Will Power’s 32nd IndyCar win might not have been the most dominant of the Australian’s career, but his second consecutive victory at Pocono Raceway – which moves him into ninth all time in wins – might have been his most masterful display of perseverance in the face of adversity, as well as tactical brilliance in defense of a late lead.
After losing a lap early on, Power regained it, then held off teammate Josef Newgarden and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi over the final laps with clean, but incisive moves into Turn 3 to protect the lower line.
“I just knew if he got up the inside that would be it so I was very conscious of protecting the inside,” Power told NBCSN. “He was very fast at the end. We had to add a lot of downforce because we went to the back and went a lap down, so we we had to get better in traffic…but man, what a day! I’m spent. This was a seriously dramatic day.”
The dramatics started for Power when the No. 12 Verizon Chevy was forced to make an unscheduled stop to replace the front wing on lap 68, after an adjustment mounting worked loose. The delay cost him a lap.
“I thought, ‘Just hang in here,’ he said. “I saw [Ryan] Hunter-Reay get his lap back last year and get all the way back to third, and then I was very cautious on those restarts, just picking people off one by one, and just be smart. You never know what can happen in IndyCar.”
Although Newgarden had closed down his teammate’s lead after the final round of stops, he said he felt like Power still had the car to beat at the end – and had his eyes on a bigger ultimate prize.
“Will deserves the win here, he had the car to beat,” Newgarden said. “I’m looking at where I’m stacked up, I’m sitting second, and [Scott] Dixon’s behind us, Helio [Castroneves]’s behind us, Simon [Pagenaud]’s behind us, so from a points standpoint, you don’t want to wreck your teammate and you don’t want to give up where I’m at. So it was a great race for us – it’s a Team Penske victory, 1-2 for all of us. I can’t be disappointed – I am disappointed for not winning but I can’t be disappointed with what we got from a points standpoint.”
Rossi had appeared to be the strongest of the front-runners for much of IndyCar’s second 500-miler, but felt after the final round of stops that his chances were fading. Afterward, he considered third place a glass-half-full situation.
“The fuel mixture knob came off about two thirds of the way through, so we didn’t have full power at the end,” Rossi revealed. “And we know these Honda engines really have something for the competition. One you come so close to the win it’s sometimes a little difficult to swallow. But looking back to where we were at Pocono last year, we had a strong car and didn’t finish, so to come back and finish on the podium is a testament to Andretti Autosport.”
The wild action started right away as the field flirted with a seven-wide start before pole-sitter Takuma Sato asserted himself up front. However, the Andretti Autosport driver soon found that he had guessed wrong on downforce, as his overly loaded car was edged aside first by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan, and the No. 26 soon faded further down the order.
Rossi made his presence felt from the start, charging through to take the lead from Kanaan on lap 12. Frantic action at the front soon established that this would be a race in which momentum was key, with incomplete passing moves exacting a heavy toll from those following.
Dixon, Rossi and James Hinchcliffe appeared to be the strongest runners through the opening stages, consistently working their way back to the front through the early stints. However, Hinchcliffe damaged his chances when he overshot his pit stall in the next round of stops, narrowly avoiding a penalty but losing precious seconds. The ARROW Honda driver subsequently had one of the most unintentionally spectacular moments of the race, if not the season, with this epic save:
After a clean first half punctuated by one caution for debris, the race went yellow on lap 116 for Sebastian Saavedra, who stopped the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports No. 7 Honda on course after slapping the outside wall. On the ensuing restart, Kanaan made his second great outside relaunch of the day to jump Hunter-Reay and Rahal, although Rahal returned the favor to take the lead in Turn 3. But that was neutralized when Hinchcliffe and Hildebrand made contact and were sent hard into the SAFER Barrier, fortunately without injury to either driver.
“A racing deal,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN’s Robin Miller. “A bunch of guys were kind of two-wide there and I was on the inside of J.R. He got a little bit loose and it kind of pitched him sideways and moved him down into me. Ultimately it’s my fault because I shouldn’t have been down there – I made that mistake on pit road. I feel bad for the boys.”
Power – who had made up the lap he’d lost early on – took advantage of the caution to change the rear wing pod as well, which had been damaged by a tap from Charlie Kimball (who also had to pit to change his nosewing as a result).
The following restart on Lap 132 reversed the result of its predecessor, as Rahal beat Kanaan into Turn 1 only to hand the lead back later in the lap. The Ganassi and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Hondas then swapped the lead back and forth continually through the ensuing stint, with Rossi, Dixon and Hunter-Reay close behind.
Dixon seemed to have cycled to the front of the lead group on the ensuing round of stops…until Power, out of sequence because of his earlier issues, made his stop and emerged still in the lead by more than four seconds, having turned in a series of 217 mph laps with his now fully-repaired car while his rivals continued to swap places behind him.
Dixon closed took a second out of Power’s lead before the New Zealander initiated the final round of stops with 23 laps to go. Power followed a lap later, staying in front through the leaders’ stops despite taking a turn of front wing out.
Rossi emerged from the exchange in front of Power’s pursuers but was quickly eclipsed by Kanaan, who set about cutting into Power’s lead. But both Honda drivers then were challenged from an unexpected quarter. Newgarden had won the final round of pit stops and emerged “second” behind Power after Marco Andretti pitted from the race lead. Although Kanaan and Rossi got around him before he was up to speed, the No. 2 Penske driver returned the favor a couple laps later. As Newgarden closed in on Power, Rossi latched on to set up a three-car shootout in the final laps. But Power’s precision in defending the lead proved decisive.
“Everyone was hauling butt at the end. You’ve got that final restart and everyone was just going,” related Newgarden. “They were flat out, going as fast as they could. There was no fuel-saving.
“It was hard to pass people; the speed had turned up quite a bit. It got difficult and when I was with Will in the back there and I could see he was so fast, so I was trying to keep with him. We kinda cycled back with him to the front, and from there, I don’t even know if I’m going to catch him. So once we did catch him I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going be able to get by him.’
“It was a crazy race. It was nerve-wracking from my side. I was really on the edge of my seat and not enjoying the looseness from the car.”
Power, while clearly exhausted from the effort, was just as clearly basking in the glow Could another late run be beginning that could carry him from fifth in the standings going into this race, to another championship at Sonoma next month?
“Just gotta keep pushing,” enthused Power. “Never give up. That’s what you’ve always gotta remember in this game.”