BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Will Power fully understands how difficult it is to win on the IndyCar Series. Really, he does.
The competition is stiff, the cars competitive and the margin for error slim.
"You've got to have everything go right on the weekend now," Power said. "You can't have a bad start. You can't make mistakes or you're not going to win. It's very hard now."
Really, it is.
The Australian is just making it look easy. He will start on the pole for the second straight race in Sunday's inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park.
Power is trying to become the first driver to win the opening three IndyCar races. Sam Hornish was the last to start out 2-0 in 2001, and he went on to win the points title as a rookie.
He topped both Friday practice rounds and turned in the fastest lap time by nearly a second over Mike Conway and Penske Racing teammate Helio Castroneves in the final round of qualifying.
Power filled in for Penske during Castroneves' tax trial last year, before the Brazilian was acquitted and returned to his ride. Power ended the 2009 season in a crash that left him with four broken bones in his back, but has since thrived behind the wheel of the No. 12 Verizon.
"Right now, he's our target and we have to keep an eye on him," Tony Kanaan said. "He's on a good team and he's a very good race car driver. He's got the opportunity of a life and he's taking advantage. That's what makes the difference between the average guys and the good guys."
The soft-spoken Power doesn't put too much stock in the streak or the bull's-eye on his bumper. After all, there are 15 races remaining.
With a comfortable 44-point series lead, he is at least assured of remaining in front through the weekend since 43 points is the maximum possible points.
"It's a long season," Power said. "I haven't changed my approach. I still go into every race trying to get as many points as I can and make no mistakes.
"I guess in a way you probably can relax a little bit more, but the schedule coming up we've got tough races."
There will be a couple of less familiar faces starting up front.
Conway qualified on the front row for the first time, four spots better than his previous best of sixth at Infineon last season. Ex-Formula One driver Takuma Sato turned in the sixth-best qualifying time in just his third IndyCar race.
The drivers seemed to have a consensus on this race in one regard: Passing will be hard on the narrow track that was originally designed for motorcycle racing and has no especially long straightaways — at least compared to the first two venues in Sao Paulo and St. Petersburg, Fla.
"You've got to take a pass, but you have to make sure you don't take somebody out or yourself out," said Scott Dixon, who starts fifth. "So the track does seem to produce a little bit of a challenge on that direction. But I think everybody here is professional enough to make the judgment. We want to finish the race and collect points."
Castroneves, set to start third, said patience might be a key for that.
"Obviously at some point you're going to get frustrated unless you get out of sequence, and unless you can pass," he said.
Some of the best action could come at Charlotte's Web. That's turn No. 5, a hairpin that follows a straightaway and is overlooked by a spider sculpture. That's where the best brake work comes into play.
"I think it's going to be tough to pass," said Danica Patrick, who will start 19th out of 25 cars on the grid. "You're going to be lucky to see any really, maybe into turn 5, the hairpin — maybe. There might be some accidents. Maybe there will be bumping while you're trying to do it. Pretty big corners, but the rest of the track is going to be follow the leader. That's my opinion."