win the championship or if you're going to win the championship in that scenario. I think all these guys are very capable. They've done a lot in their careers to get to this point and won a lot of championships before getting to IndyCar, and some have won many in IndyCar up to this point, too. I don't think it's a make‑or‑break situation.
Q. You alluded to it in your answer. Is it as big a deal for a guy to have been in a situation to know how to handle things out of the car, the pressure, the questions, so on and so forth, because when they get in the car they just drive, they do what they do?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, and as I kind of said, the situation is always different, right, how you qualify for a 500 miler, how you qualify before Sonoma, and strategy, I think, has been a bit of a hot topic recently, and that's really out of your grasp. You don't‑‑ you can try your best to have it fall your way, but it's really in the hands of race control or what happens out on the track with different drivers.
Yeah, I think you may help yourself, but realistically I don't think it hinders or changes anything from what you do outside of the car to how you get on in the race.
ARNI SRIBHEN: We are pleased to be joined now by Graham Rahal, driver of the No.15 Steak 'n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Some big news for you today, Steak 'n Shake signing on to sponsor you for the final two races of the season.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, it's been a great day, and it's exciting for us to have Steak 'n Shake continue in that way and grow and expand their partnership with our team. I think they've probably been the favorite sponsor of everybody all season long. I mean, the fans have really taken it by storm and just been amazing, and we appreciate everything that they have done for us for sure.
You know, with that, we enter two of the biggest races of my career, and certainly looking forward to it.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Just nine points separate you and Juan in the championship. Obviously you have to feel like the championship is right within your grasp.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think it is. It's right there, and we're close, and we feel like we're close. We feel like we're capable. I think everybody on the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team is ready to capitalize on it. Certainly we're riding a bit of a wave here lately. Things have definitely gone right. I think the guys are doing a tremendous job for us, and we're excited by that.
You know, I'm looking forward to it. Pocono hasn't been the best for us in the past, but with that being said, I think really that we're in a great spot looking forward, and I think we're definitely capable of having a great race this weekend, and I definitely feel confident going into Sonoma.
I'm looking forward to the next couple.
Q. I'm just wondering, with being nine points back with two races left or really three in the points when you total them up, is this a strange dynamic for you because you want to be aggressive but you also want to protect what you've got? Do you understand what I'm saying? Or is it just, hey, go after it?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, for me I think it's go after it. People are going to probably be surprised by that response, but you know, I don't‑‑ I was kind of listening to Helio earlier and his comment of whether you finish fourth, fifth, third, second, whatever, it's just a number. Ultimately the most important thing is to be the champion.
You know, I'm pretty close to that, so in my position, I'm not going to change our mindset that we had at Iowa, mid‑Ohio or anything else. As I've told my guys all along, just keep doing the job you're doing and we're going to be fine. It's going to take care of itself. You know, they've done that so far.
I'm looking forward to the challenges ahead of us this weekend.
Q. If you look at the television ratings, ratings have been going up, especially with NBCSN. Do you think that is attributable in any way to the fact that you're a young American who's making this surge?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I'm sure it helps. There's no doubt about that. I mean, I‑‑ I feel a heavy responsibility as an individual to help grow IndyCar racing. I recognize that I was blessed to be born with a name that gives me a leg up when it comes to fan recognition. I feel like it's my job to help it grow into the future.
With that being said, you know, I'm trying my best. If we can win races and Steak 'n Shake being involved, that's a huge part of it. That's recognition and fan response that we don't typically get, Verizon, everything else. There's a lot of ways that this can grow, but hopefully we can be a small part of that.
And the other thing I'm sure is American drivers doing well doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt. I mean, do I think that that's the end‑all, be‑all, no, I don't. Frankly Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves are more famous than any American out there currently, but can they help‑‑ or Juan Montoya, for example, but can it help if Americans are doing well, yes, it can.
Q. This is your first time going for an IndyCar championship, but it's not the first time you've been in contention for an open wheel championship. If you look back to like the Atlantic battle you had way back with Pagenaud a number of years ago, is there anything you can take from that to use for this couple‑race stretch or does that not have any impact on how you approach the next two races?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, you know, I don't know. In that case, in the Atlantic thing, really we're the ones who‑‑ we lost it for ourselves. In that season we were the dominant team and dominant car all season, got taken out of a couple races and just didn't finish the job. And certainly in the last race, we were bound to be champion and then a stuck throttle switch, which is like a $1 part, decided to fail on us, so lady luck was kind of against us. But hopefully in this case we get a little bit of role reversal. Like anything, it's always hard to say, I think at this point, how it's going to play out, but like I said, in my position and the way that I'm looking at this right now, I just want to‑‑ I just want to attack. I want to do what I've done all year, and hope that it plays out. That's just kind of the way I'm looking at it.
