Power shakes memories to pad lead
SONOMA, Calif. -- Back broken, front teeth scattered somewhere, head ringing, Will Power left the 2009 race at Infineon Raceway in a helicopter.
A year later, he walked away, a bit of payback and a trophy in hand, his first series title well within reach.
Shaking off a touch of early anxiety, Power returned to Infineon Raceway with a dominating win on Sunday, padding his IndyCar Series lead on a course that nearly ended his career.
"Unbelievable. I watched this race from a hospital bed last year," Power said. "I said it all year, I'm coming back to win this because I thought this track owes me because of what happened."
Power was admittedly nervous when he first hit the gas pedal at Infineon this week and felt a touch of anxiety every time he saw dust fly over the hill where his back-breaking wreck took place in 2009.
He showed no fear once the racing started, though, setting an IndyCar record with his eighth pole of 2010, then leading 73 of 75 laps over the technically demanding 2.303-mile circuit through the hills of the California wine country.
Rarely challenged over the 12-turn, elevation-changing course, Power has a 59-point lead over defending series champion Dario Franchitti heading into the season's final four races.
"There's places we've done very well at. I don't underestimate the challenge. Will's going to be very strong. A lot of people are kind of writing him off because of his lack of experience on the ovals, but I think he'll be up there. We just have to do a better job."
Power's last trip to Sonoma put his career in jeopardy.
Driving in a practice session last year, the Aussie came flying over a hill and didn't have time to react to Nelson Philippe's stalled car. Power hit him straight on and had to be airlifted from the track, his back and teeth broken, the season over.
site of his season-ending crash last year.
Team Penske stuck with Power through his long rehabilitation and he's rewarded the loyalty with an impressive third IndyCar season.
The 29-year-old Power came into Sonoma with the inaugural IndyCar Series road course championship locked up thanks to four non-oval victories and had built a 41-point lead over Franchitti.
Power found speed when he needed it in knockout qualifying, sneaking out of the second round with a fast last lap, then locking up his record-breaking pole with another quick turn around the hard-to-find speed course late in the final session.
Power didn't let up during the race, peeling away from the green and building a nearly 6 second lead before Milka Duno caused a caution with a spinout on Lap 32. The lead was back up over 5 seconds after another caution, then Power lost it on Lap 56 when he went into the pits and Dixon didn't.
Two laps later, Dixon went into the pits and Power was back up front, followed by Franchitti.
That was it.
Power gradually pushed the lead back up and Franchitti, after chasing him most of the day, gave way to Dixon. Even with faster red tires for his final stint, Dixon couldn't help out his teammate, unable to get around Power despite another pack-bunching spinout and several passing attempts.
"We felt we were in a good position to maybe challenge Will and get close to him and maybe win the race and take some points away from him that way," Dixon said. "We didn't have enough; obviously, Will won the race. We probably didn't help Dario's chances in that, so that was probably the downside to today."
Power really wanted a win at Sonoma, in part because of last year's accident, but also because he'd like to build a little points cushion with the season's final four races, all on ovals.
It's not that Power can't drive ovals. He's been picking up the nuances of turn-left-only racing, finishing eighth at Indy and fifth at Iowa. Franchitti, though, is a going-in-circles vet, with two Indianapolis 500 titles under the hood, so the more padding Power can get going into those final races, the better.
A sixth career victory and a comfortable into-the-stretch lead should help.
"I definitely don't think this championship is mine. There's a lot of racing to go," Dixon said. "In four races, a lot can happen and you can lose a lot of that [points] in a hurry. I want to win a championship."
He's a step closer, a bad memory in his rearview mirror, no less.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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