In a day defined from the outset by chaos, controversy and unpredictable weather, Team Penske’s Will Power had some wild swings of fortune typical of his 2019 season to date, but this time he turned misfortune into advantage and swept to victory in a summer storm-shortened ABC Supply 500 at Pocono.
Power had to wait a while, through a series of lightning strikes to the west, before IndyCar finally made it official, calling the race at 128 of the scheduled 200 laps.
“I was thinking, if this cloud covers and it doesn’t rain, it’s just not my year,” joked Power. “We had some issues but we just kept coming back.” By doing so, Power ended a year’s worth of frustration and stretched his run of consecutive IndyCar seasons with at least one win to 13.
Although fast from the start, Power suffered a punctured tire and was forced to make an early pit stop. Although that dropped him to the back, Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew, headed by boss Roger Penske, figured out how to turn that setback into an advantage.
“I saved a lot of fuel — obviously we topped off, so we had laps in hand; then we pushed through the sequences, caught a good yellow that moved us to second; then caught a bad yellow which put us back to seventh,” Power recounted. “But the car was fast enough. I knew if we were in that top five, we’d have a shot at the win.”
Unusually, the second-place driver was also at least partly relieved to see the race called early, as Scott Dixon was stuck with an abruptly ill-handling PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda that would have been locked in by the red flag.
“The car was really good, but we made a tire pressure change on that last stop and could barely turn after that,” said Dixon, whose resurgent title defense took another step forward. “Kind of felt like a 24-hour race — you’re in the car, out of the car…”
They certainly weren’t in the car for long the first time around. Polesitter Josef Newgarden was smoked by Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud at the green flag, while title rival Alexander Rossi slipped backward. But all that was rendered irrelevant moments later when a horrific accident stirred memories of last year’s early catastrophe at this race. The devastating wreck recounted here, prompted a 45-minute delay to repair the fence…which also gave time to count blessings as all of the five drivers involved — Rossi, Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist — escaped serious injury. (Rosenqvist was transported to a local Levigh Valley Hospital for further evaluation, but was subsequently released.)
In fact, Rossi, Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay were all eventually available to restart, albeit having to accept 10-lap penalties for repairing their cars under the red flag.
When the race resumed, Pagenaud re-established the lead over Scott Dixon and Newgarden, while the rest of the field played it more conservatively this time. The top two gradually pulled away from the second group of Newgarden, Graham Rahal and the Dale Coyne Racing duo of Santino Ferrucci and Sebastian Bourdais before Spencer Pigot’s Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy, running seventh, appeared to suffer a mechanical failure over a bump and drifted into the wall in Turn 1.
The timing of Pigot’s incident was fortuitous for Power, who had just dived in to make his stop, and the Verizon Chevy was able to resume in second behind his French teammate. Power squeezed Pagenaud hard on the Lap 45 restart before backing off, but then blasted by into Turn 1 on the following lap. But, after sizing up his teammate for a few laps, the Penske Truck Racing No. 22 duplicated Power’s move to regain the advantage.
Power grabbed the lead when Pagenaud was momentarily balked by the hobbled Hinchcliffe, but moments later the Australian experienced the other side of the yellow flag lottery when Colton Herta lost the back end of his Harding Steinbrenner Honda and spun to the inside wall. With Power losing his advantage, Dixon and Ferrucci were gifted the lead for the Lap 82 restart — which looked all the more significant as thunderstorms loomed west of the track.
Dixon resisted Pagenaud on the restart, with the Frenchman dropping back into third, while Ed Carpenter put himself in the mix by sweeping past Newgarden for fourth. Power followed suit shortly thereafter, then blew past Carpenter as well. But neither of the Penske cars was able to make headway on the two Honda-powered cars in front. Pagenaud, who had started with the max-downforce wicker, had trimmed-out his car to maximize his pace in clean air, and struggled accordingly once he was behind.
Pagenaud jumped Ferrucci on the next round of stops, but Power, pitting three laps later, did the same to him, emerging a second back of Dixon … which he quickly gobbled up via the fastest lap of the race, and swept underneath Dixon into Turn 1 on Lap 115. With Dixon finding his handling balance off since his last stop, Power was able to gap the PNC Bank Honda by 5s when the race went yellow, then red two laps later, for lightning in the area.