Q. I read your comments from your recent conference call about your dad not being at the races lately, and I have spoken with him just to get a refresher, and I'd just like to get your feeling on what happened. He said you were trying to avoid the father‑son relationship, but it was very difficult to do. It sounds like it's working great, and you've said whenever you need him, he's not that far away. I take it you're pleased with the change, that he's not on the box during the races?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, it's good and bad. I think my dad is a guy who has‑‑ I mean, so many years of experience in this and everything else. He's got a‑‑ he's a valuable guy to have on our side, for sure, and that's one of the reasons I drive for him.
At the same time, you know, Dad can get pretty fired up pretty easily, and that's the competitiveness coming out in him, and sometimes things just, I think, got a little too fired up on the timing stand. When you put a lot of personalities on there, of which we still have a handful, you know, you've just got to try to find a way to limit things a little bit, and it's worked well. I think the communication with Ricardo and Eddie and everybody to me this year has been good. I will say, though, the other side of it is just myself, and I've taken a lot of responsibility to try to have a calmer demeanor in the car and hope that that plays out, and I think it's helped a little bit this year, as well.
Q. You're going into these last two races against a group of contenders who are older, have more of these championship battles at the end behind them, and some of them who have won titles. What advantages do you think they might have over you going into a stretch like this, and conversely, do you think there's any advantage psychologically whatever that you might have going over them?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I will say that I think psychologically right now I feel like we've been on a bit of a tear lately, and that's helped us. But I haven't frankly spent any time really thinking about the points much at all. People might be surprised by that, but I haven't. I feel very fortunate to be in the position that we're in, and I just feel like we have nothing to lose. When I look at it and look at who we're competing against, it would be pretty easy to get frazzled, if you look at Dixon who I have always felt is one of the best‑‑ I still think on an all‑around basis he's the best driver in IndyCar. But then I look at like Montoya, I mean, Montoya is a guy that when I was a kid, I looked up to him. When he went to Formula1 and stuff, I sat there and watched on Sundays just to watch him. You know, if I look as a competitor, I don't think on a worldwide basis there's a competitor that's any better than Juan Montoya. He's won in everything he's done. It's cool for me in many respects to be competing against him for a championship, and it's special to be in this position.
But they've all won championships. They've won 500s. They've won a lot of stuff. So maybe they've got a little less pressure on them just because they understand how it goes. But frankly I'm just excited to be in this position to be competing with them.
Q. You guys have obviously been on a run lately, but momentum seems like such a tough thing to maintain in racing because you mentioned the $1 part that could break. How tough of a concept is it to grasp and hold onto and maintain momentum?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's a hard thing, but you know, when momentum is on your side, it's on your side. Lately it's worked well for us, and we've been on a tear here lately.
You know, Pocono could be a different animal. Yeah, I feel like we have to do our best each and every day, each and every lap, to make sure we're maximizing the opportunity ahead of us, and if we do that, you know, we should be just fine. But you never know. You never know. When it can turn on you, it can turn on you. Look at Juan in mid‑Ohio. Sure, we put ourselves in the best spot and I felt like we were getting held up too much by Muñoz and everybody else and I decided to pit early, but if he had decided to pit on the same lap, he probably would have won that race. When it's your day, it's your day, and when it's not, it's not. Sometimes that's a hard thing to grasp, but we definitely have momentum, and trust me, I kind of wish we didn't have three weeks off here because I like the rhythm that we were in. But we'll see how it goes this weekend.
Q. Graham, you've had success, you've had great finishes on all the different types of tracks that have been on the season. Breaking down the last two races, one on a big oval at Pocono and another on a road course, how do you see that shaping up as far as you're concerned?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, Sonoma fits right into our wheelhouse, I'd say. We almost won the thing last year and we didn't have a very good car. I think we led 27 laps or something, or 20‑some laps, and I would have told you that ovals are our weakness, but I don't know, the last big oval we won, and Milwaukee went well and Iowa went well, and obviously those are completely different than Pocono, but we were terrible on all ovals last year and the last couple years. We seemed to have figured out the setups to get them a bit more comfortable for me, so with that, I'm looking forward to it. Like I said, I'm looking forward to the challenges ahead of us here. I think we have a great opportunity to keep up the work that we've been putting in to get a great result. Honda has been doing an excellent job, and I feel like we're going to be just fine this weekend. Obviously Juan won there last year and Penske has kind of been pretty stout there the last couple years, but we've just got to take care of business, and I think if we have a good day, good, smart day on Sunday, we'll be just fine.
