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IndyCar's Will Power hopes fourth time's the charm to win first title

SportsAuto RacingIndyCar SeriesPenske RacingSam Hornish, Jr.Indianapolis 500
IndyCar's Will Power again on verge of winning first title as standings leader going into last race at Fontana

IndyCar driver Will Power has a name that lends itself to wisecracks, but there's nothing funny about the Australian's struggle to win his first IndyCar title.

In three consecutive seasons, from 2010 to 2012, Power arrived at the last race poised to win the championship, only to see the title slip away.

But the 33-year-old Power has another shot this year. He'll start the finale, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Saturday night, again leading the championship standings.

Power holds a 51-point margin over Helio Castroneves, his teammate at Team Penske, heading into the MAVTV 500 at the two-mile Fontana oval, where the cars race at more than 200 mph.

Both are trying to give team owner Roger Penske his first IndyCar championship since 2006, when Sam Hornish Jr. won the title. Penske's company built Auto Club Speedway in the mid-1990s but no longer owns it.

French driver Simon Pagenaud is a distant third in the title standings, 81 points behind Power.

There's an added quirk in the title chase this year because the Verizon IndyCar Series is awarding double points at its 500-mile races, including Fontana.

IndyCar normally awards points on a sliding scale starting with 50 points for the winner (excluding bonus points for winning the pole position, leading the most laps and so forth). But at this race, the winner will receive 100 points.

Power can clinch the championship by finishing sixth or better Saturday night regardless of how Castroneves and the others fare. Power also is the defending winner of the race, which was held in October last year.

But Power remains cautious. "Winning last year definitely doesn't make me feel comfortable going in," he said Wednesday. "It's going to take a lot of hard work and a very good race to win the championship." The key, he added, is "focusing on the things I can control."

And as Power himself has shown, even a sixth-place finish at times can be unattainable.

In 2012, Power started the season finale at Fontana with a 17-point lead. But he inexplicably spun and crashed 55 laps into the 250-lap race and finished 24th while Ryan Hunter-Reay was crowned champion.

If anyone can appreciate Power's frustration at not having won the Verizon IndyCar Series title, it's Castroneves.

Despite winning the sport's crown jewel Indianapolis 500 three times, Castroneves also has never won the championship. The 39-year-old Brazilian has finished second in points three times, most recently last year when Scott Dixon won the title.

"The good news is we've always done well" at Fontana, "the bad news is Will is on my team so he's going to have exactly what I've got" in terms of their cars, Castroneves said.

Also, "you're talking about 500 miles, it's a long race and we've still got about five or seven pit stops" that have to be executed well, Castroneves said.

The IndyCar drivers have two practice sessions Friday, at 10 a.m. and 6:15 p.m., and in between they'll hold a qualifying session starting at 2:15 p.m. to determine the starting lineup. Saturday's race starts at 7:20 p.m.

Follow Jim Peltz on Twitter @PeltzLATimes

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