This weekend sees the final race in the slightly curtailed 2012 IZOD IndyCar
Series season, and Penske's Will Power goes into the 500-mile night race at Auto Club Speedway at Fontana in California with a slender 17pt margin over Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter Reay.
That lead might suggest that Power has the upper hand in the title battle and is finally on the cusp of his first championship success after so many near misses; but the final race is on an oval track, where Hunter-Reay has had the upper hand over Power all season, so maybe that makes it a level playing field? Hunter-Reay's team boss Michael Andretti is certainly sounding upbeat about their chances.
"For sure, Ryan is going to be a factor there," he said. "Don't count Will out - he's a real competitor, he's a great driver. But obviously he doesn't have the experience, quite as much experience as what Ryan does, especially on this track that we are going to. I'm not even sure if Will ever ran on a track like that before, so hopefully that will help us out a little bit."
In fact, Power's previous record at season finales possibly means that Hunter-Reay should even be considered the favourite going into the finale: "Maybe it will be the first, last race that I finish, because every year, I get crashed out," he conceded. "I'm determined this time to just finish the last race - and finish it as the leader of the championship.
"Good news is, if I take Hunter‑Reay out in the last race, we crash out together, I win!" he quipped at a press conference with Hunter-Reay sitting alongside him. "So let's go side‑by‑side!"
While Power is getting to be an old hand at being involved in these end-of-season title decider cliffhangers, it's a new experience for Ryan Hunter-Reay: "Man, I'm so happy to be a part of it, so cool," he said. "We get to go to Fontana, which is an absolute crapshoot. It's wide open and anybody's race."
But Hunter-Reay certainly isn't underestimating the challenge he faces from Will Power and from Team Penske.
"Will is absolutely, you know, one of the best drivers that's been in IndyCar
in a very long time," he said. "But I really believe in my team and I believe when it comes to race day, we may not be the highest qualifiers all the time but the guys do an awesome job on stops and you know I'm a 110 percent every lap. It's a great group of drivers."
Power returned the generous estimation of his remaining rival for the 2012 IndyCar
"I've always rated him very highly," he said. "It was a matter of time before he got in a good team situation where he could win consistently and be up there consistently, so I expected it. He's probably the best all‑around driver in the series because he wins at every discipline."
Both drivers said that they understood that in tight seasons, it often came down to a matter of who got the best breaks.
"Will and I were talking about it the other day, the bad luck I've had the past couple of races," Hunter-Reay said of the races at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma which saw his chances look like they were slipping away, before he rallied back with a committed performance at Baltimore.