By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
8:06 PM EDT, September 2, 2012
Will Power was widely considered to be nearly untouchable coming into in the Grand Prix of Baltimore. He had won the inaugural event last year, was on the brink of clinching this year's IndyCar Series title and, after sitting on the pole for Sunday's race, was leading 18 laps into the 75-lap race.
But as three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti said about Power on the eve of the event, "I think we've proved the last two years he's beatable."
Ryan Hunter-Reay showed it Sunday, as did the four others who finished ahead of Power on the rain-slicked course.
The wet conditions and the chaos that resulted from the weather were as much responsible for bringing the 31-year-old Australian back to the pack; Power led early and, later, for four laps before a late pit stop proved to be too much for him to overcome.
It was a disappointing finish for Power, who could have clinched the season championship with a win. He must now go to Fontana, Calif., for the season's final race needing to finish at least fourth in order to finally claim a title that has eluded him the past two years, when he has finished second.
Power, who won three straight races early in the season and had finished second in his previous two races before coming to Baltimore, will take a 17-point lead over Hunter-Reay to a track he has never raced on.
He will also back out to the West Coast with some emotional baggage from a number of frustrating races.
"Yeah, it's really just, [you] need to forget about this," Power said. "You know, if we thought three races to go we would have a 17-point lead, we would be pretty happy, so it is not that bad. Everyone's just looking at what the potential was, and the potential was winning the last three races."
Power's problems Sunday began when it started raining while he had his early lead and, despite the suggestion from race strategist and Penske Team president Tim Cindric to change from slicks to rain tires, Power stayed out on the course.
Power later conceded that his decision to keep the slicks on might have cost him a chance at his 17th career IndyCar Series victory. He eventually changed to rain tires, and that pit stop after Lap 56 might have eventually doomed his chances.
"It's hard to make a decision which way to go," Power said. "I said I'll pit and then I said I'll wait a lap, and in the meantime Tim was saying, 'Pit.' I think we were talking at the same time, and he told me to pit and we missed that. I think that would have helped a lot. It was unfortunate."
In doing so, Power went from playing a role where he is seemingly invincible — taking the early lead and going wire to wire — to one that he has played all too often the past two years: losing races he seemingly had a chance to win.
"Every weekend we are the quickest — we are not just the quickest, but by a bunch — and circumstances prevent us from winning," Power said of Team Penske, which also includes fellow Australian Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. "So that can become frustrating when you're the quickest guy in town. When you look at the last three races and even when you look at the run total leading …
"[In] Edmonton we were the quickest and got the engine change and got back to third, so it was a good day anyway. Mid-Ohio, pole, quickest, lots in the pits. Sonoma [last week], lost it on a yellow. And today, lost it on the weather. But then you look at it, it's all good points. Keep getting points, but not to get those wins ... "
As he sat dejectedly on pit road after the race, Power was asked what he would have to do to win in California and clinch the season title.
"Just got to do our best. We've got to get everything right," he said. "You've got to fight like a dog to the end. You've got to come out swinging."
One more thing: Power should also pray for dry weather.
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