Will Power

After struggling through what Will Power called “perhaps my worst qualifying in history” Saturday in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 40-year-old Australian confirmed on-air to NBC that he has signed a contract to continue driving for Team Penske.

Power joined Roger Penske’s organization in 2009 as a stand-in for Helio Castroneves, and he was promoted to full-time status the next season. Power’s time with the team has produced 36 wins, including the 2018 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, an NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in 2014 and 56 poles.

Overall, Power has 39 wins and 62 poles, the latter No. 2 in the sport’s history.

“Man, it’s fantastic,” Power said of re-signing, which NBC said occurred before he finished second in last week’s race at Barber Motorsports Park. “I really love being at the team. They’ve been very loyal to me.

“It’s just awesome to be a part of such a great organization and great sponsors like Verizon and Chevy.”

The joy of discussing the re-signing took some of the sting out of qualifying 20th in the 24-car field, easily his worst starting position in 14 trips to this event. Before Saturday, Power’s average qualifying position here was 1.8, with nine poles in the past 11 events. There is no other venue on the INDYCAR schedule where Power has fared better in qualifying.

On Power’s final qualifying lap Saturday, his No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet clipped a late corner and spun on the short straightaway approaching the timing line after damaging his suspension.

“I was up a little (on being fast enough to advance but had) to get a good exit and touched the wall, bent the toe,” he said. “I tried to finish (the lap), but it was too bent.

“(It’s) unfortunate, man. It’s nuts to go from one of the best cars on Friday to the worst car today. Unbelievable.”

Power’s previous lowest starting position at this temporary street circuit was sixth in 2009. After winning the pole for the 2016 race, he did not start due to dizziness that was later connected to allergies.

“Obviously, a disappointing day today, but you know how these races go,” he said. “We’ll be hoping for some sort of yellow to get ourselves up (near the front).”

Power is a two-time winner of the event, 2010 and 2014.

Power started 22nd in last year’s “500,” but the last time he qualified this low in a non-oval race was 2014 when he was 23rd in Toronto.

NBC’s broadcast begins at noon (ET) with the green flag expected at 12:42 a.m. The INDYCAR Radio Network also will have the live call of the 100-lap race.

Another Chance at St. Pete Three-peat

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden is aiming for his third consecutive victory in St. Petersburg in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, and he isn’t the first to have that opportunity. In fact, it seems to happen frequently in this event held annually since 2005.

Three other drivers have won twice in succession since INDYCAR began racing on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street circuit. If Newgarden pulls it off, St. Pete will become one of four tracks on the current NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule with such an accomplishment. Long Beach saw Al Unser Jr. win four in a row and Sebastien Bourdais three in succession. Michael Andretti won three straight at Portland International Raceway, and Bobby Rahal won four in a row at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Those double winners in St. Pete include Helio Castroneves (2006-07), Juan Pablo Montoya (2015-16) and Bourdais (2017-18). Castroneves came the closest to three-peating, finishing second to Graham Rahal in 2008. Montoya did not compete in the event in 2017, and early engine issues knocked Bourdais out of the race in 2019.

On the Road to Indy

Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood won his first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race Saturday. He had finished ninth and fifth in the opening rounds last week at Barber. This weekend’s second 35-lap race is at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Braden Eves of Exclusive Autosport led Saturday’s only Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires race from start to finish, holding off the late charge of Christian Rasmussen of Jay Howard Driver Development. For Eves, it was the second win of the season, having won the opener last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. The 25-lap second race of this weekend is at 8 a.m. Sunday.

In the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, Christian Brooks won both 20-lap races for Exclusive Autosport.

Odds and Ends

  • The competitive nature of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was on full display in qualifying. The three podium finishers from last week’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst – Alex Palou, Power and Scott Dixon – will start 10th, 20th and eighth, respectively, Sunday. Dixon almost wasn’t in position to start eighth after being penalized in the first round for creating a local yellow when he spun into a run-off area.
  • Like Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay was penalized in that first qualifying session, but he didn’t recover as nicely as Dixon. Hunter-Reay didn’t advance to the second round and settled for the 13th starting position in the No. 28 DHL Honda. He missed the cut by just .0603 of a second.
  • AJ Foyt Racing’s hiring of four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Sebastien Bourdais continues to pay dividends. After finishing fourth in last year’s season-ending race in St. Pete and fifth last week at Barber, the Frenchman qualified fifth in the No. 14 ROKiT AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet and will have a good chance of delivering the team’s first race win since 2013 at Long Beach when Takuma Sato won his first INDYCAR race.
  • INDYCAR’s talented rookie class will have some work to do Sunday. Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin will start 14th with Romain Grosjean of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR in the 18th position and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jimmie Johnson 23rd.
  • Former INDYCAR driver Jordan King obviously was paying attention to qualifying. After his track record from 2018 with Ed Carpenter Racing wasn’t broken, he tweeted about being “undefeated” at the temporary street circuit. “The legacy lives on for another 12 months,” King said of his lap of 1 minute, .0476 of a second.
  • Saturday morning’s INDYCAR practice illustrated how busy this street circuit can get with a field full of competitive cars. Late in the 45-minute session, the cars driven by Jimmie Johnson, Marcus Ericsson and Graham Rahal went three-wide on the short straightaway heading to the tricky Turn 4. With 24 cars participating, the ideal spacing amounts to a car every 396 feet.
  • Sunday’s race will have no more than 20,000 spectators due to local precautionary guidelines amid the pandemic.