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Power staying patient as Penske part-timer
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Updated Aug 26, 2009 10:34 AM ET
Will Power could easily bite the hand that's feeding him and put himself out on the market as a free agent for the 2010 IndyCar Series season.
After what he's done in a part-time role this year for Team Penske, he'd be one of the major stories of Silly Season. His victory at Edmonton last Sunday capped a stretch of runs with Penske that have seen him finish no worse than sixth and that was in teammate Helio Castroneves' car at April's season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. His performance at City Center Airport was nothing short of dominating as he led 90 of 95 laps en route to his first IRL triumph (or second if you count his 2008 win at Long Beach that was the Champ Car finale but paid IRL title points). What's more, you have to believe that it increased the pressure on team owner Roger Penske and Penske Racing president Tim Cindric to find a way to get the Australian with a third, full-time program next season. A much cockier racer would take all of this into account and perhaps try to force a bidding war between multiple teams. But Power is playing the good soldier. Let's go back to Long Beach, when Power was moved to his current No. 12 machine after Castroneves beat the Feds and returned to his No. 3 special. He didn't make a fuss about his situation. Despite losing radio communication with his team, Power charged to a second-place finish. With that run, Power was second in the IRL championship standings at the time. Penske had no plans to run him at the next race in Kansas. Instead of arguing with his car owner about it or raise the prospect of going to another team in order to keep in the title hunt, he said all the right things.
"I'm not really looking anywhere else," he said after Long Beach. "I'm very focused on the Indy 500. And for the team, I want to remain with them for the rest of my career." He would not return to action until the Indianapolis 500, where he was a contender for the win before winding up fifth. Then, another wait, until last month at Toronto, where he overcame a first-lap incident that sent him to the back of the field and finished third at the checkered flag. Then came Edmonton, a weekend that was dominated by the Penske trio of Power, Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe. Power won the pole after the three-round knockout qualifying sessions and then on Sunday, he proceeded to destroy the field despite having to deal with lap traffic in the middle stages of the race. The race featured 94 laps of green-flag racing before a caution on the final lap brought the event to a close under yellow. It was a breather that some drivers probably wished they had seen in the previous laps. But perhaps fittingly considering his tour de force on the 1.9-mile airport circuit, Power wasn't feeling much wear. "I had plenty of energy all the way through," he said after Sunday's race. "I'm very fit off the track; I do a lot of every exercise in the gym, on the bike, running and swimming. So my fitness is part of my being able to pull away a bit. I didn't fatigue and I just kept trucking on. I felt really good."
He had every reason to be. And that's why we shouldn't expect him to do anything else other than be the good soldier. Even though he's only part-time now, this is still the biggest opportunity of his career. No longer having to worry about his team going under and his ride disappearing, he can enjoy the fact that he's racing in top-notch equipment and performing to a high standard. If he continues to drive like this, it'd be a shock not to see Power in a full-time ride next season with somebody, whether that be Team Penske or another operation. And if he does continue to drive like this, it'd be even more shocking to see Penske let him slip away. But I wouldn't bet on that happening. No way.
The Indy Racing League's developmental series is hitting a major milestone this weekend at Kentucky Speedway. Seven years after its first event under the Indy Racing League banner at Kansas Speedway, the Firestone Indy Lights will stage their 100th race as an IRL-sanctioned series. The inaugural "IRL Lights" event featured a grid of 12 cars and was won from the pole by A.J. Foyt IV. Things have changed dramatically since then as the drivers and teams now tackle a varied schedule of ovals, road and street circuits. And while the car count has dropped from the beginning of this season 19 cars will compete in Saturday's Kentucky 100, compared to 27 at the season-opening doubleheader in St. Pete FIL executive director Roger Bailey is still happy with the progress and current health of the series. "I thought the growth of the series would be greater in 2009, but what we didn't factor into the equation was how bad the economy would be," Bailey said. "I think we're over the hump and teams are starting to talk to us again. We've already had one IndyCar Series owner express interest in running a team next year and there is a dialogue with several other people. We're not looking for 20-30 people, we're looking for 6-8 solid players to run every race." "Frankly, we've got the best field this year that we've ever had in terms of talent and quality. We may be down in numbers from the beginning, but in terms of quality, it's as strong as any other series in the world. Guys like Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta and Scott Dixon graduated from the old Indy Lights and talent-wise, we're approaching that level again. Once we get the numbers back where we want them, we will be totally whole and I see a great future." Heading into Kentucky, American driver J.R. Hildebrand leads Colombia's Sebastian Saavedra by 69 points in the championship.
Look who's back
Sarah Fisher and her part-time operation are back in the fight this weekend at Kentucky Speedway. It will be the first race for Fisher and her No. 67 Dollar General-backed machine since the June race at Texas Motor Speedway, where she finished 17th.
As IRL fans know, Fisher's had some great moments at Kentucky. She claimed her first podium there in 2000 and in 2002, Kentucky was the backdrop for history as she became the first woman in North American racing history to win an pole position for a major-league open-wheel race. "I love racing at Kentucky Speedway," she said recently. "I've had some of my best runs at this track and I can't wait to put another one on the books." Fisher and her team will race in two more events this year at Chicagoland Speedway in August and Homestead-Miami Speedway in October.
Change is in the air
In a statement on why the IRL will not return to his race track in 2010, Richmond International Raceway president Doug Fritz seems to have revealed the IndyCars' atrocious showing there in June as a prime factor for the series' departure. "The IndyCar Series is a high-quality racing series and we have enjoyed hosting them at Richmond International Raceway," he said. "The series puts on good shows all over the world, but here at Richmond, we just didn't have the racing our fans have come to expect. Nonetheless, the IndyCar Series continues to run entertaining events at other venues and we wish them all the best for the future." The boring affair, as well as multiple other speedway snoozers, has forced the series to give the teams various aerodynamic options such as sidepod extensions, wheel-end fills and tire ramps for the remaining oval events on the 2009 schedule. The lone mandatory rule from the IRL in this matter is the removal of a half-inch vertical endfence wicker, which hopefully will allow trailing cars to follow more closely. Also making its debut at Kentucky is a variation of Champ Car's push-to-pass system. The IndyCar version will feature boosts of 5-20 horsepower depending on the car's fuel setting. Each boost will last for 12 seconds and a 10-second blackout for recharging will follow after each hit. Drivers will have 20 boosts at their disposal, which will be utilized with a button on the steering wheel. The system will be utilized at all of the remaining events.
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