This year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship figures to go through one of the top five drivers in the current point standings. Or, it might go through Team Penske’s Will Power.
Now, don’t misunderstand. Power heads to the final three races of the season in ninth place, 120 points in arrears of the top spot. Barring extreme circumstances, the driver of the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet will not win his second season title this year. But, oh, he could have a significant impact on how the year plays out.
Power finished third in last weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Presented by Axalta and Valvoline at World Wide Technology Raceway, and he said he “definitely didn’t have the car to challenge for the win.” Imagine what happens when he does have a strong car, which happens a lot to the Australian this time of year.
INDYCAR’s calendar varies from year to year but consider this: From mid-August until the end of a given season, there have been 48 races since Power joined Team Penske full-time in 2010. He has won 15 of those races (31.3 percent) with 25 podium finishes (52 percent) and 18 poles (37.5 percent).
Power knows his way around the three circuits remaining on this year’s schedule, too. He won the most recent race held at Portland International Raceway, in 2019, and finished second at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca that season and was second at the Long Beach street race in 2018. (None of those venues hosted INDYCAR races last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Power won the 2012 Long Beach race and has four career podium finishes with three poles. He also won a pole at Portland in 2018.
Keep in mind that no driver since Dan Wheldon in 2005 has clinched the championship before the season’s final race, and there are only 10 points separating the leader (Pato O’Ward) from second place (Alex Palou). Every point will matter.
Now, imagine either one of the top five also having to battle with Power for a race win, or at a minimum Power taking weighted top-five points away from one of the title contenders.
“I’ve never seen someone wrap it up in all my 15 years in INDYCAR,” Power said. “No one’s wrapped it up before the last race. It’s never happened. Looks like the same here.”
Testing is over for the rest of this season, and the race weekends have limited amount of track time. Thus, there will be a premium on experience, which Power certainly has.
Power also has the might of Team Penske, which has won three of the past four races after starting the season winless in the first nine. Power won the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Aug. 14, and teammate Josef Newgarden has won twice (the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and last weekend’s race at WWTR).
The NTT P1 Award that Power scored last weekend was just his first pole of the season – the 63rd of his career – but he and his teammates have had fast cars at several events earlier in the season when the results weren’t coming. Case in point: Power leading Race 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix until his car wouldn’t refire following the late red flag period.
Now, the team is back to its winning ways, exactly at the time of the year when Power is as warm as the current weather.
“When you look at Newgarden’s pace all year, it really is not a lack of performance,” said Power, who could easily have inserted his name into the sentence. “It’s just a lack of just circumstance.
“Yeah, I mean, I expect us to be competitive for the next three races.”
The Grand Prix of Portland is Sept. 12, with a 3 p.m. (ET) broadcast on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.