Well, look at them now.
Power and Hunter-Reay go into Saturday night’s season finale at Auto Club Speedway battling for the IndyCar championship. The winner will be a first-time champion _ in any series _ and officially end Dario Franchitti’s three-year title run.
But it would mean a lot.
Hunter-Reay was stuck in the politics of American open-wheel racing. There weren’t enough paying rides, and open seats often go to less talented drivers who can bring sponsorship money to the program. Out of work all of 2006 and most of 2007, there was simply nobody left to call looking for work.
He has found something at Andretti Autosport, where his three-year run is the longest for Hunter-Reay with any one team. A team spokesman told The Associated Press on Friday night that Hunter-Reay has signed a multi-year extension to stay with Andretti.
Although he opened the season talking about racing for the championship, few listed the journeyman driver as a true contender.
“I really wouldn’t even think about it because I am not going to get on that mental high before I am even there, or ever think about how it would feel,” he said. “It’s something I want worse than anything. I want it incredibly bad.”
Nobody can relate to that desire like Power, who goes into the finale with the championship on the line for the third consecutive year.
Power had a lead over Franchitti headed into the 2010 finale, but brushed the wall, finished 25th and lost the title by five points. A year ago, he was involved in an accident on pit road in the penultimate race to lose the points lead. He was then in the 15-car accident in the finale at Las Vegas that killed Dan Wheldon.
Power broke his back in the accident, the same injury he suffered in a 2009 wreck at Sonoma. No one would blame him if he headed into Saturday night’s race worried about all the scenarios that could lead to him losing for the third consecutive year.
He’s not, though. Power arrived in Fontana with a Zen-like approach to this final race.
“It’s going to be what it’s going to be, and we just focus on what we can control and however it plays out is what happens,” he said. “We’re going to be the champion, or we’re not.”
This is a driver who once begged and borrowed his way across Europe, and wound up out of money and unwilling to take on any more IOUs. He was close more than once to returning to the family canvas business at home in Australia.