Q. And looking ahead to the final race at Sonoma, like you said, you did very well there last year, led a lot of laps. You didn't win but that's going to be a double points race, and how much will that change the dynamic of wrapping up the championship?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it changes it a lot. Quite frankly with the way I've been thinking about things lately, I feel like my job is to stay close to Juan in Pocono, and if we can do that, I feel like we'll be in a pretty good spot come Sonoma. You never know how these things can go. The double points thing, it can be good or bad. I saw Kevin's column the other day about the way things could go forward or back. I could very easily win this thing, I could very easily finish fifth. The double points really throws a huge curve ball into the mix. We're going to have to be on top of our game, and it's going to be exciting for fans. I hope the fans are going to be tracking those points every single lap because it could change a lot over this race or over Sonoma, and it should be pretty cool.
Q. Graham, it's obviously been a great, great year for you, great stretch of races for you. How would you assess the overall health of the series, though? People come into Pocono, they may not be following along. Many are, but they probably see the Indy 500 and so forth, a lot of people coming into the race this weekend. Your thoughts on where we stand with the series as it enters these last two exciting races? Has it been a big‑time boom for the sport this year?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think the sport is on the rise, I really do. You look at ratings, good sponsorship interest. I'll tell you, when we look at 2016 for sponsorship, doors are starting to open. People say, well, your results helped out. Well, that's part of it. But the other part is people are starting to pay attention to IndyCar racing again, and that's pretty special. I think we still need to do a better job promoting the sport. I've been doing as much as I can on Twitter to promote Pocono. I don't see a lot of other drivers doing that. But we've got to do a better job of promoting the sport and getting people out there and getting people interested in it, and I think we can grow the thing. I do.
The power of social media, it's pretty simple to promote these days, you know, and I hope if you look at Pocono, you look at Milwaukee, some of these other events or venues, we've got to keep on the promoter side, I think we've got to keep enhancing it, but the sport is definitely on the rise. You look at the response in the crowd at mid‑Ohio. I'd never seen it like that and I've been going there for my entire life. All signs point to a healthy future, and I'm looking forward to it.
Q. As you remember last year, Brandon Igdalsky, the track president, was concerned before the race, of course it was 4th of July weekend last year, and concerned about the future of the race there. Talking to him about two weeks ago, he seemed to be encouraged by improved sales. How important is it to keep Pocono on this IndyCar race schedule?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think it's hugely important. Pocono is a track that has a lot of IndyCar history, and as Dixon pointed out, we're a little thin on ovals these days on the schedule. Pocono would be a great one to keep, and I'd challenge all the fans‑‑ there's a lot of fans that are within driving distance that could be there on Sunday and help this thing grow and continue the future of that event, and I hope that they do.
I'm going to keep pushing as much as I can to get it out there to make sure that we can help Brandon and everybody at Pocono. Hopefully we're going to have a good crowd on Sunday.
Q. Graham, you've had a good season, obviously. Comparing your experience and past performances, what has this season taught you?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's taught me racing is fun again. You know, the last couple years have been pretty brutal for sure on many, many fronts, and I've really enjoyed myself this year. But I think it's started to give me the confidence again that I feel like I can compete with these guys and that I belong here.
You know, frankly I think all season I've taken a much more relaxed approached to the way things have gone, and the other thing that's really taught me, the most important thing it's taught me, is the importance of a team, and the group of people that I have around me are incredible. Every single person in that shop is the reason for the success that we've had, and that's the most important, most valuable lesson that I've learned.
And you know, the thing is people relate no matter what it is, whether it's in our auto dealerships or whether it's on a race team. People are what make the world go round, and we've got a great group, and it's been a lot of fun.
Q. Quick question about things that have changed mentally for you this year, and do you think that your relationship with Courtney and also your relationship with her dad, what have you learned from them that has helped you this year?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, first things first, drag racing is a very different world than IndyCar racing, so there's not too many ways that they relate. One is four seconds, the other is two and a half hours. One is 1,000 feet, the other is 500 miles. I mean, there's not a whole lot of similarities there.
But I will say this: I do feel‑‑ I don't want to ever let Courtney down. That's a big part of this, and I feel like I need to perform for our family now going forward. You know, that's definitely been part of it. I think I'm definitely more at ease in life these days than before.
But really the biggest thing, like I said, I just reflect back on‑‑ it goes back to more the people that are around me and the team that we've assembled than my personal life I would say for the reasons for success. I think Juan would tell you the same or any of these guys. The Team Penske, Ganassi, the rest, they're a big reason for the success that they're having.
But for sure being around the Forces and all the success that they've had, you know, I certainly don't want to be the loser of the family, that's for sure. You know, trying our best to get up there and get some wins, and it's been a pretty good year for us.
