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September 25, 2017

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Aussie Power seeks IndyCar season crown with record-setting lead of 51

FONTANA, California -- Will Power, trying to become Australia's first IndyCar season champion, carries the points lead into the final race of the campaign for the fourth time in five years.

But entering Saturday's season-ending 500-mile (804km) oval race in Southern California, the MAVTV 500, Power owns a lead of 51 points over Brazil's Helio Castroneves — the largest edge any racer has carried into the finale since 2005.

Defending race champion Power can clinch the title with a finish of sixth or better no matter how Castroneves, his Penske Racing teammate, fares.

"To me it's just aim for a top-five finish," Power said. "The mindset is just to really work hard on getting the car right. Obviously the rest you can't control. So just really focusing on the job that I have to do."

Scotland's Dario Franchitti took the title in 2010 and 2011 and American Ryan Hunter-Reay captured the 2012 crown — each time overtaking Power in the final race to take the championship.

"Winning last year definitely doesn't make me feel comfortable going in," Power said. "I know that it's going to take a lot of hard work and a very good race to win the championship.

"The first thing is to make sure you're there at the end and that you have a competitive car."

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves, also hungry for his first season title after a career of near misses, led much of the season only to be overtaken by a late-season charge from the Aussie.

"It's going to take to win a race, and hopefully things go in that direction, and come up with a little bit of luck, too," Castroneves said of his title bid.

"I have been in the situation that I was leading and lost the championship and had to catch him and lost the championship. You can't just control unless you execute and that's what the number two needs to do."

Also in the hunt is France's Simon Pagenaud, third in the season points race, 81 adrift of Power. But Pagenaud must win, have Power finish outside the top 20 and Castroneves finish third or worse in order to take home the trophy.

"I just have to go into the race thinking to win. That's the only way I could have a chance to win the championship," Pagenaud said.

"I don't have any pressure. It's nice to come to the last race with a chance to fight for the championship. I'm not really in control of what Will and Helio are going to do, so I can only control myself.

"I would rather be in Will's position right now."

The last Brazilian to win the IndyCar season crown was Castroneves' pal Tony Kanaan, who took the 2004 title.

The only Frenchman to do so was Sebastien Bourdais, who claimed Champ Car Series titles from 2004-2007 before it merged into IndyCar in 2008.

Not since American Sam Hornish in 2006 has a Penske driver won the season title.

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