Will Power qualifies 21st for finale

FONTANA, Calif. -- Will Power struggled in qualifying Friday for the final race of the IndyCar season, leaving the series leader starting in 21st place when he chases his first championship.

"We've got a long night ahead,'' Power said Friday, visibly frustrated by his poor performance. "It's far from over. I'm going to do everything possible to make it happen. ... You've got three hours to work your way to the front. That's got to be the mindset.''

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.

Even Castroneves, who also has never won an IndyCar series title after numerous near misses, couldn't take pleasure in Power's qualifying misfortune at Fontana.

"When he had that scenario happening, I was like, 'Oh my God,'" Castroneves said. "I was actually concerned, because we couldn't have that kind of scenario. I was having some doubts, but there's nothing you can do.''

Castroneves trails Power by 50 points in second place heading into the season finale. Both drivers are attempting to win their first IndyCar title.

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.

Power minimized the importance of his position, saying he prefers to "start in the very front or the very back'' so he can maximize his chances of avoiding a crash, the biggest danger to his chances of winning the title.

Castroneves smiled when told of Power's thoughts.

"I guess his wish came true,'' the Brazilian said. "I didn't mean it in a bad way. I feel that for me, I've got to go in front. There's no question about it.''

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."

Penske and Penske Racing president Tim Cindric plan to gather their drivers before the race to praise their teamwork all season. Each of Penske's three drivers has won at least one race, and Juan Pablo Montoya qualified right behind Castroneves in second. Power and Castroneves then will be free to race for the title, and Penske doesn't think team orders will be necessary. The 77-year-old mogul just hopes either one of his drivers ends his eight-year IndyCar title drought.

"Being in this position for the championship, I probably shouldn't be up here [talking about it],'' Penske said before qualifying. "Because every year, we seem to get to this race or the last race, and we seem to kick the can down the road.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.