Penske Racing driver Will Power kept his grip on the IndyCar Series championship lead by turning in his best oval-track performance of the season with a third-place finish at the Twin Ring racetrack in Motegi, Japan.

The performance sets up a 12-point championship showdown with second-place race finisher Dario Franchitti when the green flag waves for the 17th and final series race of the season Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"Days like today just need to be experienced, just hanging in there. It's great for us to put the Verizon car on the podium. I've never finished ahead of him (Dario) on an oval. We're knocking on that door and one day I'll get it, hopefully this year because if I don't, he'll win (the championship)," Power said after earning his 11th top-five and 13th top-10 finish of the season. His previous best oval-track finish of the season was fifth at Iowa Speedway on June 20. He made his only Homestead-Miami start on March 29, 2008 and placed 25th after starting 19th.

Helio Castroneves backed up his "Kentucky Indy 300" victory by rolling across the finish line 4.575 seconds ahead of the two-time and defending series champion Franchitti. Penske's third driver, Ryan Briscoe, placed fourth and Andretti Autosport wheelwoman Danica Patrick rounded out the race top five at the site of her sole series victory.

After taking a Sept. 4 fuel mileage victory in Kentucky following a pit stop error, Castroneves credited his Motegi victory to quick work on a Lap 118 of 200 that allowed him pass Briscoe's car on pit road and lead the closing 83 race laps.

"Team Penske is about execution and they gave me a fantastic car. The car was on rails, every time I wanted to go for it, the car was responding," Castroneves said following his third victory, eighth top-five and 14th top-10 finish of the season.

Franchitti's 13th top-five and 14th top-10 finish of the season helped him wrap up the first IndyCar Series A.J. Foyt Oval Track Championship by 16 points over Castroneves.

"Helio was just in a class of his own in terms of sheer speed, but we could get him on the restarts occasionally. I was fighting as hard as I could. Will's guys did a great job in the pits and got him back up into contention. We can only control what we do and we did our best," Franchitti said.

The two-time and defending series champion will hold a decisive Homestead-Miami experience edge over Power in Florida on Oct. 2. Franchitti delivered a 4.789-second victory over Briscoe there last season and has picked up a total of two top-five and four top-10 finishes on the 1.5-mile tri-oval track.

"We cost Will (five) points today and we're going to go after him again next week. I was thinking about Homestead driving to the pits here. We'll test there, see what need in terms of track conditions and show up there and give them hell. Winning back-to-back championships would be very special with where we came from at the end of 2008. To do it again would be awesome," Franchitti said. Race coverage begins at 6:00 p.m., on Versus, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, Sirius 212, XM 145 and indycar.com. Visit http://www.kentuckyspeedway.com to view the full series standings.

Story by Mike Schmaltz



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