Aug 25, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is a place of both heartbreak and triumph for Team Penske driver Will Power.
Power entered the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at ACS as the championship leader and was looking to finally capture the series title after near-misses in 2010 and 2011.
But Power ran over a seam in the track and crashed on Lap 55. His crew was able to make repairs and have him get on the track to run 11 more laps, but that didn’t stop Ryan Hunter-Reay from claiming the championship with a fourth-place finish.
One year later, Power returned to Fontana but not as a title threat. Still, he was on a late-season tear with wins on the road course at Sonoma and the streets of Houston.
But those victories paled in comparison when Power was able to hold off Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan on a late restart to take the checkered flag at ACS.
Even if you had the race on mute in your living room, the look of jubilation on Power’s face in Victory Lane was enough to tell how much that one meant to him.
“It’s the most satisfying win of my life,” the normally laid-back Power declared. “That is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done, and I wanted to do it so badly all year.”
The more you look back on it, the more you believe that night was a career-changer for him.
Long known as perhaps the most dominant road/street course racer in IndyCar, Power’s reputation on the ovals was nowhere near as pristine at the time. But at the place where he suffered perhaps the cruelest of his three championship defeats, he was able to dust two of the series’ best oval aces.
And you can’t help but think that moment has led us to where we are now.
With another season finale at ACS coming up this Saturday night (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra), Power leads this year’s championship by 51 points over teammate Helio Castroneves after having claimed three wins, seven podiums, and an average finish of 6.3 in the season’s first 17 races.
The matter is far from settled, of course. Double points will be in play for this 500-mile finale, giving Castroneves – who, like Power, is also chasing his first series title – an opportunity.
And, of course, we’ve seen Power falter in this situation before.
In 2010, Power was up 12 points on Dario Franchitti going into the season finale at Homestead, only to make contact with the wall that was severe enough to put him out of the race after 143 laps. Franchitti finished eighth and won the title by five points.
Power and Franchitti were again mixing it up for the title in 2011, but in the next-to-last race of the year at Kentucky, pit road contact with Ana Beatriz helped relegate Power to an 19th-place finish.
Franchitti finished second, took the points lead from Power, and ultimately won the title when the finale at Las Vegas was cancelled after the massive early crash that took Dan Wheldon’s life.
Then came Fontana 2012, and Power’s third title disaster.
If you need to actually see Power hang on and win the 2014 crown this Saturday night in order to believe he’s a champion, you can’t necessarily be blamed.
But this fourth attempt by the Australian sure feels like the one that’s going to finally end in success.
A big part of that belief, at least from my perspective, comes from the leap in confidence he’s clearly taken since winning at Fontana last year.
No doubt that confidence helped him in recovering from his mid-race spin yesterday at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Power had been dominating the race up to that point, but despite dropping all the way to 20th after the spin, he managed to push himself up to a 10th-place finish (ninth on the track; he lost one spot for passing Justin Wilson under a local yellow at the very end).
Instead of having Castroneves cut into his points lead, Power was able to increase it. Said advantage could have been much bigger had he not had his spin, but every championship season needs at least one of those kinds of drives Power put on.
Power could have crumbled after his mistake. Instead, he was unflappable.
And if he can keep a cool head again over 500 miles on Saturday night, he’ll finally be The Man in perhaps the most competitive racing series in the world.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:15 AM EDT
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Sep 19, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
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Sep 19, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
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Sep 19, 2014, 7:33 AM EDT
First blood goes to Ferrari in Singapore as Vettel and Vergne hit trouble.
Sep 19, 2014, 6:30 AM EDT
Teams put pressure on F1’s governing body to perform u-turn on the planned radio limits.
Sep 19, 2014, 5:45 AM EDT
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Sep 18, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT
While Boris Said was getting ready for this weekend’s IMSA Tudor Championship event at Circuit of the America’s in Austin, Texas, it’s noteworthy to mention that Thursday was his 52nd birthday.
Sep 18, 2014, 9:02 PM EDT
Michael Waltrip took a big step when he agreed to compete on Season 19 of “Dancing With the Stars.” Now, Waltrip has gone and put his foot in his mouth by trying to kick Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the behind, so to speak.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Given how important – and potentially how wild – the ninth and next-to-last race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be, Phoenix International Raceway is calling in some extra muscle for drivers who may potentially get out of hand.
Sep 18, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT
Owning a NASCAR team is like being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, they both answer to “Big money, big money.”
Sep 18, 2014, 6:29 PM EDT
New Hampshire is one of four New England states to host a NASCAR event and is huge to the racing community in the area. Having four tracks that far North allowed the sport to grow from its southern roots.
Sep 18, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Parker Kligerman and Frank Stoddard are split when it comes to the Roush Fenway Racing team. Looking to the Chase, Frank predicts a top 10 finish for Greg Biffle or Carl Edwards, but Parker is less confident.
Sep 18, 2014, 6:12 PM EDT
On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Frank Stoddard and Parker Kligerman both agreed that Ryan Newman is the driver just below the cutoff line with the best chance of moving on in the Chase.
Sep 18, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT
NASCAR legend Mark Martin was slated to be a driving coach for Danica Patrick in 2014. Now, in an interview with NASCAR Illustrated, we learn what happened.
Sep 18, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT
A flagman officiating a race at Bronson Speedway in Archer, Fla., was killed in a racing accident at the track this past Sunday.
Sep 18, 2014, 3:51 PM EDT
Today’s NASCAR America includes two teams in different directions as we prepare for the second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Things are looking up for Kevin Harvick’s team, while there’s concern that Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle may not get past the first round of eliminations.
Sep 18, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT
Mark Martin has received numerous honors in his racing career, but this one could be one of the most unique that will ever be bestowed upon him. Martin will return to his native Arkansas next March to serve as grand marshal for the “2015 World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.”
Sep 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
IndyCar confirms return to Brazil as first 2015 international race.
Sep 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon will set a significant milestone in this Sunday’s second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 18, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
8Star Motorsports’ intentions of joining the Indy Lights grid for 2015 are close to becoming a reality.
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