For Power and Hunter-Reay, Indy win would give careers a greater boost

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They’re the two drivers who battled down to the wire for last year’s IZOD IndyCar Series championship. One’s come out firing to start 2013, and the other has been struck by bad luck in three of four races.

Yet going into tomorrow’s 97th running of the Indianapolis 500, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power (pictured) are almost entirely under-the-radar. Something about that is not quite right.

Hunter-Reay’s comeback to capture his first title a year ago didn’t generate near the buzz on the national level that it could have. Meanwhile Power, long regarded as IndyCar’s master of the road and street course domain, has had results this year that are hardly Penske material (only one top-15 finish in four races).

They start sixth and seventh – Power ahead of Hunter-Reay – and while neither is really a favorite, they are both due a good result at Indianapolis after struggling since both of their rookie years. They both know the magnitude of what a win tomorrow could do for either of their careers.

“You can’t put a price tag on it,” Hunter-Reay said during media day on Thursday. “You grow up watching and discover this is where heroes are made. The guy who wins might as well have a ‘Superman’ cape on.”

Power added about winning here, “I think it’ll always be big. I just think it becomes a tradition for people to come here. It’s more than about the race. People come here to have a good time.”

In Friday’s final practice, Hunter-Reay was third fastest and Power was 15th. Hunter-Reay has collaborated with the rest of the Andretti Autosport team to simulate race runs with all five of their cars. It sounds easy on paper, but actually pulling it off has been more challenging than expected.

“It sounds easy but getting five different programs together at once, at the same time, is so hard,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “Everyone always has different agendas, and people are all over the board. That has really helped us.”

Power feels confident in the grip levels on a cooler track for race day, as ambient temperatures are projected in the mid-to-high 60s. The last few years, the race has been in the 90s.

“You’re just adjusting to be as it was when it hot,” Power said. “You adjust to keep the consistent downforce level. The cooler it is, the thicker the air, the more it sucks to the ground and it gets more grip.”

Keys to success on Sunday include placing yourself in the right spot at the right time, and playing the tow effect to the maximum.

“There should be a massive tow, because these cars punch a huge hole in the air,” Hunter-Reay said. “Nobody can break away. I don’t foresee a guy taking off in the distance.”

Power, more succinctly, says at this stage of the month, you know what you have and have to take it from there.

“You know what you’ve got at this point for sure because you’ve been running all month,” he said. “I guess you base your confidence at this time on that.”

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.