Stay on the lead lap, keep his car out of scrapes and within shouting distance of Helio Castroneves and the IndyCar championship will be Power’s after Saturday’s race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
No one knows better than Power that nothing comes easy in the series finale.
Power has started the final race of the year in first place three times since 2010. But he’s still chasing that elusive first championship.
This might finally be Power’s time, though. He has a 51-point lead over Penske teammate Castroneves – another elite driver in search of his first series title – and will clinch the crown by finishing sixth or better.
Simon Pagenaud is third, 81 points behind Power.
”It’s just about, obviously, just aim for a top-five finish,” said Power, who won last year’s race at Fontana. ”The mindset is just to really work hard on getting the car right. Obviously the rest you can’t control.”
To win the championship, Power must overcome a history of heartbreaking finishes.
In 2010, Power crashed out at Homestead after a brush with the wall. Dario Franchitti won the title by a mere five points, even though Power had the dominant car all season.
Power won the pole and led for 48 laps at Kentucky the following year. But he finished in 19th place and Franchitti repeated as champion.
The cruelest of all of Power’s finales came at Fontana in 2012.
Power got loose near the apron and fishtailed up into the wall, ending his race after just 66 laps. That clinched the third consecutive second-place finish for Power, who ceded the title to Ryan Hunter-Reay by just three points.
Power knows he can’t dwell on the past if he hopes to put this misery behind him.
”I mean, at the end of the day, we’re going to be there at the end to have a shot. That’s the first thing is to make sure you’re there at the end and that you have a competitive car. They’re the two things that will really help me win the championship,” Power said.
Castroneves still has a shot at the title because Saturday’s race will be worth double the points. He will need to harness the speed he’s often found in qualifying at Fontana and bring it to the race.
Castroneves, a four-time runner-up in the IndyCar series, has twice won the pole at Fontana and holds the qualifying record at 226.757 MPH, set in 2003. But he’s also never had a podium finish in 10 races.
Still, Castroneves is always among a handful of favorites on oval tracks like Fontana.
”Every time we have a good car on the ovals it helps to see you perform. You’re talking about 500 miles, it’s a long race, and we’ve still got about five or seven pit stops to deal with it. The good news is we’ve always done well here. The bad news is Will is on my team, so he’s going to have exactly what I’ve got. But nothing we can do about that,” Castroneves said.
With Power and Castroneves clear ahead of the field, Team Penske is in strong position to erase some troubling recent history of its own.
Despite being one of IndyCar’s elite organizations, a Penske driver hasn’t won a championship since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.