Power pads series lead with win at Sonoma

Back broken, front teeth scattered somewhere, head ringing, Will

Power left the 2009 race at Infineon Raceway in a helicopter.

A year later, he walked away, a bit of payback and a trophy in

hand, his first series title well within reach.

Shaking off a touch of early anxiety, Power returned to Infineon

Raceway with a dominating win on Sunday, padding his IndyCar Series

lead on a course that nearly ended his career.

”Unbelievable. I watched this race from a hospital bed last

year,” Power said. ”I said it all year, I’m coming back to win

this because I thought this track owes me because of what

happened.”

Power was admittedly nervous when he first hit the gas pedal at

Infineon this week and felt a touch of anxiety every time he saw

dust fly over the hill where his back-breaking wreck took place in

2009.

He showed no fear once the racing started, though, setting an

IndyCar record with his eighth pole of 2010, then leading 73 of 75

laps over the technically demanding 2.303-mile circuit through the

hills of the California wine country.

Rarely challenged over the 12-turn, elevation-changing course,

Power has 59-point lead over defending series champion Dario

Franchitti heading into the season’s final four races. Ryan Briscoe

was fourth.

”It’s a fairly large deficit, but it’s four tracks we’ve run

well on,” said Franchitti, who finished third behind Chip Ganassi

Racing teammate Scott Dixon.

”There’s places we’ve done very well at. I don’t underestimate

the challenge. Will’s going to be very strong. A lot of people are

kind of writing him off because of his lack of experience on the

ovals, but I think he’ll be up there. We just have to do a better

job.”

Power’s last trip to Sonoma put his career in jeopardy.

Driving in a practice session last year, the Aussie came flying

over a hill and didn’t have time to react to Nelson Philippe’s

stalled car. Power hit him straight on and had to be airlifted from

the track, his back and teeth broken, the season over.

Team Penske stuck with Power through his long rehabilitation and

he’s rewarded the loyalty with an impressive third IndyCar

season.

The 29-year-old Power came into Sonoma with the inaugural

IndyCar Series road course championship locked up thanks to four

non-oval victories and had built a 41-point lead over Franchitti,

the defending series champion.

Power found speed when he needed it in knockout qualifying,

sneaking out of the second round with a fast last lap, then locking

up his record-breaking pole with another quick turn around the

hard-to-find speed course late in the final session.

Power didn’t let up during the race, peeling away from the green

and building a nearly 6 second lead before Milka Duno caused a

caution with a spinout on Lap 32. The lead was back up over 5

seconds after another caution, then Power lost it on Lap 56 when he

went into the pits and Dixon didn’t.

Two laps later, Dixon went into the pits and Power was back up

front, followed by Franchitti.

That was it.

Power gradually pushed the lead back up and Franchitti, after

chasing him most of the day, gave way to Dixon. Even with faster

red tires for his final stint, Dixon couldn’t help out his

teammate, unable to get around Power despite another pack-bunching

spinout and several passing attempts.

”We felt we were in a good position to maybe challenge Will and

get close to him and maybe win the race and take some points away

from him that way,” Dixon said. ”We didn’t have enough;

obviously, Will won the race. We probably didn’t help Dario’s

chances in that, so that was probably the downside to today.”

Power really wanted a win at Sonoma, in part because of last

year’s accident, but also because he’d like to build a little

points cushion with the season’s final four races, all on

ovals.

It’s not that Power can’t drive ovals. He’s been picking up the

nuances of turn-left-only racing, finishing eighth at Indy and

fifth at Iowa. Franchitti, though, is a going-in-circles vet, with

two Indianapolis 500 titles under the hood, so the more padding

Power can get going into those final races, the better.

A sixth career victory and a comfortable into-the-stretch lead

should help.

”I definitely don’t think this championship is mine. There’s a

lot of racing to go,” Dixon said. ”In four races, a lot can

happen and you can lose a lot of that (points) in a hurry. I want

to win a championship.”

He’s a step closer, a bad memory in his rearview mirror, no

less.