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Ryan Hunter-Reay aims to cap Andretti rise in Fontana finale

9.4.2012 (Via usatoday.com) - The stage is set for a fierce, 500-mile IndyCar championship battle Sept. 15 at Auto Club Speedway.

And it won't be all about the two guys wheeling their Dallara-DW12s around the 2-mile Fontana, Calif., oval.

Will Power, who holds a 17-point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay, carries the banner for Team Penske, which despite 15 Indianapolis 500 wins has but one Izod IndyCar Series champion — Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.

And Hunter-Reay will try to cap Andretti Autosport's resurgence into IndyCar's upper crust. The organization has slumped, compared to Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, since Dario Franchitti's title in 2007.

"I think we're there," team owner Michael Andretti said of returning to IndyCar's Big 3.

"I think we've shown it all year long. I'm so proud of everybody on this team and how hard we've worked to get back to beating Penske and Ganassi."

Ganassi's title streak is ending at four (Scott Dixon in 2008, Franchitti the last three years).

Hunter-Reay, who made Sunday's Grand Prix of Baltimore his series-leading fourth win of 2012, is a lock to become Andretti's highest finishing driver since Tony Kanaan (third) in 2008. But for the Texan to complete his and Andretti's rise to a championship will require the same win-or-bust attitude he employed at Baltimore.

After Hunter-Reay gained track position from an early tire gamble — Andretti left the driver on slick tires while pole-sitter Power and others went for rain tires that backfired when the light precipitation subsided — he blew past Penske's Ryan Briscoe on a restart with six laps to go on the 2.04-mile Inner Harbor circuit and held on to win.

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