IndyCar title contenders starting side-by-side — in mid-pack

Will Power and Dario Franchitti start 17th and 18th for Sunday’s season finale; Tony Kanaan wins pole

When Will Power was unable to come close to squeezing out enough speed for the pole on Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it looked like the advantage was clearly going to Dario Franchitti, who enters this IZOD IndyCar World Championship weekend 18 points ahead of Power in the standings.

But after Power came up with the proverbial snake-eyes in qualifying, Franchitti went out and got the same result. Now neither man has the edge as they head into their final battle for the 2011 title.

In what’s sure to be a 300-mile race filled with tight, wheel-to-wheel pack racing amongst the 34-car field, both Power and Franchitti will be caught in the middle of it to start. Power will roll off 17th, while Franchitti is next to him on Row 9, in 18th position.

Neither of them were very happy about it, especially Power.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he said. “A lap around this joint, because it’s so brainlessly easy flat…What it did do is put us back in the pack, which is not brainlessly easy. That’s very tough.”

Power went on to discard the concept of having a strategy to deal with the packs.

“It’s just something you can’t plan when it’s going to be so tight,” he explained. “There’s no real strategy. You know, I mean, I think eventually it’s going to end up three wide, so it’s going to be very deep in the field as well, and I don’t think you can string out much at all. We’ll just have to play it the best way we can, staying out of trouble and so on.”

As for Franchitti, he was also perplexed about his poor showing, which happened despite his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team changing the engine on his No. 10 Target machine beforehand.

“From the moment the car rolled off the truck, unfortunately, it’s been slow,” Franchitti said. “We don’t know why. If we knew why, we’d fix it. It has a good balance. Both in race trim and qualifying trim, it felt good as far as balance. There was just no speed there, and that’s not something ‑‑ we weren’t expecting to qualify that well quite honestly, just with the speed that had been in the car yesterday and today.”

Still, he tried to show a sense of humor about things.

“[Power] and I were joking out there saying we couldn’t have scripted it better,” he said. “We’re wondering if [INDYCAR CEO] Randy [Bernard] has got, like, a volume control for the power on each of our engines and turning them down.”

Meanwhile, Tony Kanaan posted a two-lap average of 222.078 mph in his No. 82 GEICO-backed KV Racing Technology machine to claim pole for the season finale (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, ABC). The Brazilian’s run was enough to out-hustle Newman-Haas Racing’s Oriol Servia, whose No. 2 car will start in position No. 2 after posting an average of 222.061 mph.

“I didn’t think I had a car to be on the pole to be honest with you, but I knew I had a good race car,” said Kanaan, who, along with fellow IndyCar driver Vitor Meira, competed just last weekend at the IronMan triathlon in Hawaii. “This is a surprise for me as well, but I’ll take it.”

Power and Franchitti aren’t the only ones fighting for a big prize on Sunday. Rookies James Hinchcliffe and J.R. Hildebrand are taking their Rookie of the Year battle to the final race as well, with Hinchcliffe holding a slim six-point lead over Hildebrand.

Like Power and Franchitti, the two rookies will start side by side with Hinchcliffe in 14th and Hildebrand in 15th.

Starting Grid
Las Vegas Indy 300
IZOD IndyCar World Championships
(Car number in parentheses)

1. (82) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 222.078 mph.
2. (2) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 222.061.
3. (67) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 221.509.
4. (98) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 221.33.
5. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 221.13.
6. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 221.129.
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 221.04.
8. (38) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 220.958.
9. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 220.925.
10. (27) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 220.922.
11. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 220.907.
12. (17) Wade Cunningham, Dallara-Honda, 220.79.
13. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 220.715.
14. (06) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 220.701.
15. (4) J.R. Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 220.639.
16. (5) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 220.627.
17. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 220.524.
18. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 220.489.
19. (34) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Honda, 220.335.
20. (19) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 220.314.
21. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 219.982.
22. (22) Townsend Bell, Dallara-Honda, 219.942.
23. (57) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 219.816.
24. (11) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Honda, 219.493.
25. (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 219.273.
26. (8) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 218.661.
27. (15) Jay Howard, Dallara-Honda, 218.577.
28. (77) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 218.41.
29. (30) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Honda, 218.157.
30. (24) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 218.153.
31. (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 218.132.
32. (59) E.J. Viso, Dallara-Honda.
33. (18) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda.
34. (44) Buddy Rice, Dallara-Honda, 220.392.