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Will Power finally got his first victory of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season on a track he has mastered like no other.
Power drove the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet to victory in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on Saturday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, his fifth career win on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile layout that debuted in 2014.
It was the 40th career INDYCAR SERIES victory for Power, who broke a tie with four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser to climb into fifth on the all-time win list. The win also was the sixth of Power’s career at IMS, as he also won the 2018 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Only NASCAR star Kyle Busch, with two Brickyard 400 wins and four Xfinity Series wins on the oval, has as many major race victories at the Racing Capital of the World.
“We needed that as a group,” Power said. “I can’t tell you how good these guys have been all year. Flawless on pit stops. They’ve given me the car, and we’ve had some bad luck. I’ve made some mistakes, as well.
“So stoked to get the Verizon 5G car in Victory Lane. Oh, what a relief, man!”
Rookie Romain Grosjean equaled his season-best finish – on this same circuit in the GMR Grand Prix in May – by placing second in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda, 1.1142 seconds behind Power. Colton Herta rebounded from his disappointing late-race crash last Sunday in Nashville to finish third in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi earned his season-best finish by placing fourth in the No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda. NTT P1 Award winner Pato O’Ward finished fifth in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, but he still ended up a winner because of a dramatic shift in the championship standings.
O’Ward pulled to within 21 points of series leader Alex Palou with four races remaining in the season, as Palou retired from the race on Lap 68 with a mechanical problem while running fourth in his No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Palou led six-time and reigning series champion Scott Dixon by 42 points entering this event. Dixon fell to third but still trimmed the margin to the top, 34 points behind Palou, after placing 17th – tying his season low – in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.
A tense, strategic duel erupted into a mad dash for the checkered flag when Palou retired from the race.
Palou was running fourth and closing on Grosjean on Lap 68 when smoke began to flow from the rear of his No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in Turn 4. He pulled off track and hopped from his car, out of the race with a 27th-place result, his lowest of the season.
There were warning signs from the opening lap about possible troubles for Palou, who told his team on the radio after Lap 1 that he felt down on power.
“We started having some issues with the mapping, and we weren’t sure what was going on,” Palou said. “We managed like 60 laps, and it was fine. We were losing a bit of power, but it wasn’t too bad. We were trying to fight for a podium, and we had to stop.
“It’s a shame when we were running so good, but it’s just a bump in the road. We’ll continue, and we’ll get those points back.”
The ensuing full-course caution, the first of the 85-lap race, erased Power’s 1.9-second lead over Herta. Grosjean, who had closed to within a car length of Herta’s gearbox before the caution, passed Herta for second on Lap 72 on the restart.
Power maintained a 1.1-second lead over Grosjean when the field was bunched again by a full-course caution on Lap 77 when Rinus VeeKay’s No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet stalled in Turn 7 after contact from behind by the No. 3 CarShop Team Penske Chevrolet of Scott McLaughlin.
“When the yellow came and then another one, you’ve got to survive those yellows,” Power said. “We had a really good car. It’s tough to get by lapped traffic, but the car was solid out front.”
2014 series champion Power kept the lead on the restart on Lap 79, helped by Grosjean using all 200 seconds of his push-to-pass by Lap 65. He maintained a gap of about one second to Grosjean over the final six laps, with both drivers running on the Firestone alternate “red” tires.
“We had a good car all day long, and we fought at the front,” Grosjean said. “We ran out of push-to-pass early today. I had to use quite a bit early in the race to make sure we were going through the lapped cars. Through the end, Will had more than I did. I just had to go flat out and try not to make any mistakes.”
Various tire and fuel strategies unfolded during the first 67 laps of the race, which ran caution-free. That helped breed 11 lead changes among six drivers as teams tried to undercut and overcut rivals with well-timed pit stops.
Herta appeared to be the biggest threat to Power, as he trimmed a deficit of nearly nine seconds to just 1.9 seconds before Palou’s problem triggered the first caution.
The next race is the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 on Saturday evening, Aug. 21 at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. It’s the final oval race of the season.