By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Power focuses on final four races, overall title
2. Racing legend Andretti crowns Power as first Road Champion
3. Vote for Tire-ific Move of the Race
1. Power focuses on final four races, overall title: Will Power engaged in some playful banter regarding his name that fits a race car driver like, well, a driving glove during the news conference following his victory in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 22.
The fifth win of the IZOD IndyCar Series season, which provided a 59-point margin in the championship standings, lifted some weight off his shoulders. But while he could briefly revel in the victory from the pole on the 2.303-mile Infineon Raceway course, William Steven Power hasn’t altered his mind-set entering the final four-race stretch in pursuit of his first championship.
“I don’t think this championship is almost mine,” he said. “There’s a lot of racing to go. Four races, a lot can happen. Really, whatever the buffer is, you can lose a lot of that in just one race. I’m going to race those ovals like I want to win the championship. I think I got enough experience now and I think we’ll be very strong.”
The IZOD IndyCar Series “final four” will be contested on 1.5-mile ovals – each that possess a unique characteristic or two. Power has competed on all but the egg-shaped Twin Ring Motegi (Sept. 19) track, and his best finish in two races at Chicagoland Speedway (Aug. 28), Kentucky Speedway (Sept. 4) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 2) is fifth at the track in Joliet, Ill., in 2008.
Power started from the pole – one of his series-record eight – and finished fifth at Iowa Speedway for a high-water mark in the four-oval set earlier this season.
He might not have as much experience on the ovals as his closest pursuers – Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon; both two-time series champions – but the 59-point spread is a comfortable cushion.
“It’s a fairly large deficit, but it’s four tracks we’ve run well on,” said Franchitti, who has won or finished second at three of the four (best finish at Kentucky was sixth in 2004 and ’09) tracks. “There are places we can do very well at.
“I don’t underestimate the challenge at all. Will is going to be quite strong. People are writing him off because of his lack of experience on the ovals, but he’ll be right up there. We have to do a better job. We’ll be pushing 100 percent.”
Dixon, runner-up to Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car at Infineon, has finished second at Chicagoland each of the past four years (and five overall). He’s won at the three other tracks in the past two seasons.
Dixon has been in a similar position as Power with four races left – 65 points ahead of Helio Castroneves in 2008. He won the title after the 17 races by 17 points.
“I think it’s exciting for our team,” Dixon said of the hunt. “We’ll try and just keep Will back in the pack and take some points off him. “Obviously, my job is going to be to try to help Dario and myself close the gap as much as possible, apply as much pressure as possible, and hopefully put them under enough that they make mistakes. I think that’s really the only options left for us.
“We have to work together as a team, obviously finish 1-2 to try to overcome the points deficit at the moment,” Dixon said.
2. Racing legend Andretti crowns Power as first Road Champion: Mario Andretti relayed a few cautionary tidbits – based on experience — to Will Power a few days before formally presenting the inaugural Mario Andretti Road Championship Trophy and a $50,000 check to the Team Penske driver in Victory Circle following the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.
“You have to enjoy it while you can; it never lasts long,” said Andretti, who won 23 road course races during his distinguished career. “Right now, he’s on a roll and God bless him. It’s wonderful to see.”
Power, who outdistanced Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti for the award, also maintains the overall championship points lead heading into the final four races of the season.
“Even though he has the points lead, you don’t rest,” Andretti said, “and that’s the beauty of IndyCar. To win the overall championship, you have to be proficient on all sides of what it has to offer. That’s what I really enjoy about the series since it started having the mix (in 2005) of ovals and road courses. As a driver, that always was the ultimate challenge.”
Andretti, 70, was selected as the award’s namesake through a fan poll on www.indycar.com. The driver who totals the most points through the Sept. 19 race at Twin Ring Motegi will receive the A.J. Foyt Oval Championship Trophy, which also was determined via a poll on indycar.com.
“It’s special that the fans voted on it and it’s a real compliment at this stage of my life,” Andretti said. “It’s wonderful that the oval trophy is named in honor of A.J. He was the yardstick for so many years and when I came on the scene that’s the guy we were gunning for. That was the man. If you can’t beat him, you’ll never win a race.
“In the future, I will certainly enjoy watching young drivers in pursuit of this trophy. Throughout my career, there was a thrill in knowing and feeling that fans were connecting with me.”
Power wrapped the road/street title Aug. 8 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – buoyed by victories at Brazil, St. Petersburg, Watkins Glen and Toronto. He added a victory in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, and also finished on the podium at Long Beach, Edmonton and Mid-Ohio. His points total was supplemented by seven PEAK Performance Pole Awards on road/streets.
“To get the award named in honor of someone I looked up to as a kid is fantastic,” Power said. “The key was winning, actually. In any championship, winning makes a huge difference, but so does consistency. I’ve had a very strong team around me all year and two very good teammates that have helped me a lot. I’ve had a good run.
Team support, according to Andretti, has been integral for Power, who’s in his first full season with Team Penske.
“He’s benefiting from great equipment and he’s making the most of it,” Andretti said. “I attribute what he’s been able to do this year to having all the pieces of the puzzle fit and just having that harmony within the team. He is, of course, a very good driver and the team is giving him everything he needs versus the competitors. He’s in a very enviable position.
“He has two other teammates that have done well, but somehow it seems he’s got the formula a little bit better.”
3. Vote for Tire-ific Move of the Race: Fans select the Firestone Tire-ific Move of the Race winner by voting on indycar.com after every race. This $10,000 prize is awarded to the driver best utilizing his or her Firestone tires to make a bold, dramatic move during the event.
Nominees for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma are: Will Power for a dominating win a year after his devastating accident at Infineon; Scott Dixon for using alternate tires to put pressure on Power late in the race and Alex Lloyd for driving from 22nd to finish 10th
The 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues Aug. 28 with the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 7 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 212. The race also will be carried on www.indycar.com. The 2010 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Chicagoland 100 on Aug. 28 at Chicagoland Speedway.