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All In For Vegas

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Will Power needs a win this weekend, if he plans on taking the IndyCar championship. Photo: IndyCar Media

With so much energy going toward NASCAR's Chase, it's time to temporarily divert our focus toward the final race of the IZOD IndyCar Series and what poses to be a great race for the championship.

In recent years, the IndyCar championship has been in Homestead much like NASCAR, and, much like NASCAR, the same driver has dominated the series of late.  That's Dario Franchitti.

This year, however, the final race will be hosted by Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and only time will tell if a change in venue will mark a changing of the guard.

Franchitti appeared to be running away with the championship when the series rolled into NHMS for the MoveThatBlock.com INDY 225 on August 14th.  He led second-place Will Power by 62 points and had the fastest car all weekend at "The Magic Mile."  That was, until Takuma Sato strayed from his lane on a Lap 118 restart and took Franchitti into the wall.

The wreck left the door open for Power, and what happened next New Hampshire fans won't soon forget.  Power was taken out on a late restart when Danica Patrick couldn't get traction and slid across the field.  Seeing his opportunity go down the tubes, Power stormed off the track, engaged with INDYCAR officials, flipped a double-bird to Race Director Brian Barnhart in the control booth and headed off in a fit of rage.

A few minutes later, INDYCAR reverted the running order to before the wreck, restoring Power to his fifth-place position and allowing him to gain 15 points on the wrecked Franchitti.

After that, Power cranked out back-to-back wins at Infineon and Baltimore and a second in Japan to jump Franchitti by 11 points.  He couldn't hold that momentum, however.

After starting on the pole on Oct. 2 in Kentucky and leading 48 laps, he slipped all the way to 19th to finish as the last car on the lead lap.  Meanwhile, Franchitti dominated much of the race with 143 laps led to finish second.  Franchitti's 42 points ran over Power's 13 and Dario is now back in front by 18 points.

That means that Power would need to claim the race-maximum 53 points and see Franchitti take the 35 of a third-place finish for the two to tie in the standings.  If Power won the race with the minimum possible 50 points, Franchitti would need to finish with the 32 points of fourth to create the tie.  If the standings did result in a tie, Power would get the championship based on series wins (he currently has six on the season to Franchitti's four).

The scenarios will make for an interesting race at Las Vegas.  Mathematically, Franchitti could still put up a very respectable finish and lose the championship if Power can win the race.  It's not quite the same as NASCAR in that fewer cars stand a realistic chance at winning the race, but it's no less significant when it comes to trying to dethrone a champion.

Like Jimmie Johnson in the Chase, Franchitti has not and will not cave.  He's won three of the last four championships (and didn't race in the series in 2008).  It will take someone deserving of being a champion to top him and we'll get the chance this Sunday (3 p.m. on ABC) to see if anyone has the will power to do so.

-JS