Commentary

Power strengthens hold on title

Updated: July 18, 2010, 6:24 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

TORONTO -- The best and the worst aspects of street racing were on display Sunday in the IZOD IndyCar Series' Honda Grand Prix of Toronto.

But the best driver on the track was plainly obvious.

IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power scored his fourth win of the season in the Verizon Team Penske car, while just about every other driver in the field encountered some kind of trouble on the treacherous 1.755-mile street course.

"It was like a football game out there," observed third-place finisher Ryan Hunter-Reay. "Everybody was hitting each other and it was getting nasty.

"It was all you could do to keep the car off the walls and I thought I lost it four or five times. The first two or three laps after a restart it was literally like driving on ice. We definitely earned the money today."

[+] EnlargeWill Power
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesWill Power didn't have much trouble finding the fast line around the treacherous Toronto street course.

Nobody earned more money, respect, or championship points than Power, the 29-year-old from Toowoomba, Australia, who is threatening to be the first relatively unchallenged IndyCar Series champion since 2005. He extended his lead Sunday to 42 points over Dario Franchitti of Target Ganassi Racing, who finished second at Toronto.

Power qualified on the outside of the front row alongside Justin Wilson, but dropped to sixth place at the first corner. The demotion didn't faze him.

"The key for me when I came to this race was avoiding the carnage and accidents because I knew that happens every year here," Power said. "It almost happened to me in the first corner, but I was patient and backed off and just lost a couple of spots. You have to keep in mind that you just need to chill sometimes."

Quick pit stops and some dicey passes on the track put Power back up to third place by the midpoint of the 85-lap contest. He was able to pass Franchitti by stretching his fuel one lap longer prior to the final round of green-flag pit stops.

He then executed a brilliant pass on Wilson to take the lead on a Lap 71 restart. Perhaps rattled, Wilson spun a few corners later and dropped to a seventh-place finish.

"It was a calculated but risky move to pass him on the outside, because I didn't know if I would come out the other side," Power said. "Sometimes you have to do that in racing if you want to win.

"As I predicted it was a very wild race," he added. "I knew how this race goes and I really hung in there. I knew if I made no mistakes and we had good stops, we'd have a good chance at finishing on the podium or winning. It was one of those races where you really had to adjust."

No doubt, but at times it appeared that Power and Franchitti (who finished 1.28 seconds back) were the only ones who were capable of adapting to the slippery conditions. Many of the drivers complained about how slick the track was, particularly after restarts when rubber granules known as marbles built up off the racing line.

"I'm sure you could see it on the broadcast -- I mean everybody was all over the place," said sixth-place finisher Danica Patrick.

There were a record six caution periods, causing 21 of the 85 laps to be run behind the pace car. And it wasn't just backmarkers struggling with the conditions -- big-name drivers like Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe got caught out, as well.

Dixon crashed at Turn 4 during a dice with Hunter-Reay, while Briscoe was punted into the wall entering Turn 3 by Graham Rahal.

"That was just really unfortunate to be taken out by a non-championship contender," Briscoe fumed.

That was the same theme espoused by Alex Tagliani, who was crashed out by Tomas Scheckter at the same corner. Another unpopular driver by day's end was Mario Moraes, who crashed out (among others) his KV Racing teammate Takuma Sato.

Despite the messy, crash-strewn nature of Toronto races, drivers are perfectly happy to keep the bumpy street course the way it is.

Power I know it's going to be a tough championship to win. I was aware coming into the season that I had a lack of experience on 1.5-mile ovals. … I want to win an oval race before the year is out. I've been knocking on the door, so I think that may come.

-- Toronto winner Will Power

"Don't lose the character of the place," urged Hunter-Reay. "It's known for that kind of action and I don't think it would be as good a show if every track we went to was smooth."

"The two Canadian tracks are the toughest driving tracks, because of the bumps and the surface changes and the conditions," added Power.

For whatever reason -- or perhaps simply because the Canadian tracks are some of the toughest road racing tests in North America -- Power has been extraordinarily successful in Canada. He won at Toronto when it was a Champ Car World Series race in 2007, and he is the defending champion at Edmonton, where the IndyCar Series races in one week.

He's been pigeonholed as a road racing specialist, and his performances on road and street courses this year have done nothing to damage that reputation.

But he's also eager to show that he's a front-runner on ovals, too. Three road races and four ovals remain in 2010.

"I know it's going to be a tough championship to win," Power said. "I was aware coming into the season that I had a lack of experience on 1.5-mile ovals. But I think the only place it really showed was Kansas, where I was very cautious and just finished the race [in 12th place]. Everywhere else, I feel like I could have challenged for the win.

"I want to win an oval race before the year is out," he added. "I've been knocking on the door, so I think that may come."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.

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