FRANCHITTI TRIES TO PUT POWER IN REAR-VIEW
Source: Associated Press / SportsIllustrated.CNN.com
BALTIMORE (AP) - The IndyCar Series points race again has developed into a two-man duel, only this time Dario Franchitti is peeking over his shoulder at a rapidly closing Will Power as they head toward the checkered flag.
A year ago, Power established an early lead and took a double-digit edge into the final race. The Australian literally and figuratively hit the wall at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and his 25th-place finish enabled Franchitti to snag his third title in four years.
Franchitti and Power have reversed roles in 2011. Franchitti held a 47-point advantage before Power won the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 28, and the gap narrowed further last weekend at the Baltimore Grand Prix, where Power captured the pole and led for 70 of 75 laps in a runaway victory.
So now, with three races left in the season, Franchitti is clinging to a shaky five-point lead.
Before the 28-car field began the Baltimore Grand Prix, Franchitti was frank about the potential problems of a troublesome, unpredictable street course.
"There are infinite possibilities,'' the Scotsman said. He was referring to the perils of the track, although he might as well have been talking about the ultimate outcome of the IndyCar Series.
Franchitti has the lead, but Power has the momentum. Anything can happen, beginning with the Sept. 17 race in Japan.
"With my experience with championships, I don't think you're ever safe,'' Power said. "It only takes Dario have a bad day and me to have a good day and I'm right there. ... These last three races, I have to have very good races, and I will be doing everything I absolutely can to make sure I do.''
After a winless rookie season in 2008, Power joined Penske Racing in 2009. Since then, he has won 12 races (including a circuit-leading six this year), captured 17 poles and recorded 25 top-five finishes.
"I was lucky enough to be his teammate in 2008, and he is committed every corner,'' said Oriol Servia, the second-place finisher in Baltimore. "Early on in his career he had a fair number of crashes because he just takes 110 percent every corner. He doesn't make mistakes anymore and he still drives 110 percent, so to beat him takes a lot.''
Told of the compliment, Power acknowledged that he's made a point of being precise on the track this year.
"I don't make mistakes? I haven't made many this year,'' Power said. "I thought last year as a team we made a few mistakes together; I made some, and we made some in the pits. This year, definitely solid pit stops and I think my oval game has picked up. And now we're in contention.''
Power prefers a road course, and the Indy Japan 300 runs through the streets of Motegi, Tochigi. But the final two stops of the season, in Kentucky and Las Vegas, will be on ovals.
"In a way, (Power) has improved his game on ovals because that's when he got beat last year,'' said Tony Kanaan, who finished third in Baltimore. "It plays a lot in Will's favor, us going to Japan on the road course now. So let's see about the last two ovals. It's going to be interesting.''
Kanaan has no intention of handicapping the points race.
"I know Dario really well, so you should not think he is worried,'' Kanaan said. "I'm not saying he's happy right now, but just watching. It's like fishing. He gives the fish a little more line, a little more line, and he's going to grab it back.
"I don't know who between the two is going to win it. I'm Dario's friend, but I love to see people win their first championship.''
Power can't even fathom the notion of finishing second again.
"Second means nothing, third, fourth, fifth. Who cares? I want to win, you know?'' he said. "It's a disappointment to lose out (last year) by five points. The whole team felt like that. We had such a lead to lose. We're determined this year.''