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Power looks to overcome knee pain, 68-point gap at Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. – Will Power doesn’t have anything to lose this weekend at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion has the longest odds of Team Penske’s quartet to try to overcome in the battle for this year’s crown, entering the weekend 68 points back of teammate and championship leader Josef Newgarden.

But it was Newgarden who already helped give Power a helping hand – or back – in a quick media availability earlier today at Sonoma Raceway. Power sustained a knee injury when surfing earlier this week, and has been limping gingerly around the track.

Newgarden promptly carried Power on his back into the press conference, in a funny-looking piggyback ride. Power explained Thursday his condition for the weekend.

“As long as it’s bent, it’s no problem. It’s just straightening it is the issue. The good news in the car is you’re always bent knee,” Power said.

Power is only alive for the title thanks to double points, with his 68-point deficit outside the standard maximum points number of 54 points achievable for a win, a pole, leading one lap and leading the most laps. He can win the title with either first or second place, and a heck of a lot of help.

It’s been something of a roller coaster season for Power, who has three wins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Texas and Pocono, and a series-high six pole positions. But that’s been offset by four finishes of 19th place or worse, including at the double-points Indianapolis 500.

By contrast, the four drivers ahead of him have rarely been outside the top-10. Newgarden has four finishes outside the top-10 while Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves have only one each, and Simon Pagenaud two.

With the singular focus of trying to mirror his past Sonoma dominance – Power won three times between 2010 and 2013 here – a pole and win may not net Power the title but it could well throw a curveball, or monkey wrench, into the title fight among the other four drivers.

“I mean, I’m just focusing on getting the best out of the weekend. I’m really focusing on getting pole, winning the race. Then I put myself in the best possible position for something to happen to these guys,” he said.

“But, yeah, I mean, that’s all you can do. Really no different than any other race. Yeah, maybe a little less pressure because you’re not right there, but still very determined.”

Power no longer has Tim Cindric as his race strategist, with Cindric having moved over to Newgarden’s No. 2 car. But Cindric knows the psyche of Power, as the two achieved a wealth of success with the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, including that 2014 title together.

“I think he’ll probably go into it a bit more relaxed than other years. He’s certainly got nothing to lose,” Cindric admitted.

“I think he knows realistically it would have to be a really, really odd day in IndyCar racing for him to have a realistic shot at the championship. So I think he understands that.

“Obviously, he’d rather it be a different way. He’d rather be in the fight overall. But I do think he understands how important it is to the team, and he understands that he’s been in that position before. I’m sure he’ll be in that position again.

“Yeah, it’s unfortunate because I think he fought his way throughout the year to get back in that position, and he just finally got to that, then things didn’t go the right way, fell back out of that realistic opportunity. I think he’s obviously bummed about that.

“But, yeah, I think he’ll be doing everything he can to win the race.”

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.