FONTANA, Calif. – Between an early-race crash at Auto Club Speedway that cost Will Power the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series championship and his title-clinching performance Aug. 30 in the season finale at the 2-mile oval is Oct. 19, 2013.
That’s when, Tim Cindric notes, his win from the pole in the MAVTV 500 also was a psychological victory.
“Last year’s win at Fontana was a turning point in his career,” said Cindric, the Penske Performance president who is the race strategist for the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car. “He came back and conquered the place.”
Power had finished runner-up in the championship in 2010 and ‘11, and the three-point gap to 2012 title-winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was especially taxing mentally. Though he wasn’t a contender entering the 2013 finale, Power closed with victories at Houston and Fontana, where he led a field-high 103 laps.
This season, he stretched that winning streak to three by leading 74 of the 110 laps in the opener at St. Petersburg, Fla. Power added two other victories, including dominating at the Milwaukee Mile on Aug. 17 to complete the trifecta of a victory on a short track, a speedway (114-lap race at Texas Motor Speedway in June 2011) and superspeedway (Auto Club Speedway).
“It just clicked,” said Power, who clinched his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship Aug. 30 with a ninth-place finish in the 250-lap race at Auto Club Speedway.
Twenty-one wins on road/street circuits augment his career total in 139 Indy car starts.
“Over the course of the last few years it’s been evolving,” race engineer David Faustino said of Power’s confidence on ovals. “When he sees his name in the middle of the timesheet in practice, it takes poise and maturity to feel if you have a good car or not. You don’t want to second-guess yourself. And if you feel you don’t have a good car, it takes a lot of confidence to make changes.
“That was the case at Milwaukee. If he feels it’s right, it’s right.”
Power has said he’s now more comfortable on ovals, which equals confidence. With the most diverse schedule in motorsports, a comprehensive skill set equals championship contender.
"I think the fact that I wasn't in the (2013) championship chase made me realize how aggressive I truly could be," Power said. "And I got back to how I raced when I was young, which is attack, not be conservative. I think the three championships we lost was me kind of on being conservative in certain situations. And now I just feel like I've raced naturally. It was a change, just because I was put in the position not to protect the points lead.
“I think you got to turn up to every track, doesn't matter what it is, and know that you have a chance to win. I just think that's how you become a champion.”
Now, at age 33, he's joined the club. Power's title win is the first major international motorsport championship win by an Australian on four wheels since Alan Jones' Formula One world title in 1980.
Verizon IndyCar Series champions the past five years
2014: Will Power, Team Penske; Chevrolet engine ... runner-up Helio Castroneves
2013: Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing; Honda engine ... runner-up Helio Castroneves
2012: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport; Chevrolet engine ... runner-up Will Power
2011: Dario Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi Racing; Honda engine ... runner-up Will Power
2010: Dario Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi Racing; Honda engine ... runner-up Will Power