Bruce Martin
Monday August 23rd, 2010

SONOMA, California -- Now that Will Power has proven to be IndyCar's "King of the Road" with his series-leading fifth victory at Infineon Raceway on Sunday, can the Australian driver for Team Penske claim the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series championship without winning on an oval?

That question will be answered shortly as the last four races of the season will take place on 1.5-mile ovals beginning with Saturday night's contest at Chicagoland Speedway.

Power's win on Sunday was impressive as he led 73 of the 75 laps in the race and with Dario Franchitti finishing third, the Team Penske driver increased his lead from 41 to 59 points with four races remaining. But Franchitti has much more experience on the oval race tracks that will determine the series championship and Power knows he will have to win at least one oval race if he is going to take the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 2.

"Well, it's a fairly large deficit, but it's four tracks we've run well on," Franchitti said after finishing third to race winner Power and his Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon. "We've won at Chicago. Dixie (Dixon) won in Japan. We both won at Homestead. We've won at Kentucky as a team although I haven't won at Kentucky personally. 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 percent."

Power fully understands his path to his first career IndyCar title will come from running around in circles now that the IndyCar Series is off the road for the remainder of the season.

"I don't think this championship is almost mine," Power said. "There is a lot of racing to go. Four races, a lot can happen. Really, whatever it is, the buffer, 59 points, you can lose a lot of that in just one race.

"I'm going for it. I want to win this championship. I'm going to win a race on the ovals before this season is over and I'm ready to do that."

All five of Power's series-high victories have come on street and road courses. Power has proven that there was no other driver in the sport better on those courses than he. Power was so good that he clinched the Mario Andretti Trophy as the top street and road course driver at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course two weeks ago. Sunday at Infineon, Power received the trophy from Andretti himself.

Andretti would have loved to have raced against Power on a road course back when he was in his prime.

"He is benefiting from great equipment and he is really making the most of it," Andretti said. "He is on a roll and he understands the car. That is the package. You can attribute that to having all the pieces of the puzzle fit and having that harmony on the team. Will is a very good driver and giving him all the pieces that fit. He is in an enviable position right now. He has two other teammates but he has the formula a little bit better."

Back in the CART days, it used to be said that a race driver couldn't win the season championship without winning a race on a street or road course race. Could the same be in reverse this year -- that Power won't be able to win the title unless he wins one of the four remaining oval races on the schedule?

"Yes, he has to win an oval race," Andretti said. "He has quite a few races to go even though his points lead is pretty well padded; you don't rest on your laurels. 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 to be able to do it all.

When Franchitti arrived at Infineon just 41 points behind Power this weekend, I asked Power if he heard the theme from Jaws playing in the back of his head whenever Franchitti's name was mentioned?

"No, I just think of Dario -- how smooth and how good he is," said Power. "You know, people might think I look like a shark but I really look more like a hawk."

On Sunday, that "hawk" was searching for its prey and that was the rest of the field in the IndyCar Series as Power circled overhead and swooped down at the crucial moment. If he takes that same approach to the last four oval races of the season, not only will he score his first oval win, it will be enough for Power to take firm control of the 2010 IndyCar championship.

He may not have driven an IndyCar in competition in 16 years, but Mario Andretti still carries himself with tremendous presence as one of the all-time racing legends in the sport. Part of what made Andretti one of the best of all-time was his ability to win on nearly any type of race course -- from short ovals to superspeedways to natural terrain road courses to temporary street courses. It was that versatility that made Andretti the ideal choice to name the trophy that would go to the driver that scored the most points on the 2010 street and road course races on the IndyCar schedule.

"I feel absolutely flattered that I was asked to do this," Andretti said while going on a Trolley Tour of San Francisco with Power last Thursday. "It's special that the fans voted on it and it's a real compliment at this stage of my life. It's wonderful that the oval trophy is named in honor of A.J. Foyt. 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."

It was also a thrill and honor for Power to spend time with Andretti, a driver whose accomplishments are legendary even as far away as Australia. Getting the trophy from Andretti himself was even better for the Team Penske drivers.

