LOS ANGELES - When Scott Dixon stood next to the Astor Cup on a stage Thursday, he was still a bit surprised to be so close to IndyCar's championship trophy heading into tonight's season finale.
Just two weeks ago, Dixon trailed Helio Castroneves by 49 points. Then in a doubleheader at Houston, Castroneves had car trouble twice while Dixon was finishing first and second. Suddenly, Dixon led by 25 points.
"It's been such an up-and-down season for us that it's kind of hard to believe we're here," said Dixon, the series champion in 2003 and 2008. "We started so poorly, but we managed to find some redemption at midseason and got back in the hunt. And then Houston happened, and now we're here. It's been a wild ride."
But Dixon isn't cocky about his chances going into tonight's MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
"It's very easy to jinx yourself," Dixon said. "I think maybe you start thinking it's a given, and you get too complacent. Everybody knows it's not over."
Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner seeking his first season title, qualified second Friday behind Penske Racing teammate Will Power. But the Brazilian hasn't lost his usual chipper demeanor.
"The reason I'm not mad is because it's not over," Castroneves said. "We have a chance."
Power earned the pole with a lap of 220.775 mph on the 2-mile oval, edging Castroneves (219.677) and a third Penske driver, AJ Allmendinger (218.894). The race will start later, at 9 Eastern, to alleviate concerns about sightlines around sunset.
"In our case, with the scenario, it's pretty simple," Penske president Tim Cindric said. "Winning is really the only thing at the end of the day, and then you still have to hope."
Dixon also will have a new, temporary teammate as Alex Tagliani replaces the injured Dario Franchitti with Chip Ganassi Racing.
"It's going to come down to the last lap, the last corner, probably," Dixon said. "We're going to have to dig deep. I'm just excited to be a part of it."
SCHEDULE: IndyCar released its 2014 slate, with St. Petersburg again the opener on March 30 (see 1A for related story) and with the first road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The compressed, 18-race season ends nearly two months earlier, on Aug. 30 at Fontana.
TRUCKS: Jeb Burton earned the pole for today's Fred's 250 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway at 176.182 mph in a Chevrolet.