Lap 75. Ryan Hunter-Reay, still in the hunt for an IZOD IndyCar Series championship, was only a spot behind Will Power, and in line for a podium finish. Any damage to his title hopes on the day appeared to be minimized, as Ryan Briscoe was running ahead of Power and RHR. It was time for a restart, and perhaps one more chance to jump in front of Power, and gain some valuable points on the day--or at least stay in striking distance of Power going into the final two races of the season.
Halfway through the restart lap, Alex Tagliani, looking to make a move of his own, spins Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR can't get his car refired, and finishes a dismal P18, after Power comes home with another podium, and a 36-point lead over Hunter-Reay with two races remaining.
So, is that it?
Now, let's be clear: Will Power's lead is not insurmountable. Hunter-Reay is 36 points back; Helio is 41 behind his Penske teammate. That's the sort of lead that could be removed pretty quickly with a single disastrous weekend. Yet Power (who should be buying Tag's drinks through the end of the race season), has every reason to feel confident at the upcoming Grand Prix of Baltimore. Last season, he won the pole, the race, and had the fastest lap, just for good measure. And consider this: if we look at his performance on only street courses the last three years, he has a roughly a 62% chance of winning outright, and a 69% chance of finishing on the podium. That's unreal, and not just a little amazing.
Make no mistake, I expect the last two IZOD IndyCar Series races to be two of the best of the entire season. I just wonder if Power has this in the bag, or if he will after next weekend. Essentially, if the series wants a true, close title fight for the season finale in Fontana, they have to hope for a bit of chaos in Baltimore. And if there's any justice in the cosmos (and there very occasionally is), Hunter-Reay and Helio will have some luck next weekend to tighten things up.
Then again, this is IndyCar racing. As Ryan Hunter-Reay was reminded so cruelly on Sunday, all it takes is a split-second for an entire title fight to change. Think of Ana Beatriz and Will Power's sidepod at Kentucky last year. Think of Power sitting in his ruined car at Homestead in 2010, watching his titles hopes slowly fade with every lap he went down. Power will be on friendly ground, but he will need no reminders of just how fickle fate can be when it comes to titles.
No, the championship hasn't been decided--yet. But for Will Power, he's one very good weekend away from clinching it. The Grand Prix of Baltimore loomed large before. Now, it could be the end of the road for Power's rivals--or yet another twist in a season chock full of the same. If there's a comeback coming, it will be one for the ages. Fans want one last giant battle to decide a championship between multiple drivers, and the 500-miler at Fontana could deliver just that. Perhaps Randy Bernard can somehow sneak a Lotus into Power's car for Baltimore. Failing that, we'll have to wait one more weekend to know for sure just what will be on the line at Fontana.