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Saturday, October 15, 2011
Expect some wild gambles at Vegas

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Drivers, put on your big-boy and big-girl pants and hope you don't soil yourself. Sunday is your bravery test.

The Las Vegas Indy 300 (3 p.m. ET, ABC), the season finale for the IndyCar Series, is the open-wheel version of restrictor-plate racing on steroids -- cars without fenders, inches apart, often three-wide at more than 220 mph.

Imagine if NASCAR ended the Chase at Talladega. That's what it's like for Dario Franchitti and Will Power -- the two men hoping to win the season title by beating the odds and avoiding disaster.

Power, who needs to make up ground on Franchitti to win the 2011 championship, doesn't like this style of racing one darn bit.

The 30-year-old Aussie stormed into the media center Friday after qualifying a disappointing 17th on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval, clearly in no mood for friendly chit-chat.

"There's nothing to talk about," Power said when asked about his qualifying attempt. "A lap around this joint, flat out, is so brainlessly easy. But what it did do is put us back in the pack, which is not brainlessly easy."

Will Power
Will Power had a good time gambling in a charity event this week, but he doesn't seem so keen on the gamble he'll have to take to win the title Sunday at Las Vegas.

If attitude matters, I don't like Power's chances of making up the 18 points he needs to catch Franchitti, who starts outside of Power on the ninth row in the 34-car field.

Franchitti entered the media center calm and collected, the difference between a three-time champion and someone trying to win his first title.

"Whatever happens, it's going to be a tough race for us both," Franchitti said, who admits this race is constantly in his thoughts. "I think there's a difference between thinking about it all the time and being stressed. Just because I think about it all the time doesn't mean I'm stressed."

The 38-year-old Scotsman looks about as stressed as a guy laying on a beach in Maui.

Pole-winner Tony Kanaan, Franchitti's longtime friend and former teammate, says Franchitti can handle the pressure.

"As an old person that has been around for a long time, I know this guy [looking at Dario] way too well to believe he's nervous," the 36-year-old Kanaan said. "I think he knows exactly what he needs to do."

Power, on the other hand, looks like a guy at the roulette table with a million bucks riding on the next spin of the wheel.

"I think this oval racing, when you're flat-out 100 percent the whole race, is just kind of ridiculous," Power said. "There's no real strategy. It's going to be really difficult because it's such a pack race, which is really quite intense."

Yes, it is intense. Isn't that what auto racing is all about?

Along with ripping oval racing, Power also confronted driver Oriol Servia in the media center Friday when Servia questioned some of Power's statements.

Power turned around, glared at Servia and said, "What did I say?" wanting Servia to explain his comment that Power had contradicted his statements from Kentucky two weeks ago on the difficulty of high-speed ovals.

Servia, who starts next to Kanaan on the front row, pointed out how Team Penske doesn't have the qualifying dominance it once had on these tracks. Ryan Briscoe's was the best Penske car, qualifying fifth. Helio Castroneves was 11th and Power was the worst of the three.

"Will obviously has his opinion," Servia said. "But isn't it interesting that it used to be if you came to a track like this and it was all engineering, so Penske was going to win the pole? It was just a matter if they got the top three spots or the top two."

Of course, it isn't where you start that counts. And where you start typically doesn't mean much on big ovals where drafting skills and making the right moves at the right time will get a driver to the front in a hurry.

Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick really wants to go out on a high note as she runs in what for now is her last race as a full-time IndyCar Series driver.

"I don't think anybody is going to hide from the pack," Kanaan said. "It's going to be quite crazy."

Servia was asked if he expected to see a lot of three-wide racing.

"No, I expect four-wide, and I'm not joking," he said. "And it's not just going to be one row like that. I expect it to be really hairy and dangerous, and that's exciting for the fans watching at home and here.

"It's going to be a bit of Vegas gambling, depending which row you are. If there are fast cars on your row, or your lane, it's going to be your best shot at winning."

Dan Wheldon, the 2011 Indy 500 winner, will take his best shot at winning a $5 million bonus. Wheldon, who only competed in two previous races this season, is the only driver eligible for the bonus as a non-IndyCar regular this season trying to win the final race. He will split the money with a lucky fan if he wins, but he's starting at the back of the field.

And Danica Patrick, who usually excels in this type of racing, hopes to end her IndyCar Series career with a victory, something she has done only once in seven years.

"It's friggin' fast here," Patrick said after turning a lap at 224 mph in practice. "We'll be three-wide out there. The race is going to be crazy and the crashes will be spectacular. Nothing would let me turn the page better than winning here."

Ladies and gentlemen, strap in and take your chances. It's your bravery test. May the best man, or woman, win.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.