FONTANA, California – Will Power enters the final race of the season with a chance to win his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
But, haven’t we seen this movie before?
Like in 2010 when he entered the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway locked in a battle with Dario Franchitti. Power entered with a 12-point lead but crashed in the race, finished 25th and watched Franchitti celebrate the title by a five-point margin.
In 2011, Power entered what would become the final race of the season at Kentucky Speedway with an 11-point lead and was driving away from the field when he made his first pit stop of the race. As Power was leaving his pit area, Ana Beatriz ran into him. Power would finish 19th after leading 48 laps in that race and Franchitti once again claimed the championship by 18 points.
Power was denied an opportunity to fight it out with Franchitti in the last race on the schedule at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after a 15-car crash on Lap 12 killed two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon and the race was canceled.
Power entered the final race of the 2012 season with a 17-point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay but crashed on Lap 55 when Hunter-Reay was attempting to pass him. Team Penske was able to repair the damage in the garage area and send Power back into the race where he finished 24th in a 26-car field.
But when Hunter-Reay finished fourth, Power finished just three points behind the champion.
Power has a 51-point lead over Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves entering Saturday night’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, but double-points will be awarded in this race – the same scoring system used for the Indianapolis 500 and the 500-mile race at Pocono in July.
That means 100 points will go to the winner instead of 50 and, if Castroneves wins the race, Power must finish sixth or better to finally claim that elusive first IndyCar championship.
“I keep turning up with a bigger lead,” Power said. “Hopefully this lead is big enough.”
So how did Power get to this point?
It actually goes back to 2013 when a horrible start to the season took the driver from Toowoomba, Australia out of championship contention. Realizing he wasn’t going to fight it out for the championship, Power went into the remaining races with a clear mind and focused attitude of winning the race. He ended the 2013 season with three wins in the final four races, including a decisive victory in last year’s MAVTV 500 as Scott Dixon won last year’s championship.
That winning focus appeared to carryover to the start of this season, when Power won the season-opener at St. Petersburg, Florida. He followed that with a second-place finish at Long Beach and a fifth-place at Barber Motorsports Park. That start had him in the points lead as the series headed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
He finished eighth in the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and eighth in the 98th Indianapolis 500 before charging back to victory lane in the first race of the Detroit doubleheader and second to teammate Castroneves in Detroit Race No. 2.
He overcame a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit lane at Texas Motor Speedway to finish second to Ed Carpenter in June before his only bad stretch of the season came with a 14th place finish in Houston Race 1, and 11th place in Race 2. He was blazingly fast at Pocono, leading four times for 69 laps before he was assessed with a costly drive-through penalty for blocking teammate Castroneves late in the race.
Instead of having a chance to win, he finished 10th after suffering another self-inflicted penalty.
“That was frustrating – getting all those drive through penalties but it’s over and time to move forward,” Power said.
Power faltered through several races at Toronto and Mid-Ohio before storming back with an impressive win at the Milwaukee Mile on August 17, starting on the pole and leading 229 laps of the 250-lap race for the first short oval victory of his career.
“I wanted to win on a short oval and that is what we did,” Power said. “It added to my confidence on ovals. It was one of my best drives ever, I feel.”
He started on the pole last week at Sonoma and led 33 laps before he lost control of his car on a restart in the hairpin section of Sonoma Raceway. Power would battle on to finish 10th and increase his lead over Castroneves, who was involved in a crash at the start of that race.
“I did not expect it to be that slippery on the inside of that corner,” Power said. “I was back in the pack because of the circumstance of that yellow but man, that’s racing. I didn’t even know Helio was in the back and after that he was ahead of me. I wanted to try to at least pass him to have a bigger lead coming into this race.
“I accomplished that and did even more.”
So, here is Power once again with a chance to win the championship and, this time, he promises a different ending.
“The biggest change is I’m competitive on the ovals,” Power said. “It’s the first year I’ve gone into the end of a season feeling confident. I’ve looked at the last three races and thought they were all tracks I could do well at and all tracks that I love. So that has been the big difference over previous years.
“At Homestead in 2010 we just didn’t have the car for that race and that is because I didn’t know how to set up a car on the ovals. If I had done that I would have been more on top of that.
“I have to take Saturday night as it comes. I want to win the race. That is when you have the most fun, racing to win.”
And that “race to win” attitude may be the key to Power winning the championship on Saturday night.
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. ET.