1. Championship key for Power - Remain calm, get wins: For two-thirds of the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, Will Power was nearly invincible.
The pole sitter in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car appeared to be a pit stop away from securing his third consecutive victory on the Sonoma road course, which would have made him the fifth driver (including himself at Brazil in late April) in the past decade to win at the same venue three years in a row.
But Power, who swept the three bonus points for earning the pole and leading a field-high 57 laps, lost the lead for good during the final service sequence that bridged a full-course caution. He entered pit lane under green with a 7.2271-second lead over teammate Ryan Briscoe on Lap 64. Briscoe, driving the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske entry, pitted a lap later under yellow and beat Power to the blend line to retain the point.
"It started well all the way to the last stop. I had the quickest car, quite easily keeping a handy lead," Power said. "We had a slow stop, probably lost 4 seconds there, then came across a bunch of guys on the track who just doddled all the way back. I don't know who those guys were. That's when I was using the word 'wanker.' Cost me the race."
Despite his post-race protestations that opened a window to his competitiveness, Power still increased his IZOD IndyCar Series championship points lead over all seven of his rivals thanks in part to their misfortunes and miscues in the 85-lap battle on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course.
Power, competing in his 100th Indy car race, bumped his advantage over Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport from five points to 36 as Hunter-Reay's car was spun and stalled late in the race to finish 18th.
Helio Castroneves, who overcame a Lap 1 penalty to finish sixth, is 41 points behind. Two-time series champion Scott Dixon remains fourth, but gave up 26 points to Power with a 13th place after his car was spun, penalized and damaged. Rookie Simon Pagenaud supplanted James Hinchcliffe for fifth with a seventh-place finish.
"I'm in win mode. Wins are right there, but we're not getting them," added Power, who clinched the Mario Andretti Trophy as the driver who scores the most points on road/street courses for the third year in a row. "You have to think of the championship as well. If we have the car to win, we go for it. Obviously, as you get further into the season, you become more aware of what (title challengers) are doing, if they're behind you or in front of you, and know how aggressive you've got to be."
Power's mind-set is honed-in from being in the thick of the title chase the past two seasons. With two races left in 2011, he held an 11-point lead over Dario Franchitti but fell short of securing his first title by 18 points. The year before, he was 17 points ahead of Franchitti entering the penultimate race.
The series heads to the final street/road race of the season - the Grand Prix of Baltimore - this week. Power is the defending champion on the 2-mile temporary street circuit, which is seeing a few modifications such as removal of the frontstretch chicane and widening of the right-hand Turn 1.
"I have an idea of what they're going to change. I think it's going to make for better racing," Power said.
Did You Know? 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Championship
- Will Power leads the IZOD IndyCar Series championship with two races remaining for the third consecutive season. He has failed to win the championship in each of the last two seasons despite leading the Championship with two races to go.
- Power leads Ryan Hunter-Reay by 36 points. It's the fourth-smallest lead that Power has held this season. He led by 10 points after Round 1 at Brazil and 11 points after Indianapolis and Iowa.
- There are eight drivers still mathematically eligible for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship: Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Briscoe.
- Seven drivers, including three-time defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, were eliminated from championship contention at Sonoma.
- This is the second event on the streets of Baltimore. The winning driver at Baltimore has not won the championship in the same season.
Drivers still eligible for championship: 8
Key Championship point statistic: The driver who has led the championship with two races to go has failed to win the championship in four of the last six seasons. Only Sam Hornish Jr. (2006) and Scott Dixon (2008) won the title when they led the penultimate round.
Largest 1-2 point differential since: 2008. With two races to go, the 2012 points battle (36 points separate first and second) is the largest that it's been since the 2008 season when first and second place were separated by 43 points. The average point deficit with two to go since 2006 is 17.8 points.
Championship-eligible drivers with strong results at Baltimore: Will Power won the inaugural Grand Prix of Baltimore in 2011. Tony Kanaan finished third and Scott Dixon finished fifth. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished eighth.
Championship-eligible drivers with poor results at Baltimore: Both Helio Castroneves (17th) and Ryan Briscoe (14th) finished outside the top 10. James Hinchcliffe finished 24th.
Championship chases with two races left:
Leader: Will Power (542) Second: Dario Franchitti (-11). Third: Scott Dixon (-59)
Final Margin and Champion: 18 points. Dario Franchitti
Leader: Will Power (552). Second: Dario Franchitti (-17). Third: Scott Dixon (-83)
Final Margin and Champion: 5 points. Dario Franchitti
Leader: Ryan Briscoe (550). Second: Dario Franchitti (-25). Third: Scott Dixon (-33)
Final margin and champion: 11 points. Dario Franchitti
Leader: Scott Dixon (576). Second: Helio Castroneves (-43). Third: Dan Wheldon (-124)
Final margin and champion: 17 points. Scott Dixon
Leader: Scott Dixon (560). Second: Dario Franchitti (-4). Third: Tony Kanaan (-62)
Final margin and champion: 13 points. Dario Franchitti
Leader: Sam Hornish Jr. (418). Second: Helio Castroneves (-7). Third: Dan Wheldon (-24)
Final margin and champion: Tie between Hornish and Wheldon. Hornish won by virtue of most victories
2. Inside the Box Score - GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma: Numbers to note following the Go Pro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma the 13th of 15 events of the 2012 IZOD Indy Car Series season.
7 - Different teams represented in the top 10 positions at Sonoma…Different winners in the 13 races in 2012.
8 - Drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship
12 - Positions gained by James Jakes en route to his 12th-place finish at Sonoma, most of any driver in the field.
15 - Different drivers to finish on the podium in the first 12 races of 2012.
21 - Different drivers with at least one top-five finish in 2012 after Rubens Barrichello scored his first top-five finish of 2012.
28 - Poles for Will Power in Indy car competition, ninth on the all-time wins list.
54 - Points separating Will Power (422) from fourth-place Scott Dixon (368) in the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings. Power leads Ryan Hunter-Reay by 36 points.
194 - Consecutive Indy car starts for Tony Kanaan dating to the 2001 CART race in Portland. Kanaan is second to Jimmy Vasser's 211 straight starts.
201 - Laps led by Will Power at Sonoma since 2010. Power has two wins and a second-place finish in his last three starts at Sonoma.
225 - Caution free laps between the first lap at Edmonton and the first full-course caution at Sonoma.
Source: IZOD IndyCar Series