With three to go, IndyCar title race is anyone's to win
After winning for the fifth time this season at Infineon Raceway, Will Power told nearly everyone with a digital recorder and video camera that he wasn't ready to claim the IZOD IndyCar Series championship for his own.
"There's a lot of racing to go," he said. "Really, whatever the buffer is, you can lose a lot of that in just one race."
The Verizon Team Penske proved to be somewhat clairvoyant. Power's 59-point lead shrunk to 23 after Dario Franchitti, won the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Aug. 28, the second of three consecutive weekends of racing.
Power looked to mitigate any significant points reduction by leading the remnants of the 29-car field as late as Lap 172 of 200, with Franchitti joining Power on pit lane under yellow for the final time running eighth. Franchitti exited with the outright lead - enough ethanol in the tank and confidence in the Firestone Firehawks on the 1.5-mile oval to go the distance (62 total laps). Power's No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car didn't take on enough fuel in the 7.3-second scramble, and at the blistering pace of the dash to the finish he wound up five laps short of challenging Franchitti for the victory.
Power ducked onto pit lane for a splash and drove home in 16th place. He's not one to say "I told you so." "These things happen," Power said instead. "This obviously makes things tougher for the championship, but we're still in front and we proved how competitive we can be on the ovals. I was looking good there until that last stop. As long as I was leading, they couldn't get past me.
"We'll move on and we will work harder next week at Kentucky."
It's a new two-man race, which widened the smile Franchitti wore in his post-race news conference, though he also was cautionary. It's the third-closest title chase with three events left in the past five years.
"We see how quickly these things can change, especially on these one and a half mile tracks," Franchitti said. "We're just going to keep going. It would have been easy to give up halfway through the race there when we were running 10th or whatever. I've been on the receiving end of getting beaten from them sometimes when (Team Penske) managed to pull things out of seemingly nowhere, so it was nice to be on the end of actually winning the (race)."
In six races at Kentucky Speedway, Franchitti has started from the front row his past two races at the 1.5-mile oval. He has an average finish of eighth (high of sixth in '09 and '04). Power was strong last year, advancing 11 positions to finish ninth in his part-time role with Penske Racing. He finished 26th in '08 in his first full IZOD IndyCar Series season. Power was among a group of drivers who tested at the track earlier this month.
Power hasn't visited the egg-shaped Twin Ring Motegi - site of the Sept. 19 race - while Franchitti has finished second and third the past two years (average finish of ninth through five races). Franchitti secured his second series title with a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2009 and has competed on that 1.5-mile oval six times. Power's lone race on the track that will play host to the season finale Oct. 2 was in 2008 with KV Racing Technology (season opener in which he started 19th and finished 25th).
"It's far from over on both sides. It's going to be interesting these last three," Franchitti said.
Championship chases in five years with three races left:
Leader: Will Power (528). Second: Dario Franchitti (-23). Third: Scott Dixon (-85)
Leader: Ryan Briscoe (497). Second: Dario Franchitti (-4). Third: Scott Dixon (20)
Final margin and champion: 11 points. Dario Franchitti
Leader: Scott Dixon (558). Second: Helio Castroneves (-78). Third: Dan Wheldon (-138)
Final margin and champion: 17 points. Scott Dixon
Leader: Dario Franchitti (518). Second: Scott Dixon (-8). Third: Tony Kanaan (-52)
Final margin and champion: 13 points. Dario Franchitti
Leader: Helio Castroneves (376). Second: Sam Hornish Jr. (-8). Third: Dan Wheldon (-17)
Final margin and champion: Tie between the three. Hornish won by virtue of most victories