"You are accepting an award from a legend -- one of the greats of the sport," Power said.

During the Open Wheel Racing split from 1996-2007, Andretti was an outspoken critic of the Indy Racing League and tried desperately to get CART/Champ Car to unify with the IRL. His dream came true in February 2008 when both series merged to form what is now known as the IndyCar Series. In 2010, Randy Bernard took over as the CEO of IndyCar and Andretti sees the new leader as a dynamic individual ready to move the sport forward.

"It's a breath of fresh air," Andretti said. "Here is a man that I have learned so far is very calculated and has learned in a short time what is important about our sport and our discipline; how much value there is in the heritage that this sport possesses. Bernard embraces all of that and is smart enough to see the value of all of that."

As a racer, Andretti is also excited about the prospect of the new IndyCar that will begin competition in 2012.

"They worked some variety in there which will be very welcomed," Andretti said. "I think they achieved a lot of what they were after in terms of controlling costs. It seems to me to be a pretty big compromise."

Andretti would like to see more drivers in the series like Ryan Hunter-Reay, a talented, young, good-looking driver from the United States -- something far too few in IndyCar at the moment.

"That is what you are looking for," Andretti said. "The series has all this international flavor but at the same time it's an American series so you would like to see some Americans out there on the forefront battling the world. It's amazing we have been so weak on that front. I think that is about to change."

Andretti is excited that even in a bad economy, the series has had 25-28 car fields for many of its races this season and more cars competing for the 33-car starting lineup for the Indianapolis 500 than there were starting positions.

"This can be the best time to get into the sport because it will be the cheapest you can ever get involved in it," Andretti said. "Whatever sponsor is entertaining coming into the series, now is the time to get in."

Despite setting an IndyCar Series record by running at the finish of her 29th consecutive race, Danica Patrick's season has turned into IndyCar's version of "Groundhog Day." It was another forgettable weekend for Patrick, who crashed in Saturday's practice session with Takuma Sato, qualified 23rd in a 25-car field and had to start alongside Milka Duno, and then finished a mediocre 16th in the race.

Patrick remains a star because of her commercial appeal, but judging from her recent performances on the race track in both IndyCar and the NASCAR Nationwide Series, she has become a back-marker and that is a designation she despises.

She has the talent to be much better than that, evidenced by her second-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in June which many believe was her best complete race of her career -- even better than her victory at Twin Ring Motegi in 2008. Patrick also finished sixth at Toronto in July for her best road/street course finish of the season.

Patrick has struggled mightily in the Nationwide Series, trying to adapt to the bigger, more cumbersome race cars. But she doesn't have the same excuse in IndyCar, leaving her extremely discouraged.

Patrick enjoys the challenge of road course racing but after a season of disappointment on those types of circuits she might be looking forward to the end of Sunday's race. After that, the final four races of the season will be on ovals -- a type of track that Patrick has experienced more success on.

"There is nothing like going fast on the road course," Patrick said. "It feels good but it has been a really challenging year this year for sure."

"I was named after my great-grandfather William Steven Power. My name is William, but everybody called me Will. Everyone called him Will. So it's Will Power. It's amazing. No one ever gave me crap at school about my name. They just called me Power or Will. It's only when I became a race driver that people started to catch onto this 'Will Power' thing. No one calls me just 'Will,' it's 'Will Power.' I have a younger brother named 'Honda.'" -- IndyCar Series star Will Power on his unique name -- one that is perfect for being a race driver.

While NASCAR gets a break, there is no time off this weekend for me as it's back to Chicago for the second time in two weeks -- so I took a weekend off last week to be with a really good friend -- where the IndyCar Series will race under the lights at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday night. This race was a classic last year with Ryan Briscoe using the "Push-to-Pass" button perfectly to defeat Scott Dixon by just 0.0077-of-a-second. It was the fourth-closest finish in IndyCar Series history. Here's hoping for similar excitement Saturday night.

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