Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio - Day 2

Will Power once again in position for IndyCar title – but this time feels different

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The two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is a place of both heartbreak and triumph for Team Penske driver Will Power.

Power entered the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at ACS as the championship leader and was looking to finally capture the series title after near-misses in 2010 and 2011.

But Power ran over a seam in the track and crashed on Lap 55. His crew was able to make repairs and have him get on the track to run 11 more laps, but that didn’t stop Ryan Hunter-Reay from claiming the championship with a fourth-place finish.

One year later, Power returned to Fontana but not as a title threat. Still, he was on a late-season tear with wins on the road course at Sonoma and the streets of Houston.

But those victories paled in comparison when Power was able to hold off Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan on a late restart to take the checkered flag at ACS.

Even if you had the race on mute in your living room, the look of jubilation on Power’s face in Victory Lane was enough to tell how much that one meant to him.

“It’s the most satisfying win of my life,” the normally laid-back Power declared. “That is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done, and I wanted to do it so badly all year.”

The more you look back on it, the more you believe that night was a career-changer for him.

Long known as perhaps the most dominant road/street course racer in IndyCar, Power’s reputation on the ovals was nowhere near as pristine at the time. But at the place where he suffered perhaps the cruelest of his three championship defeats, he was able to dust two of the series’ best oval aces.

And you can’t help but think that moment has led us to where we are now.

With another season finale at ACS coming up this Saturday night (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra), Power leads this year’s championship by 51 points over teammate Helio Castroneves after having claimed three wins, seven podiums, and an average finish of 6.3 in the season’s first 17 races.

The matter is far from settled, of course. Double points will be in play for this 500-mile finale, giving Castroneves – who, like Power, is also chasing his first series title – an opportunity.

And, of course, we’ve seen Power falter in this situation before.

In 2010, Power was up 12 points on Dario Franchitti going into the season finale at Homestead, only to make contact with the wall that was severe enough to put him out of the race after 143 laps. Franchitti finished eighth and won the title by five points.

Power and Franchitti were again mixing it up for the title in 2011, but in the next-to-last race of the year at Kentucky, pit road contact with Ana Beatriz helped relegate Power to an 19th-place finish.

Franchitti finished second, took the points lead from Power, and ultimately won the title when the finale at Las Vegas was cancelled after the massive early crash that took Dan Wheldon’s life.

Then came Fontana 2012, and Power’s third title disaster.

If you need to actually see Power hang on and win the 2014 crown this Saturday night in order to believe he’s a champion, you can’t necessarily be blamed.

But this fourth attempt by the Australian sure feels like the one that’s going to finally end in success.

A big part of that belief, at least from my perspective, comes from the leap in confidence he’s clearly taken since winning at Fontana last year.

No doubt that confidence helped him in recovering from his mid-race spin yesterday at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Power had been dominating the race up to that point, but despite dropping all the way to 20th after the spin, he managed to push himself up to a 10th-place finish (ninth on the track; he lost one spot for passing Justin Wilson under a local yellow at the very end).

Instead of having Castroneves cut into his points lead, Power was able to increase it. Said advantage could have been much bigger had he not had his spin, but every championship season needs at least one of those kinds of drives Power put on.

Power could have crumbled after his mistake. Instead, he was unflappable.

And if he can keep a cool head again over 500 miles on Saturday night, he’ll finally be The Man in perhaps the most competitive racing series in the world.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.