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IndyCar championship comes down to series final race at Homestead

HOMESTEAD — The racer in Will Power would love nothing more than to clinch the IndyCar championship by outdueling Dario Franchitti in the final lap of tonight's Indy 300.

The pragmatist in the Australian prefers something a little more boring.

"All you want is it just to be an easy race," Power, 29, said. "That's human nature. There's no way I want it to be a tough battle. But obviously, it would just feel so much better if it was and you won."

Good thing. Because that's precisely what he's likely to get.

On Friday, Franchitti moved one point closer, to 11, of Power after taking the pole for the 200-lap race with a speed of 213.187 mph. It's Power's slimmest lead since June.

"It's going to be … a barn burner," Franchitti said.

It usually is.

This is the fifth straight season the points race has come down to the final event. Last year, Franchitti successfully gambled on pit strategy to leapfrog Ryan Briscoe and Chip Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon to win it.

"Will's a pro, but Dario's an old pro," Franchitti's friend Tony Kanaan said. "The guy has been in that position three more times at least than Power. (Power) is going to have it hard."

Which is fine by Power. He knows he's not even supposed to be here.

His career nearly ended with a horrific crash last year. He spent time in the hospital, his back a jumbled mess. At his bedside, team owner Roger Penske promised to find enough sponsorship for a full-time ride if Power made a full recovery.

Penske delivered. And so has Power.

With five road wins, including in St. Petersburg in March, he has led the standings virtually all season. The Aussie also has proved to be increasingly tough on ovals, protecting his points lead by finishing third in Japan two weeks ago. But all of it won't matter if Franchitti is dancing in confetti at night's end.

"I'll be very disappointed, but it happens," Power said. "Somebody has to finish second."

He's just not planning on being that somebody even if his success has surprised his biggest supporters. On a team stacked with a superstar (Helio Castroneves) and one of the best young drivers (Briscoe), Power has put his teammates in his rearview mirror.

"In his head, it's always been about trying to be a champion," Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said. "Early in our relationship, I can't say I would have expected him to be in this position with our first full season with us. But we felt he was a championship contender."

For Franchitti, 37, it's a chance to start talking about his place in history. The Scot would join Sam Hornish Jr. as the only drivers with three titles since the Indy Racing League was established in 1996. Add Franchitti's two Indy 500 victories, including this year's, and his relative youth, and he could own a major portion of the record book by the time he retires.

Not that Franchitti, who has three wins in all this year, wants to talk about it. No biggie. Ganassi will.

"He's among the all-time greats now," Ganassi said.

Tonight gives Franchitti another chance to prove it.

Title scenarios

What leader Will Power and second-place Dario Franchitti need to clinch the IndyCar championship heading into tonight's finale:

Will Power

• Finish second and earn two bonus points for leading the most laps

• Finish second or third with no bonus points as long as Franchitti doesn't win

Note: If the drivers are tied, Power wins the title because he owns the tiebreaker, which is more wins.

Dario Franchitti

• Win the race and earn two bonus points for leading the most laps

• Win with no bonus points as long as Power finishes no better than third

IndyCar championship comes down to series final race at Homestead 10/01/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 1, 2010 11:03pm]

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