Motorsports Insider: Will Power has chance to do heavy lifting Saturday

Will Power knows what it feels like to finish second in the IndyCar Series championship.

He's done it the past two years, watching somebody else hold up the biggest trophy in American open-wheel racing.

But Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., he doesn't need to catch anybody.

The 31-year-old Australian is the driver in front. He holds a 17-point lead on Ryan Hunter-Reay into the MavTV 500.

It'll either be him or Hunter-Reay, the 32-year-old American.

All Power has to do is hold on.

"I will be aware the whole race where he's at," Power said.

Neither driver knows who will have the mental advantage.

The hunter? Hunter-Reay.

Or the leader? Power.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, they both played their poker hand. They both like their position. Neither said they're thinking about this as anything more than just another race. If they were trying to pick up a mental edge on the other, they were subtle.

"I think definitely what Will has been strong at is learning how to race an entire season championship-wise, win the points, when to go for it and when not to," Hunter-Reay said. "We've seen that year after year being in contention.

"When it comes to one race, I don't think there's any advantage to it at all. This is one race.... It's pretty straightforward for me. He's done a great job to get himself here. I've certainly learned a lot this year that I'll be able to apply next year in how to really go after a championship."

Power has been the fastest driver in the series most of the season. He is a blend of speed and cool.

He has top-flight equipment and a top-flight team. The only thing he has to do is stay out of trouble.

Maybe that can work to Hunter-Reay's advantage. At some point, as the laps become fewer and the field gets smaller and the track cools, he will become the driver with nothing to lose.

"I definitely like the position we're in, chasing," he said. "We've been doing that for most of the year. I think we've been getting better at it. We need to go out and focus on winning. That's really what it's going to be about. Five hundred miles is a long race. The race that we have in the first 250 is going to be a lot different than we have in the last 250. We could see a lot of comers and goers. It's going to be changing the entire time.

"We have to go out there and do what we know how to do, and that's contend for race wins."

Hunter-Reay leads the series with four wins. He had to win in Baltimore last week to get in position to challenge, and he did.

Power has won three times this year. But it has been forever. The last win came in April in Brazil.

"I've been in this position for the last two years," Power said. "We just focus on the job that we have to do to execute on the day. The rest will work itself out. Either we'll be champion or we won't."

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @calexmendez

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