While one Team Penske driver and his strategist were taking bows after the race for a winning tactical call, another was mulling the consequences of theirs. Josef Newgarden and his race tactician Tim Cindric had their choices on tires play out perfectly to win in St. Petersburg, while Will Power — the polesitter and early race leader — reckoned the decision by his team strategist Roger Penske to call him in for an early pit stop set in motion a chain of events that left him out of contention for the win behind Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon.
“On defense, couldn’t do anything. We had to pit early. These guys had more fuel,” mused Power. “There’s just nothing we could do about it.
The early stop came after Sebastien Bourdais stopped on course with an apparent engine failure. “I think Roger did a real late call hoping it would go yellow but it didn’t,” said Power. “I knew it wouldn’t go yellow, because I know that they didn’t go yellow unless it’s a big issue. I knew that that was going to be a stationary yellow. I thought he saw something else…”
Power still had the lead after the race did go full course yellow following Ryan Hunter-Reay’s subsequent blow-up, but Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist then outdueled him for the lead on the ensuing restart, which Power admitted was a decisive blow.
“Yeah, the thing that cost me the race, the chance of the race, was when I was passed on that restart,” he admitted. “We still were in the game. I felt we were quicker than Rosenqvist, and we could have pulled a big gap, which would have covered for the cold tire penalty, but unfortunately, I lost that position and I was stuck there.
“I just had to do everything I could on out-laps after I had to pit early from everyone, and third was as good as I could possibly do.”
Power ended up regaining the advantage over Rosenqvist, who he ultimately beat for the final podium spot, on pit stop exchanges — although it took some very close moments in Turn 2 as the Penske driver barely squeaked past Ganassi’s new driver as the No. 10 car exited the pis.
“It’s the driver on track that has the right of way, so unless the guy coming out of the pits is going to clear him — which both times, actually, it was so close with Scott and Felix — yeah, I expected them to back out because that’s a rule. But I was keeping one eye right there just in case…”