IndyCar: Two drivers, 17 points and one race to go
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After 14 races have been completed within the last six months, the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season will conclude on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
It's the first time IndyCar has competed at this two-mile oval in seven years. The series ran there each year from 2002-05 before it was dropped from the schedule.
This will also be the seventh straight season the IndyCar championship is decided in the season-finale. Will Power currently holds a 17-point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay. Helio Castroneves, who is Power's teammate at Team Penske, is 52 points out of the lead, while Scott Dixon trails by 53. Castroneves and Dixon are still mathematically in contention, but both drivers are very long shots to win the title.
Power is no stranger to being in the middle of a tight fight heading into the last race of the season. For the past two years, Power held the points lead entering the season-finale but lost the championship both times to Dario Franchitti.
The third time could be the charm for him.
"It's going to be obviously a tough race, 500 miles," Power said. "I've been in this position for the last two years. We just focus on the job that we have to do to execute on the day. The rest will work itself out. Either we'll be champion or we won't."
In his third year with Andretti Autosport, Hunter-Reay is having a career-best season with four wins to his credit. He has finished seventh in points the past two years.
"I definitely like the position we're in, chasing," Hunter-Reay said. "We've been doing that for most of the year. I think we've been getting better at it.
"We need to go out and focus on winning. That's really what it's going to be about. Five hundred miles is a long race. The race that we have in the first 250 is going to be a lot different than we have in the last 250. We could see a lot of comers and goers. It's going to be changing the entire time."
Hunter-Reay's path towards a possible championship has not been an easy one. After finishing 24th in Aug. 5 race at Mid-Ohio and then 18th in the Aug. 26 event at Sonoma, Calif., it looked as though Hunter-Reay's title hopes were fading away, as he trailed Power by 36 points.
But Hunter-Reay bounced back earlier this month by winning the Grand Prix of Baltimore. Power finished sixth in that race.
"It hasn't been easy," Hunter-Reay admitted. "Right when things looked like they were going exactly our way, other situations would come about, like the situation with Sonoma, then some of the reliability issues we had at Mid-Ohio. These things happen in racing. It's part of it. Will has seen that in his runs for the championship as well. Right when things start to look like they're heading in the right direction, you could be thrown a curve ball."
While the road/street courses have been his strong suit, Power has struggled on the ovals throughout his IndyCar career. His best finish in the first four oval races this season is eighth, which came in June at Texas. His other finishes on the ovals in 2012 have been: 28th (Indianapolis), 12th (Milwaukee) and 23rd (Iowa).
Power's only win on an oval came last year in the second race of a doubleheader at Texas.
Two years ago, Power crashed with 57 laps remaining in the season-ending race at Homestead, Fla. He lost the championship to Franchitti by just five points.
In what turned out to be the last race of the 2011 season, Power came to Kentucky Speedway with an 11-point advantage over Franchitti. Power, who started on the pole and led the first 48 laps, made contact with Ana Beatriz while entering his pit stall during the first round of stops. He had to pit several times for repairs and ended up finishing 19th.
Las Vegas had been scheduled as the season-ending race last year. But the event was canceled after a horrifying 15-car wreck that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon occurred in the early going. Power was caught up in that wreck and suffered a compression fracture of his fourth thoracic vertebra. IndyCar officials ruled the Las Vegas event incomplete and championship points would include races up through Kentucky, which was held two weeks earlier.
Power is hoping he'll have an incident-free race at Fontana.
"Maybe it will be the first last race that I finish, because every year I get crashed out," he said. "So I'm determined this time to just finish the last race and finish it as the leader of the championship."
Last week, eight drivers, including Power and Hunter-Reay, tested the new chassis-engine package at Fontana. Most IndyCar teams participated in a second round of testing there on Wednesday.
"I haven't driven around the track since 2003, but I can tell you the track has picked up some 'character' since then," Hunter-Reay said.
With the 500-mile race beginning in daytime and concluding at night, the change in track temperature will be a huge factor.
"That's going to be interesting," Power said. "As it cools down, we're going to gain grip. I see it probably a little bit more like Texas. I think Indy was too easy this year. It was just wide open, especially in qualifying. Based on tests, with the bumps and everything, I can't see that."
Twenty-six teams are on the entry list for the MAVTV 500.
Series: IZOD IndyCar. Date: Saturday, September 15. Race: MAVTV 500. Site: Auto Club Speedway. Track: two-mile oval. Start Time: 8:45 p.m. (ET). Laps: 250. Miles: 500. Television: NBC Sports Network. Radio: IMS Radio Network/SIRIUS XM Satellite.
09/13 01:31:41 ET