Q. Graham, Scott Dixon mentioned what a technical track Pocono is, and I believe if I've got this right that the aero package will be similar to Texas. How does that equate to Pocono? What are you expecting first practice, and will this be a constant change on the fly thing?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, it's going to be a bit of a change on the fly. Pocono is very difficult. It's hard to get the car right in 1 and then figure out how to keep it manageable in Turn 3. It's very, very tricky and something we've struggled with in the past.
On the aero side of things, you look at our team's result in Texas, we made a huge mistake. That's one of the races that could bite us in this championship is finishing 15th there by not putting enough downforce on the thing really, really hurt us.
You know, we're kind of learning on the fly here still. We're going to try to figure out what's best for our team, for the entire program, and go out there and do the best that we can. But one thing that the aero kit definitely has done this year is it's thrown some curveballs at us, and I think there's going to be plenty of different combinations of things to keep the fans occupied, and it should be great racing.
ARNI SRIBHEN: We are now joined by the leader of the Verizon IndyCar Series points standings, Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske. Juan drives the No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet for Roger Penske.
Juan, with your record in 500‑mile races including wins at Indianapolis in May and Pocono last year, and you've had some success in Sonoma, is your confidence at a high heading into the last two races of the season?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah, I'm doing pretty good. I mean, to be honest, I don't think about it until we go there and do what we need to be doing, and that's it.
ARNI SRIBHEN: I read a story this week that the way you can control the championship is by winning the races. That has to be your goal for the next two weekends.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah, to be honest, we won at Pocono last year, and we should run pretty good going to the next races, as well, so I don't know. We tested in Sonoma last week, did some laps there and learned some stuff. I think we're in good shape.
You can't really know what's going to happen. I mean, we've done a really good job all year, you know, like everybody else, had ups and downs, and we'll see what it brings.
Q. Juan, you won last year's race at Pocono. What is it about that track that seems to suit your style?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I don't think there's anything magic. I think I'm really good at setting up the car on the ovals. I do a really good job at understanding what the car needs to be good, and I think that makes a big difference. If we can find what I want out of the car, then we're definitely going to be strong, and if we don't, then we'll be okay. You know what I mean? But I think that's one of the key things why I'm good on the ovals is understanding what the car needs and what I want out of the car.
Q. And also are those very precise turns for an oval, nearly as precise as Indianapolis?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Can you repeat that?
Q. I said at Pocono they have some very precise turns for an oval. Are they as precise as the turns at Indianapolis or even more precise?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: They're just different. The first corner is a banked corner where you get a lot of understeer, and then in Turn 3 you've got a lot of oversteer. It's just figuring out what kind of balance you have in all the corners. Since they closed the pots on the back of the car, they created a lot more drag, so it's going to be tough to know which one is going to be the right downforce, and I'm sure you can miss it low or you can miss it too high. You don't want to be conservative and be in the way, you know.
Q. Earlier your teammate Will Power rated his season a 6 out of 10. How would you rate your own season?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Maybe an 8 or so. Not a good year. I think the beginning of the year was great, opened the season with a win there. I felt that beating Will was huge, having a good car on a street course, showed the hard work we put in in the off‑season but we felt that was the weakest link was the street courses and that's where we put most of our focus, and it paid off. We had good cars every street course. I think our weakest link is the road courses, but last year we run good most places, not great but good, this year at mid‑Ohio we had a really good car. We figured it out. In qualifying we just had too much understeer. I think we'll be fine. Honestly I do feel we're going to be okay.
Q. Juan, I was just wondering, do you draw any experience from your wins in NASCAR and Formula1 to help you with the IndyCar championship this year?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, to be honest, you don't think about it. You know, you just do what you need to be doing, and that's it. There's not a, oh, because I've won here and I've won there. I think my first win in Indy, you would say I have no experience. You ask any expert when I won in 2000, everybody said I was going to crash, and I won the race.
Q. And I was just wondering what's your highlight of the year for this year? Is it winning the Indy 500?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Oh, absolutely. Especially being here at Team Penske, the Indy 500 is the pinnacle of what we do with Roger. That's why we're here. So to be able to go there and get it done is pretty special.
Q. You mentioned a couple minutes ago that you've been good at being able to figure out what a car needs on oval and how to set it up correctly, and that goes back to even way back, like you said, in '99, your rookie year in CART when you didn't have much experience on ovals going in. How were you able to develop that talent to know what a car needs on an oval?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's really‑‑ I mean, to be honest with you, I don't think about it too much. I either like it or I don't like it, you know what I mean? You can either hustle it or you can't. There's never a happy medium. You can either drive the hell out of the car and you'll be okay, or you can't, and you're going to struggle.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Juan, thank you for your time.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports