To grab title, he will need a Power surge

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / August 11, 2011

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It was a year ago that Will Power was standing on top of the world.

The 30-year-old Team Penske driver from Toowoomba, Australia, felt secure in his position as the Izod IndyCar Series points leader, with a 59-point lead over Dario Franchitti.

So when he was pictured standing atop the sidepod of his sleek No. 12 car, arms raised as confetti cascaded around him following his victory in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway Aug. 22, 2010, Power could feel his first IndyCar Series championship within his grasp.

But four races remained between him and the title. They were at the oval venues of Chicagoland Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Twin Ring Motegi (Japan), and Homestead-Miami Speedway, host of the season-ending Cafes do Brasil Indy 300.

They proved a stumbling point for Power, who watched as Franchitti erased that deficit with top-five finishes in three of the four races, including a pivotal victory at Chicagoland, where Franchitti pared Power’s lead by a whopping 36 points.

In the finale, Franchitti’s eighth-place finish combined with Power’s 25th place took Franchitti from a 12-point deficit to his second consecutive series title and third of his career. The 5-point final margin was the third-smallest in IndyCar history.

“We lost it - unbelievably, but we did,’’ said Power following his July 24 triumph in the Edmonton Indy race, which came as a welcome turn of events after he crashed at the Iowa Corn Indy 250 June 25 and was punted by eventual winner Franchitti at the Honda Indy Toronto July 10.

Asked if that squandered lead haunted him still, Power said, “Yeah, it does.’’

When the IndyCar Series makes its return to New England after a 13-year absence for Sunday’s Indy 225 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Power will attempt to turn the tables on series leader Franchitti, who owns a 62-point edge over Power with six races to go.

“I think if I had a bit more experience on ovals, no question we would’ve won the championship, for sure,’’ Power said. “Had a couple of bad runs there. I think Chicagoland was the one that lost us the championship.’’

Franchitti moved into the lead on the final pit stop, on Lap 173 of the 200-lap race. Power’s crew had an issue with its fueling equipment, and he had to pull into the pits for a quick splash-and-go with five laps remaining, dropping him from fourth to 16th place.

This season, Power and Franchitti have four victories apiece, the most in the series.

Power recorded his first win on an oval in the nightcap of the Firestone Twin 275s June 11 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Franchitti won the first points-paying race, then watched as Power picked the third starting spot in the 30-car grid in a blind draw and went on to win the second race.

“I had convinced myself before I picked 3 that I was starting at the back,’’ Power said. “I just thought, ‘There’s no question, I’m starting at the back.’

“When I picked 3, I couldn’t believe it. I thought with the luck Dario had, we all thought he was going to be the guy getting 3.’’

Franchitti was fuming after he drew the 28th spot and finished seventh to Power, who led 68 of the 114 laps.

“It was awesome,’’ Power said. “He certainly let it be known after the race that he wasn’t happy about it.’’

At Iowa, where Franchitti finished fifth behind winner Marco Andretti, Power was knocked out after 89 laps when he spun and backed into the wall. Hard.

“I recalled everything,’’ said Power, who finished 21st. “I didn’t get knocked out. I just hit the wall hard, basically, and that was it. Had a bit of a headache. If anything, my neck hurt the most.’’

Power’s next time back in the car was for a test session at NHMS July 5.

“It was good,’’ Power said of his first go-round at the 1.058-mile oval in Loudon, N.H. “I was happy with the test at the end of the day, but I was a little bit tentative getting back in the car - another short oval [like Iowa]. I really enjoyed it actually, but I was feeling really good. We were probably doing 21-second laps.’’

Five days later, Power’s mood took a sour turn when he finished a season-worst 24th at Toronto, where contact with Franchitti, the eventual winner, ended his day after 66 laps.

“I believe he should’ve gotten a penalty,’’ Power said. “He hit my back wheel and spun me out and goes on to win and gets max points and I don’t get any.

“It makes a massive gap in the championship. He went away smiling and as happy as you’d like, and we went away thinking, ‘Man, it’s going to be tough to hunt him down from here.’ ’’

But Power’s victory at Edmonton got him back on track. Combined with his oval victory at Texas, it gave him a fresh perspective on his championship hunt.

“Yeah, the fact we did that changed my attitude in racing,’’ he said. “I was more aggressive in Canada. Sometimes I’d be a little bit more conservative over a whole season and that’d be one way to tackle the championship.

“But now I have no choice but to be aggressive, because I’m hunting a points lead down. It’s either be conservative and finish second or be aggressive and really go after it and win the championship.

“I don’t want any regrets. I don’t want to finish the season and go, ‘Man, I wished we had done this or that.’

“No regrets. Just be smart about it and make very good decisions, but at the same time really race to win.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at