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.”

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”