As the IZOD IndyCar Series motors toward the final race of the season Sunday in Las Vegas, drivers Dario Franchitti and Will Power can look back on an array of irritating moments.

The two have accused each other of dirty driving. They've called each other names. They've exchanged obscene gestures. And they've seen the points lead change hands six times.

Battling to the wire for the second straight season as they approach the IZOD IndyCar World Championships in Las Vegas, Franchitti and Power insist they respect each other.

But, do they like each other?

"No, we don't," said Franchitti, who will be looking for his third straight IndyCar title and fourth overall. "We're in the middle of a fight."

Power doesn't deny the hard feelings.

"You can't be friends with someone you compete against," Power said. "I'm sure if we weren't competing it would be different."

The on-track battle is fierce.

Last season, they fought for the title down to the very last lap. Sunday, that could happen again, but the difference is that this time Franchitti is leading.

"But I don't think there is a chance I'll relax too much," said Franchitti, who leads by 18 points. "You've got to be on your guard the whole time. You can't let your concentration drop for a second. And if you can find a little extra, all the better."

Certainly there's no way Power will relax, either. A year ago he led the points race the entire season only to lose it to Franchitti on that final lap. Now, he has to claw his way from second if he wants to win his first IndyCar crown.

And he'll have to do it on an oval, a style of track that has not been good to him. He has 12 career wins — including the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix — but only one on an oval (June 11 at Texas Motor Speedway).

"I think it is usually the team and the driver who works the hardest who win," Power said. "I can say we've worked harder and done more than last year and that I have a better understanding of ovals and the setup the car needs to go fast. I've been like a baby, continuing to grow up on the ovals. I feel further along now. I feel a chance of winning."

Having said that, Power noted that the Las Vegas oval will be different from other ovals this season.

"I think it will be an easy oval, easy and flat, and that means it will be very much a pack race," he said. "And we'll lose a bit of horsepower as well, maybe 40 horsepower or so less. On top of that, there will be 34 cars racing."

Franchitti said a field that size — it's the largest of the season — will make it difficult if one of the drivers gets shuffled to the back.

But Power believes it could work to his advantage.

"I probably like the idea [of all the cars]," he said. "The race isn't over until it's over. It gives you a lot of hope we can win. If me and my Penske teammates can finish one-two-three, we win the championship."

It will take some luck for anyone to stay on course. And if luck is the deciding factor, driver Scott Dixon thinks the outcome might favor Franchitti, his Ganassi teammate.

"It's like he has little angel wings or something," Dixon said, "because even on a bad day [he and his crew] seem to pull it through."

If Franchitti wins the title it will be his fourth in five years and he will become just the third driver to win at least three consecutive Indy car championships, joining Sebastien Bourdais (2004-2007) and Ted Horn (1946-1948).

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com