SPARTA — It is the one weakness that has hung over an otherwise banner season for Will Power and, more importantly, it is the one thing that could rob the Australia native of a goal that is so tantalizingly within his reach.
On road courses, there is arguably no one better in the sport right now than the current IndyCar Series points leader.
But whenever the series sets up shop at an oval track for the weekend, Power knows the battle will be on to finally end the questions about his ability to go in circles.
The first stats that jump out when one examines Power's 2010 season are ones any driver would be envious of: five victories, 10 top-five finishes and a 23-point lead in the points race with just three contests left on the 17-race schedule.
If the 29-year-old is to secure an IndyCar championship in this, his first full-time season with Team Penske, he knows he's going to have to fix a less kind statistic of his — namely, the one that has him winless in his career on oval tracks.
With reigning series champion Dario Franchitti looming in second place in the standings, there would be no better time for Power to get off the schneid than in Saturday night's Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway.
"Basically, I feel like going to a road course I can make a win happen, whereas because I haven't won on an oval, I'm not sure," said Power, who qualified second for Saturday night's race behind pole sitter Ed Carpenter. "I definitely feel a lot more comfortable on ovals this year, but really I need to win one in order to win a championship."
Power has never finished better than fifth on an oval track — including a top-five run at the 2009 Indianapolis 500 — but nonetheless, the potential for that breakthrough triumph has been both comforting and agonizing.
Last weekend at Chicagoland, Power was in the lead and appeared poised to shed his albatross when a fueling mistake in the pits dropped him to a 16th-place finish while Franchitti went on to victory, shaving 36 points off Power's points lead.
It was a rare mistake for the No. 12 Penske team this season, and it's one Power hopes he doesn't look back upon as the one that costs him a title.
"Dario knows how to win championships, and I don't see him making any mistakes, so I can't make any mistakes myself," Power said. "That (Chicagoland) was one we couldn't afford but ... after the last race, I am more determined than ever to win an oval race this year."
Oval frustrations aside, the fact Power is even in a full-time ride much less atop the points standings is somewhat of a triumph in its own right.
After beginning the 2009 season filling in for teammate Helio Castroneves while Castroneves was involved in a tax trial, Power made the most of his chances with Penske by not finishing worse than ninth in six races for the powerhouse operation, including a win at Edmonton.
During the race at Infineon last summer, Power saw his progress jeopardized when he was involved in a horrific crash that left him with four fractured vertebrae and kept him out of a car for five months.
"I was worried because what most people think is when a driver has a bad accident like that, maybe he comes back but he's never quite the same or quite as good," Power recalled. "I was a little bit anxious about that, and I wasn't sure what was going to happen when I first got back in the car. But I jumped in and everything felt the same to me."
Saturday night might not exactly be a must-win situation for Power. But given Franchitti's prowess over ovals, Power can't let his one weakness remain for much longer.
"It's going to turn out one of two ways for Will," Team Penske president Tim Cindric said. "It will either prove to be the weakness that keeps him from winning the championship or it's going to make it that much better for being the champion because he's going to have to go through that phase of it to prove himself as a champion."
■ Pippa Mann became the third female competitor to take a Kentucky Speedway race pole Friday by posting a two-lap 190.474-mph average in qualifying for Saturday's Firestone Indy Lights Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 100.
Two Trucks visits in '11
The NASCAR Trucks Series will make two visits to Kentucky Speedway in 2011.
The series added a second race at the 1.5-mile oval on July 7. The series previously announced the trucks would run at the track on Oct. 1.
The July race will precede the Nationwide Series race July 8 and the first Cup race at the track July 9. The Trucks Series has visited the track annually since 2000.
NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations Steve O'Donnell said the area's steady support of the series over the years played a major role in the decision.