FONTANA, Calif. – Over the past decade, there have been times when both Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay were either out of work or deep in debt. Both considered abandoning racing altogether.
Well, look at them now.
Power and Hunter-Reay go into tonight’s season finale at Auto Club Speedway battling for the IndyCar championship. The winner will be a first-time champion – in any series – and officially end Dario Franchitti’s three-year title run.
Marco Andretti won the pole for the season finale with a qualifying average of 216.069 mph Friday. Ryan Briscoe was second with an average of 216.058
Power qualified third, and Hunter-Reay qualified 17th.
Hunter-Reay was stuck in the politics of American open-wheel racing. There weren’t enough paying rides, and open seats often go to less talented drivers who can bring sponsorship money to the program. Out of work all of 2006 and most of 2007, there was simply nobody left to call looking for work.
He has found something at Andretti Autosport, where his three-year run is the longest for Hunter-Reay with any one team. Although he opened the season talking about racing for the championship, few listed the journeyman driver as a true contender.
I really wouldn’t even think about it because I am not going to get on that mental high before I am even there, or ever think about how it would feel, he said. It’s something I want worse than anything. I want it incredibly bad.
Nobody can relate to that desire like Power, who goes into the finale with the championship on the line for the third consecutive year.
Power had a lead over Franchitti headed into the 2010 finale, but brushed the wall, finished 25th and lost the title by five points. A year ago, he was involved in an accident on pit road in the penultimate race to lose the points lead.
He was then in the 15-car accident in the finale at Las Vegas that killed Dan Wheldon.
Power broke his back in the accident, the same injury he suffered in a 2009 wreck at Sonoma.
Now in his third full season with Penske Racing, Power has established himself as the most dominant driver in IndyCar. He has won 14 races the last three years, had 24 podium finishes and 21 poles.