Power's play at Penske could end after Indy
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Will Power looks at the statistics and shakes his head.
Runner-up in his last IndyCar race at Long Beach. Sixth in the opener at St. Petersburg. Ninth in points this season, and No. 9 on the 33-car starting grid for Sunday's Indianapolis 500.
And Sunday's race could be Power's last of the year.
The 28-year-old Australian understood this was possible when he accepted Penske Racing's offer to temporarily replace Helio Castroneves in January. Rather than risk everything on a possible full-time gig in a bad economy, Powers opted for a safer play - joining the series' most prominent team while the two-time Indy winner fought federal tax evasion charges.
Now that Castroneves is back, Power's future is unclear.
"I have no clue what's going to happen,'' he said. "It's always on your mind, but it's out of my control.''
Should Power win at Indy, it would be tough for Roger Penske to let him go. A top-10 finish Sunday might be enough to turn heads, yet an early exit could leave Power unemployed.
Power understands the stakes: Every lap, every pass, every move will be closely monitored by Penske and others.
"That's true, and it's certainly on your mind all the time,'' he said. "But I've tried to be pretty focused on the car and just keep working away.''
Team president Tim Cindric has been impressed with Power's performance - two top-10 finishes this year and four in a row dating to last year's final two points races.
"People can make the assumption that it depends on this race,'' Cindric said. "But that's certainly not our approach. Even if he did great at Indy, we may not have the sponsors, and this is still a business.''
The car's primary sponsor, Verizon Wireless, has only agreed to fund a car through Indy.
When Castroneves returned to the team just in time for the Long Beach race, Penske rewarded Power by putting him in a third car for that race and promising him a start in the No. 12 Verizon Wireless car at Indy. Nothing more.
Power gladly took it.
"Nothing came as a surprise to me,'' he said. "They keep you updated all the time and what happened at Long Beach, I knew could happen and it did happen. So we went to Plan B.''
What is Plan C?
If Power leaves Penske, he could give another team a rare insider's look at Penske's operation.
In the past 10 years, only three full-time drivers have left the team: Sam Hornish Jr. joined Penske's NASCAR team, 2003 Indy winner Gil de Ferran retired, and Al Unser Jr. jumped from the CART circuit to the Indy Racing League after making 101 starts for Penske.
But what Power learned over the past 4 1/2 months has given him some idea of what to look for in a future employer.
"It depends on the budget of the team and the people running it,'' he said. "I know how the top team operates at this level and what a really good car feels like. I've just enjoyed working with this team because everyone gets along so well.''
In fact, he'd rather stay.
If that's not possible, Power will try to re-emerge as a young force for another owner with no regrets about his stay at Penske.
"I know I want, really want, to stay here and work within this team,'' he said. "But right now, I'm just working hard on the car and learning as much as I can.''