For three years, Will Power came close to winning the championship in the IndyCar Series.
This year, he’s close to being out.
Unless something changes quickly — such as this weekend — the Australian is going to get left out of the championship picture. That would be an unusual happening for the expert street and road racer for powerhouse Team Penske.
The past three seasons, he was the runner-up in driver points. Last year, he missed the championship by four points, caught by hard-charging American Ryan Hunter-Reay.
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This year, Power is in full chase mode as the series arrives in Fort Worth for the Firestone 550 on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
“If you had a very solid weekend, no question that we’d be absolutely back in the championship,” he told the Detroit Free-Press last week. “It’s just a matter of executing in every way, because like I’ve said, if there’s something that can catch us out this year, it will.”
Power used to never run into bad luck.
This year, it’s all he knows.
He’s been run over from behind twice, by JR Hildebrand in a caution in the season opener at St. Petersburg, then last week by Sebastien Bourdais in the second race at Detroit, and the resulting damage sent him to pit road.
An engine fire sent him out early at Brazil, and what his team called a “fuel probe issue” during a late pit stop left him with 19th place at Indianapolis, where he had led 16 laps.
“You can’t say it’s all Will Power,” said ABC race analyst Scott Goodyear, a former IndyCar Series winner at TMS. “With so many street and road courses making up the start of the year, you anticipated he would arrive at Indy and the ovals either leading the championship or in the top couple of spots like he has always done. But he has also had bad luck.”
Power goes into the weekend 82 points behind co-leaders Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves with seven of 19 races complete. Last year, Hunter-Reay made up 75 points over the final eight races to catch Power, but it required four victories.
But now, maybe Power has run into a little bit of good luck.
His only victory on an oval in IndyCar happens to be at TMS two years ago (in the second of the half-point, half-distance doubleheader races that summer). In his past three races at TMS, he has been eighth, first and third.
And Team Penske certainly knows how to prepare a car for a high-speed oval.
“On an oval, it’s 75 percent car, 25 percent driver,” Goodyear said. “It’s a lot easier to pass on an oval track like Texas if you have a good car than on a road course. Even if the big teams don’t qualify well, as long as the teams can make the cars better for the race, they will be able to pass to get up front.”
Power has never started worse than eighth at Texas (with one grid drawn by lottery).
“On an oval, if you start 12th or 24th, the race is long enough, the track is fast enough and wide enough, you will be able to pick your way through,” Goodyear said.
That’s what Power will be looking for. And a little luck.