Power Among Kentucky Indy 300 Test Group
IZOD IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power dodged a thunderstorm but was able to turn Kentucky Speedway test laps today with circuit mates Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ed Carpenter to prepare for the closing four-race, oval-track stretch of the season that will include the "Kentucky Indy 300" Sept. 4.
Penske Racing's Power will enter the series' ninth and final road/street course race of the season at Infineon Raceway Aug. 22 with a 41-point championship lead over defending series title holder and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti.
Power impressively built his leading margin through a five-race stretch that began with a fifth-place finish at Iowa Speedway June 20; continued with back-to-back victories on the Watkins Glen International road course July 4 and the Streets of Toronto July 18; then progressed with second-place finishes at Edmonton City Centre Airport July 25 and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Aug. 8.
The second-year series competitor earned each of his four victories and placed no worse than fourth while generating and average finish of 1.9 in this season's road/street course events to date. In addition to his overall championship advantage, the sterling effort helped him build a 287-point cushion over Franchitti in the newly-established series road-course championship.
"It's been a good run. At the end of the day, we just have to keep finishing ahead of Dario the way the points are right now. Things can change pretty quick with (Scott) Dixon and (Ryan) Briscoe within striking distance. I know it's going to be a tight championship all the way to the end, but I'm up to the challenge," Power said.
In contrast to his road course success, the driver from Toowoomba, Australia earned his best oval-track finish of the season in Iowa and generated an average 10th-place finish in the four series races contested on oval tracks this season. He planned to use today's test to solidify his car's oval-track baseline and help him improve on last season's ninth-place Kentucky finish.
"I think this test is important because it's always good for me to get on an oval to get accustomed to the way we drive the car with this stretch coming up. We hope to get some good stuff done today to make the car go faster.
"The racecars on the ovals are the key when you put yourself in my position. That's where I lack a little bit of experience, but I'm learning a lot quickly. We definitely have to be doing better than fifth-place finishes on ovals. We've been knocking on the door there and I'm really looking forward to the last four because I think I could be challenging for wins," he said.
Andretti, currently eighth in the championship standings and 195 points behind Power, has raced to three top-five and five top-10 finishes this season highlighted by back-to-back third-place results at Indianapolis and Texas Motor Speedway June 5. Despite capturing his second top-10 finish in the past three events with a ninth-place Mid-Ohio showing, the open-wheel legacy aims to add spark to a self-described disappointing season by taking at least one victory in final five races and possibly bettering his career-best seventh-place championship finishes from 2008 and 2006.
"It's going to be tough. I have to beat my teammates sitting sixth, seventh and eighth. Last year we should've been fifth, but we had a mechanical failure in the last race at Homestead and it put us eighth. Now we're just looking for a win. It's definitely possible. If you get (the car) right, it can be anywhere," he said. He used today's test as a starting point for finding the set-up that led to a 10th-place run and a third consecutive top-10 Kentucky finish last season.
"Racing here is about finding a balance of speed and comfort. You can be comfortable and be flat out all day, but you might not be quick enough. You have to find that balance and these places can be really tricky. For speed, you have to roll off the truck quick. If you do, it's about dialing it in and fine tuning. If you can, you'll be right in it," he analyzed.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is making consistency the theme of his third full series season and first with Andretti Autosport. He arrived for today's test coming off his sixth straight top-10 finish of the season after taking 10th-place at Mid Ohio. The wheelman from Boca Raton, Fla., ranks sixth in the championship standings, 125 points behind Power and is on pace for his best career championship finish.
He will look to further punctuate a surprise season by adding at least one more triumph to his 2010 ledger after capturing the second victory of his four-year series career on April 18 on the Streets of Long Beach.
"Just completing the whole season is a huge accomplishment. We started off only planning for three races and Andretti Autosport has turned it into a full season. It's an excellent team and the best opportunity I've ever had.
"We've been running well. We've given away a lot of points this year in the pits and if it weren't for that, we may be fighting in the top three. We've cracked into the potential that we have and now we're looking forward to finishing out the rest of the season and putting together an off-season testing program looking toward 2011," he said.
He planned to fine tune his qualifying set up during today's test. He started last season's 300-mile Kentucky battle 17th before finishing 14th. He earned his lone Bluegrass State top-10 finish with a ninth-place performance in 2009.
"I enjoy racing here and hopefully my best race here will be coming up. I see every race as an opportunity and we just really need the outright speed in the car. That's what we're working on. It doesn't matter where we qualify, we always fight our way up into the top 10, top five, but we're trying to qualify a little higher up on the grid. That's what we're doing here," he added.
Carpenter, who placed second behind Ryan Briscoe by 0.0162 of a second in Kentucky Speedway's closest all-time series finish last season, announced a collaborative agreement between Vision Racing and Panther Racing on Monday that will return him to a car for the Aug. 28 event at Chicagoland Speedway, the "Kentucky Indy 300" and the Oct. 2 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"We had a debut in Indianapolis with Panther Racing and Vision Racing. It was a successful month of May and everyone agreed we wanted to do more. It took us a little longer than we had hoped to get it all finalized, but I'm happy to we're going to be racing in Chicago, and Kentucky before finishing the season off in Miami," Carpenter said. After being sidelined by following his 17th-place Indianapolis 500 finish this season, he will take on his abbreviated schedule with a renewed competitive hunger.
"It's been painful. We didn't have a great start to last season, but we definitely finished up strong, especially with Kentucky in the mix. I'm excited to get back to work, get in a car and do what I love to do again. When I get an opportunity to get out there, I want to maximize every moment," he said.
The "Kentucky Indy 300" will be part of the speedway's "Celebrate Speed" weekend that also will place the racing spotlight the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series "Built Ford Tough 225 presented by the Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers" Sept. 3. Fans visiting Sept. 4 also will see the Firestone Indy Lights "Drive Smart. Buckle-Up Kentucky 100" and country music supergroup Diamond Rio.
Single-race tickets for the track's inaugural Labor Day event weekend can be reserved through the tickets pages of www.kentuckyspeedway.com, by phone at 888-652-7223 (RACE) or by visiting the Kentucky Speedway ticket offices at 400 Buttermilk Pike, Suite 100, in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., next to the Montgomery Inn Restaurant or the Fan Center located off of Interstate 71, Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N in Sparta, Ky. Tickets additionally are available through tickets.com outlets.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
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