Franchitti, Power battle for the title at Las Vegas

10/12/2011 10:04:57 AM

Eighteen points, two drivers and one race to go.

That's the point separation between leader Dario Franchitti and second-place Will Power heading into this weekend's IZOD IndyCar Series season-finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This will be the first time the series has competed at this 1.5-mile track since 2000.

Franchitti is attempting to win his third consecutive and fourth overall IndyCar championship. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver would become just the third person to win three titles in a row on the racing circuit, joining Sebastian Bourdais and Ted Horn. Franchitti would also join drivers such as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Bourdais with at least four championships.

"I think with the three we've won right now, I've always felt we had the capability to do it, but having the capability to do it and actually getting it done are two different things," Franchitti said. "I'm very proud of the achievement -- the championships and the Indianapolis 500s [wins]. As far as right now, I'm really just focused on this weekend and trying to make it four.

"The whole organization, the Target team, is very much of a similar thing. All the stuff that was done in the past, that's fun and everything, but this is about trying to get the job done this weekend."

Last year, Power held a comfortable 59-point lead over Franchitti with four races to go. The last four were contested on 1.5-mile ovals. Power finished 16th (Chicago), eighth (Kentucky), third (Japan) and 25th (Homestead) in those races and lost the championship by five points.

"I think the biggest difference for me this year is just I'm a lot further along on ovals," Power said. "I feel as though every time I go into a weekend I have a chance of winning them. Obviously, we're coming from behind this time, but at the end of the day, I feel as though we've done everything as a team to prepare for this race. I think that we're in very good shape.

"Obviously, no one knows what the outcome is, but we know that we've put everything into it this year, and hopefully we can come away with a win."

Power held an 11-point lead over Franchitti heading into last week's penultimate race of the season at Kentucky. Power started on the pole and led the first 48 laps, but during the first round of pit stops, the Team Penske driver made contact with Ana Beatriz while entering his stall, causing damage to his car. He had to pit several times for repairs and ended up finishing 19th. Franchitti finished a very close second to Ed Carpenter, who claimed his first IndyCar win by a margin of just 0.0098 seconds.

There will be more than the series championship at stake in Sunday's 300-mile race at Las Vegas.

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon has an opportunity to share a $5 million bonus with a lucky fan if he wins at Las Vegas. Wheldon, who has competed in just two races this season, is the only driver eligible for the "GoDaddy IndyCar Challenge" cash award. He will drive the No.77 car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He was also behind the wheel of that car at Kentucky, starting 28th and finishing 14th in the 29-car field.

Wheldon has a tough task ahead of him at Las Vegas. He will have to start from the rear of the expected 34-car field.

"When you look at the depth of the field, it's going to be incredibly tough," Wheldon said. "I think we all know what this team is capable of and what everybody that's been part of the team has helped do for tracks like Vegas. I feel we'll have a very fast race car."

Nine of Wheldon's 16 career IndyCar wins have come on 1.5-mile ovals.

Las Vegas will also mark the end of Danica Patrick's seven-year career in IndyCar. Patrick, the only female to win a race in the series (Japan, 2008), is moving over to NASCAR full-time in 2012, running a full schedule in Nationwide and a partial one in Sprint Cup.

"There will definitely be things and people that I miss about IndyCar," Patrick said. "I'm especially sure on frustrating weekends [in Sprint Cup and Nationwide competition], I'll think, 'When I came here in IndyCar, maybe it was much easier.' I'm excited about the change, and I'm not afraid of change."

Patrick is currently 10th in the point standings, with her season-best finish of fifth coming at Milwaukee.