Power, Hunter-Reay vying for title
For the seventh consecutive season, the IndyCar championship will be decided in the final race of the year.
For Australian driver Will Power, it's his chance to win his first major title after coming up short in the last two years, both times to Dario Franchitti.
Power could have clinched it last Sunday in the Baltimore Grand Prix, and turned next week's finale in Fontana, Calif. into an exhibition race, but he finished sixth from the pole. Ryan Hunter-Reay won to move within 17 points of Power and become the only other contender for the title.
Power also led in the standings going into the final race in the last two years, and he's wiser for the experience said Tim Cindric, the president of Power's team, Penske Racing.
"He's in a much better place than where he's been the last couple of years," Cindric said. "I am confident that if something unforeseen doesn't happen, he's in position to get this done."
Part of the Penske confidence is that Power and his cars have been outstanding this year. He opened the season with three wins in the first four races, has started from the pole five times and shown himself to be a stronger driver on ovals than before. He was knocked out of the Indianapolis 500 in an accident, and a late blocking penalty took away his chance at victory at Texas, where he led for 24 laps.
"We as a team haven't been able to put the numbers on the board," Cindric said. "But I've said all year, I'd put him against any of our guys on the ovals. We just haven't been able to get to the end. We've run better on the ovals, he's more confident than what he's been before. He's not concerned about ovals."
And the Penske team isn't thinking about Hunter-Reay stealing this championship. The only focus is on Power running his own race and taking control of his fate.
"I like our chances. I am confident that if something crazy doesn't happen, if we finish the race, I don't see us losing," he said.
Hunter-Reay is trying to become the first American driver to win the championship since 2006.
Until this year, he had never finished higher than seventh in the IndyCar standings.
"I am surprised that it's come down to us because while he's certainly capable, he typically hasn't been in the championship mix," Cindric said. "But this year, he's managed the opportunity really well. His bad races have still been good. He's limited the mistakes and he's done a good job."
Still, Hunter-Reay's team owner, Michael Andretti, believes winning the title won't be easy.
"We are still going to need to have a really good race, and we are going to need (Power) to have just an average race," Andretti said.
Hunter-Reay has proven this year, his fifth full season in IndyCar, that he is capable of running exceptional races. He has won a career-high four races this season and used three consecutive victories this summer to establish himself as a title contender. His 153 laps led is also a career high, as are his six podium finishes.