Rather than letting the pressure of a championship showdown get to him, Verizon Team Penske's Will Power is relishing the opportunity available to him this weekend, as he battles Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship crown. While comparisons to last year – when he missed the last race altogether after suffering serious back injuries in a crash at Infineon Raceway in August 2009, in the midst of a season in which he lacked a full-time race – are stark, the Australian points to a year earlier in showing how far he's come.
"If I go back to the end of 2008, it's amazing the position I'm in right now,” Power, who transitioned to the IZOD IndyCar Series with KV Racing Technology that season, told IndyCar.com. “This is what I've been working for the last 10 years of my career. In 2000, I decided I wanted to be a race driver at a high level and get as far as I can. At this point, to win a championship in a major series has been the goal.
“I remember saying at the beginning of the year I wanted to be a contender at the end of the year. I did that, but I didn't think it would come down to two people.”
Power finished 25th in his Homestead debut in '08 with KV (RIGHT), but the Australian takes a 12-point lead in the championship standings over reigning series champion Dario Franchitti into the 200-lap Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday night. There are a number of scenarios in which Power can clinch – foremost finishing ahead of his lone competitor in the field of 27.
Power's 587 points have been amassed through five victories on road/street circuits and top-10 finishes in 13 of the 16 races. He's also accrued 29 bonus points from a series-record eight pole starts and race laps led.
Franchitti won the championship race last October at Homestead, coaxing more fuel mileage out of the No. 10 Dallara-Honda in the second half of the caution-free race than fellow title contenders Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon. This year, Franchitti has won four times on ovals.
“Dario is experienced and never makes mistakes,” said Power. “You can't hang back. You have to be on it. I expect it to be intense.”
Both drivers tested on the 1.5-mile oval on Monday – something Power, still a relative newcomer to oval racing, was grateful for.
“It was definitely more beneficial for me than anyone else, with the position we're in and not really racing there before,” said Power. “I think we have good cars and I've been knocking on the door of winning an oval with strong finishes in the last three. We're there; I feel like I'm ready to win a race.
“Winning races, you want to add to your résumé. But it's been a process of getting experience without taking too big of a risk and trying to win a championship at the same time. I feel like I've got all that this year and now in a position to do that.
“If I don't win the race this weekend, it doesn't mean anything to me. The championship is the one thing I want to win.”