You have to think that Sunday is the chance Will Power has been waiting for.
Since stepping into the cockpit of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske machine, the Australian driver has forged a reputation as the man to beat on road and street courses in the IZOD IndyCar Series. But while ruling one discipline is nice, it takes the mastery of two to be on top at season’s end with the championship.
The other discipline, oval racing, was Power’s downfall in 2010 as he squandered a 59-point lead over the final four races – all of them on speedways – and lost the title by five points to Dario Franchitti. This season, Power has picked right back up with two victories in the first four races – all on road/street courses – and sits atop the IZOD IndyCar Series standings going into the first oval race of the year: this Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
For Power and Team Penske, there’s plenty to prove this weekend. Last weekend’s events in qualifications saw Penske cars shut out of the 500’s front row for the first time since 2004. Granted, Penske Racing never goes into Indy looking for just the pole, but there’s been more chatter about an underdog driver and team swiping the race from them (and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, too) than there has been in a while.
As for Power himself, the 100th anniversary running represents a chance not just to make history but to also show everyone that he can be the all-purpose master that his title rival, Franchitti, is. Indeed, a victory at Indy could assure that everyone pencils in Power for potential victories everywhere instead of at theLong Beaches and Mid-Ohios of the world.
Then there’s the rivalry between Penske and TCGR, which always plays center stage at Indianapolis. Save for Buddy Rice’s win with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2004, and a pair of Andretti Green (now Andretti Autosport) victories from Dan Wheldon (2005) and Franchitti (2007), the “red cars” have won all the other Indy 500s since the dawn of the new millennium.
It’s a constant game of one-upmanship between these two squads. While their cordiality and respect for each other are legitimate, they desperately want to beat each other. What better way for Penske to gain a psychological edge than for Power, the man that allegedly turns mortal when he turns left, to dust the competition at the Brickyard and announce that he’s now every bit as good as Franchitti?
As far as the IZOD IndyCar Series title picture is concerned, it’d change everything. Because after last season, a lot of people will likely give the edge to Franchitti over Power should the two still be fighting tooth-and-nail going into the last three races: Motegi (yes, it might be cancelled), Kentucky and Las Vegas…All ovals.
Unless Power puts everything together and wins on a speedway, that is. And wouldn’t it be something if he could do that in front of the entire world? It’d certainly supplant his emotional Sonoma win last year (he broke his back in a practice crash there in 2009) as the best of his career so far.
Indeed, Sunday could be the chance Will Power has been waiting for.
**A word on Chevrolet...
Good to hear that Chevrolet and General Motors are on point with development of their new twin-turbo V6 powerplant that will debut alongside the new Dallara IndyCars in 2012. Fans of the series should have their fingers crossed that the Bowtie blocks will help Team Penske and the rest of its teams be strong out of the gate, as it will help increase the competition level further.
I also hope that the Chevy gang still has a bad taste in their mouth from what happened toward the tail end of their last tenure in IndyCar, when they were outclassed by the teams powered by Toyota and Honda. The mid-season introduction of the Gen IV/”Chevworth” engine in 2003 helped get them back in the game somewhat, but they were still only able to collect four wins from 2003-2005. As we know, Chevy left IndyCar after the ’05 campaign.
Awaiting their return will be one old rival (Honda) and one new rival (Lotus).
Will they be up to the challenge? Let’s hope so.