There was a massive Power surge Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
More precisely, Will Power shut down the rest of the field in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix, earning his first NTT IndyCar Series win since capturing last season’s Indy Grand Prix, also at IMS, last October.
“There you go boys, finally, FINALLY!” Power said with emphasis over the team radio after crossing the finish line.
It was the 40th career win for the man nicknamed “Slick Willy,” and moved him past Al Unser Sr. and into sole possession of fifth place in the all-time IndyCar wins list. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Power, who now is two wins short of tying Michael Andretti (42 wins) for fourth on the wins list, has struggled for much of the season.
While Saturday marked his first win and third podium of 2021, he also has finished outside the top-10 in seven other races in the first 12 events of the 16-race season, including three finishes between 20th and 30th.
“We needed this,” a sweaty Power said after climbing out of his winning No. 12 Verizon car. “I can’t tell you how good these guys have been this year. What a relief. We had a really good car, a really good car (he once again said with emphasis).
“I did a lot of homework for this race. We ran strong in May (finished 12th in the Indy 500) and put it all together. Yeah, very good day.”
“I did a lot of homework for this race.”
To say the least, it truly was a very good day, but at the same time it’s not exactly surprising, either. It marked Power’s fifth win in 11 starts on the Indianapolis road course, and his sixth victory overall, including his win in the 2018 Indianapolis 500.
“This is my sixth time in victory lane, so I’m really happy about that,” Power said.
The win also potentially silences critics who have taken shots at Power this season due to his struggles.
“I can’t begin to tell you what it means to win these days,” he said. “When you are in your 40s (he turned 40 on March 1) and still kicking butt, it’s awesome. You can’t doubt yourself, you just have to keep digging.
“I wasn’t feeling safe until there was literally one (lap) to go. The misfortunes we’ve had at times have been a struggle. It’s a tough series. There are many, many components that have to go right.”
With the 56 laps he led in Saturday’s 85-lap event, Power has now led an incredible 341 laps in the 11 IMS road course races. No other driver is anywhere close.
Romain Grosjean finished second, 1.1142 seconds behind Power, followed by Colton Herta in third.
“Great job by everybody,” Herta said. “I think we maximized everything today. We didn’t have much for Grosjean or Power, so third was about the best we could do and we got it.”
Rounding out the top-10 were fourth-place finisher Alexander Rossi (best season finish), Pato O’Ward, Jack Harvey, Graham Rahal, Josef Newgarden, Nashville winner Marcus Ericsson and Takuma Sato.
Power moves up to ninth place in the standings, but remains a distant 137 points behind series leader Alex Palou. Even if he were to win each of the four remaining races, it’s unlikely Power can finish higher than maybe sixth or seventh in the overall standings.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way For the Captain
Power has now given Roger Penske his first (last October) and second (Saturday) wins at IMS as the fabled facility’s team owner.
“Everyone has to do their job perfectly and that’s what we did today,” Power said. “Winning is important for Roger Penske, especially here. I’m very, very happy.”
Penske, of course, has a record 18 wins in the Indianapolis 500 as a team owner. He became IMS owner when he purchased the track and the NTT IndyCar Series from the Hulman-George family in November 2019.
“That’s awesome,” Power said. “Roger has had a tough year this year. I’m just really happy for the whole group. It’s not been because of lack of effort.”
A Least One Alex Had a Great Day
Alexander Rossi had his best finish of the season, just missing a podium finish and ending up fourth.
“We needed it,” Rossi said afterward. “We needed it to go forward. This is good, a good day. We’ll go forward and see what we can come up with.”
Even with the strong showing, Rossi is essentially out of the championship battle. He’s 12th in the standings, 169 points out of first place.
The day was not so good for the series’ other Alex, namely sophomore driver Alex Palou. Palou suffered his worst finish of the season, ending up 27th after the motor on his Honda blew up with 18 laps left to go.
The mechanical mishap led to a small fire and engine smoking while Palou came to a quick stop and exited his car. Up to this point, Palou had led a charmed life for much of this season, but the odds increasingly grew against him in each successive race that he would hit a slump or downturn.
Prior to Saturday, Palou had two wins, six podium finishes and had nine top-10 finishes. His previous two worst races were 17th at St. Petersburg and 15th in the first Belle Isle race. The Spanish driver took the second-worst finish of his career (crashed and finished 28th in the 2020 Indianapolis 500 while driving for Dale Coyne Racing) things in stride.
“We were losing a little bit of power but it wasn’t too bad,” Palou said. “This is just a bump in the road and we’ll continue.”
Palou remains in the points lead, but due to earning just five points for his next-to-last effort, saw his big advantage cut in more than half.
Pato O’Ward moved back into second place in the standings, 21 points behind Palou with four races left. Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, defending series champion Scott Dixon, finished 17th, dropping back to third place in the standings, but is just 34 points back (after being 48 points back following Nashville).
O’Ward ‘Didn’t Deserve’ Podium Finish
Pole-sitter Pato O’Ward didn’t mince words about his fifth-place finish.
“I consider us very lucky today,” the Mexican driver said. “We went backwards from where we started. … I’m glad we didn’t finish on the podium because we didn’t deserve it. When you start in front, you want to stay there.”
But there was a big silver lining in O’Ward’s race finish, as Palou’s devastating 27th-place finish and Dixon’s 17th-place finish allowed O’Ward to vault into second place in the point standings.
O’Ward is now just 21 points behind Palou, while Dixon is 34 points back.
“It’s unfortunate for Alex when his engine blew,” O’Ward said. “But it gave us a big jump in the standings.”
Tough Outings for Helio, Hinchcliffe
James Hinchcliffe went from hero to mediocre in six days.
Hinchcliffe finished third this past Sunday at Nashville, his best finish since 2019 and gave him momentum that could have helped as he potentially may be looking for a new ride next season.
Nearly a week later, the self-professed Mayor of Hinchtown suffered a dismal 22nd-place finish, his second-worst showing of the season, barely finishing on the lead lap.
It was also a rough day for Helio Castroneves.
In his first return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway since winning the Indianapolis 500 in May for a record-tying fourth time, Castroneves struggled to a 21st-place finish Saturday.
It was only the third start of the year for Castroneves, who is running a part-time schedule for Meyer Shank Racing this season but will go full-time next season. Castroneves is expected to compete in three of the four remaining races this season.
Jimmie Johnson Equals Best IndyCar Finish
One week after suffering his worst finish of his rookie IndyCar campaign (26th at Nashville), Jimmie Johnson rebounded to finish 19th at Indianapolis.
It equaled Johnson’s best finish of the season thus far (was 19th in the season-opening race at Birmingham, Alabama).
Johnson has three more races left on his 2021 dance card: Portland, Laguna Seca and Long Beach.
What Does This Button Do?
Dalton Kellett finished 26th, his worst finish of the year. By comparison, his best finish has been 18th (three different races).
In his first full season on the IndyCar circuit, the Canadian driver finished four laps off the pace of the leader. One big problem was Kellett finished the race with 136 push-to-pass elements. While virtually every driver except for Power and Scott Dixon exhausted their push-to-pass surges, Kellett must have forgotten he had it at his disposal.
It’s no wonder he finished so far back.
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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