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They say you win as a team and lose as a team. And Team Penske had Will Power's back after he lost out on winning the Izod IndyCar Series championship.
Power went into the IndyCar season finale with a shot at the title for the third year in a row. He arrived at Auto Club Speedway with a 17-point lead over Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay, and a fourth-place finish in the MAVTV 500 would have clinched the title for the rapid Australian.
But Hunter-Reay was the driver who managed that fourth-place finish. Combined with Power's crash just 55 laps into the 250-lap event, it was Hunter-Reay who emerged with the IndyCar crown and the $1 million bonus that goes with it.
|It was a two-man race between Will Power, left, and Ryan Hunter-Reay for the 2012 Izod IndyCar title.|
It was the fifth year in a row that Team Penske had a driver on the verge of an IndyCar championship entering the final round, and it was the fifth year in a row that the legendary team fell short. But team president Tim Cindric remained philosophical and as upbeat as possible under the circumstances after Penske's latest last-gasp defeat.
"You reflect on it, and you can say you had a good season and all that. But you always want more," Cindric said. "That's the way it goes in this business. Some days it's your day and some days it's not, and fate will decide the rest.
"I think we've been able to consistently continue to win races and that type of thing," he added. "But for whatever reason, the last five years or whatever, we haven't gotten the job done at the end of the season for different reasons. Having a chance every year is something that you can be proud of, but at the end of the day, you've got to finish it."
One of Roger Penske's longtime mottos is "Effort Equals Results," and there was certainly no lack of effort on the Penske team's part at Fontana. After Power crashed, about 20 Penske team members swarmed over the damaged No. 12 Verizon car and managed to get it back on the track about 45 minutes later.
"I couldn't even keep track of who was working on the car," remarked David Faustino, Power's longtime race engineer. "We had two or three guys from each of the other teams, truckies everyone who could help out. We basically changed out the whole left side and rear end of the car. We had to replace the rear suspension and left front suspension, the underwing and the left-side bodywork.
"That was our motto this year -- we just do the best we can."
Power ran an additional dozen laps, which moved him ahead of E.J. Viso from 25th to 24th place to net him two additional championship points. That forced Hunter-Reay to have to finish one place higher -- fifth, instead of sixth -- to win the title. Of course Hunter-Reay went one better and claimed fourth place, winning the championship by three points.
Despite his disappointment, Power was grateful for the effort and support he received from his team.
"All credit to my guys, getting the car out and doing those 12 laps to get a couple of points," Power said. "There were definitely times there where it was looking hopeful. But I just made a mistake, and it's depressing to lose the championship again that way."
Team Penske hasn't won an IndyCar championship since Sam Hornish Jr. got the job done in 2006. But despite losing out in a championship finale for the fifth consecutive year, Cindric was proud of his driver and his team.
|Sam Hornish Jr. was the last Penske driver to wave the championship banner in IndyCar (1996).|
"Will has been through the different experiences of the highs and lows, and he continues to perform better and better, in my opinion, on the ovals," Cindric related. "He was the car to beat at Texas until he got a blocking penalty, and I think there is certainly progress on that front.
"Our guys never give up until the bitter end," he added. "A lot of these guys worked on our ALMS Porsche endurance racing program so they know what it takes to get a car back out there. That's what you have to come prepared for. If it's one or two points that makes the difference, you have to see what happens. You always want to control your own destiny. Having someone else control your destiny is not what works, or what we were hoping for."
Faustino, the engineer who moved with Power to Penske after they worked together at KV Racing from 2006-08, also remained positive.
"It's frustrating, but I tell you, that's racing," he said. "At Sonoma it was frustrating to finish second, Baltimore was frustrating when the rain came. But you're going to get that. You just have to do the best you can whenever you can.
"At least we were right there to win it three years in a row. We're right there every time. So we're just going to keep doing our thing. We'll fight to the end. We did everything we could, and we'll sleep better at night knowing that, I guess."
There was plenty of empathy for Power up and down the pit lane after his latest crushing defeat in the championship. With 14 wins and 21 poles over the past three years, Power is without a doubt the fastest man in the IndyCar Series.
But only two of those poles and one of those wins came on ovals. It's almost a cliché to say that IndyCar demands more versatility from a driver and team than any other form of racing in the world, but it's the truth. And even though ovals make up only a third of the IndyCar Series schedule, until Power can lift his oval racing game, the championship could remain elusive.
"I feel for Will," said two-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon. "He definitely dominated the season, so that's really tough to take.
"But Hunter-Reay kept his head screwed on and took the championship. It was getting pretty close on points there toward the end, but he did it."