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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.
Now in his third full season with Penske Racing, Power has established himself as the most dominant driver in IndyCar. He has won 14 races the last three years, had 24 podium finishes and 21 poles. He brought a three-race pole-winning streak into Fontana.
"I definitely respect him a lot, and he's a unique character in many ways," Hunter-Reay said. "He certainly has put on some of the most impressive performances and I definitely feel like I'm fighting one of the best we've had in IndyCar in a long, long time."
Power has come a long way emotionally over the last year. Both he and Wheldon's cars sailed into the fence, and Power's came to a stop on the track right behind Wheldon. He doesn't talk about what he saw that day, but has admitted to his own personal struggles in the months after the accident. He finally found some comfort in a talk with Wheldon's sister, Holly, at a race this summer.
He said he is trying to not be so intense anymore, and to enjoy both racing and life in general. He wants a championship, badly, but said he is not allowing it to consume him.
Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, was laser focused Friday on the prize in front of him.
He opened the season talking about racing for the championship, and has cited the continuity and a strong support system at Andretti for pushing him into the position he'd been trying to get to for so long. This is the first year he's won multiple races in a season, and his numbers across the board are career highs.
It made him a hot commodity, and in the final year of his contract, he appeared to have an opportunity to leave for Penske Racing. But Hunter-Reay agreed Friday to an extension with Andretti, and said earlier this week he recognizes this weekend is the payoff for all of his years of hard work.
"I've always wanted to be in this position and here we are, fighting for the championship," he said. "But it only gets tougher from here. The workload doubles from here. So I am enjoying it, somewhat. I just want to go race. I want to race. I want to go do what I do, and that's race the car. It's just been such a long road."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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