Brant James
Thursday January 7th, 2010

His distinctive name will surely be used in headlines and pithy story leads while he continues his journey back to the track. His wry wit -- the Australian driver has a "Down Under" ring tone on his cell phone -- and succinct answers will be equated with a singular focus to return not only to IndyCar racing, but the job opportunity of a lifetime with Team Penske after sustaining a career-threatening back injury in a late-season practice crash at Infineon Raceway. For the last four months, Will Power's life has been about strengthening and limbering his back, which suffered two broken vertebrae, and attaining his clearance to drive passenger cars, go-karts and, finally, an Indy car -- which he is scheduled to do for the first time in a private test at Sebring (Fla). International Raceway on Jan. 18, according to team officials.

There is a definite plan for 2010. Power had no such direction just a year ago, when his relationship with KV Racing/Team Australia crumbled because of financial concerns and he was left jobless until deep in the offseason when Penske signed him to spell Helio Castroneves, who was about to stand trial on charges of federal income tax evasion. Power made one start -- finishing sixth at St. Petersburg in the season-opener -- before Castroneves was acquitted and reclaimed the No. 3 in the next race at Long Beach.

Power, a temp who had said and done all the things a company man would do, was put in a car at Long Beach, starting on the pole and finished second. He started six races, winning at Edmonton and finishing fifth in the Indianapolis 500, but in a late August practice on the road course at Sonoma, Calif., he cleared a blind corner and hit the spun-out car of Nelson Philippe. Power's season was ended, but he'd impressed Penske.

The Penske organization, president Tim Cindric said, had "very limited" motivation to add a third car until Power, 28, and sponsor Verizon intersected. "He showed us what he can do and we thought he deserved a chance, and he was very genuine. Bottom line though: if Will hadn't shown what he can do and he hadn't delivered .... There's a lot of good guys out there that don't get good opportunities. Some are good drivers and some, you get both. And in Will we get both. As rare as that is, it's difficult to see that go away if you can help it."

We had a few questions for Power: How was the rehabilitation process?

A: It was actually kind of quick. Every time I went to the doctor, he was surprised how well I was doing. I have time on my side, so I'm making sure it heals really well. The process is going as expected, or better than expected. How difficult was it to stay patient and focused through all of that?

A: It was a situation I went into not knowing exactly what was going to happen. It was definitely worth the risk for me because it was a team I wanted to be with. I knew if I got the chance to be in the car, I'd be very quick. There were no guarantees I would get any races. But I got St. Pete and Helio came back at Long Beach and they ran a car for me there and then again at the 500. I did the best I could with the situation. It all worked out in the end. Just be patient. I really enjoyed being a part of the team and a team player and I would like to think I did my part to help us try and win a championship, and now I'm getting my opportunity. How worlds-apart is the feeling of job security you have this January compared to last year?

A: It does feel good. It's something I'm not used to, actually. I've always gone through Christmas wondering exactly what is going to happen the next year, but this year I'm very aware of what's going to be going on, and, to me, it's the strongest driver lineup in the series. You've got three good drivers, three very good cars, three very good engineers and three very good crews. I'm really looking forward to it. From the way Castroneves was included in the press conference announcing that you would take over his car until his trial was concluded, to the way Penske kept you in the fold this season, it seems the organization does a good job of developing and displaying loyalty.

A: The ultimate environment for a driver is to feel as though you're really part of the team and that no matter what happens, they are behind you. From what I've heard and seen, that's how (team owner) Roger (Penske) runs everything in business and in racing. It's great to be a part of that. I feel very privileged to be able to drive there, because in motorsport, there's not many good seats available. In a position like this, you really want to get in there and return the favor, which I would no matter where I would be. There aren't that many rides in the IndyCar series where you have an expectation of competing for a win every week, are there?

A: Let's say there's only about five seats that you know each week if you're in that car, you have a chance to win. When you come to America and you are in open wheel racing, one of those seats is where you want to end up. But when you get there, you want to make sure you perform. Otherwise you're not going to be there long. Will there be nervousness when you get back back in the car for the first time?

A: I think it will be anticipation. I won't be nervous. I don't think the crash affected me in any way. I will be more interested to see if I feel my back when I drive and just slowly work up to it. Is it easier to catalog and put away a crash like that because it was such a freakish occurrence unlikely to be duplicated?

A: It was one of those things that was not really my fault. It's a different situation. If I'd lost it and hit the wall from my mistake, mentally it might affect me. I don't know until I get in a car, but it's not in my mind at all. In fact, the first thing that was on my mind the next day [was when] they showed me the X-rays of my back, I was wondering if I could race on Sunday.

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