Will Power

Will Power is stronger than he has been in recent memory.

Physically stronger, that is. But he’s hoping the increased physical strength will translate to increased strength on the racetrack as the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season starts this Sunday with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding (Noon ET, live on NBC, Telemundo and NBC Radio Network).

2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Power, who turns 41 on March 1, said he changed his workout routine over the offseason to try to find that extra little bit that elevates him into a championship contender. He focused on weights and strength training and said he can feel a difference.

“I feel like I'm fitter than I was last year,” Power said. “Obviously, the science is changing all the time, and there's new ways, better ways, more efficient ways to work out. I’m definitely stronger and fitter than I have been. I wouldn't say ever. I've been pretty high at some times, but I’m right there. I'm stronger, for sure, and just as fit.”

Being more physically fit will help Power muscle his No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet on road and street courses, especially since the cars don’t have power steering. But as it relates to winning his second Astor Challenge Cup, Power wants to come out of the gate strong this weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida.

And for good reason. In the last three seasons, the winner of the season-opening race has gone on to win the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship. Josef Newgarden’s 2019 championship run started with a season-opening win at St. Petersburg, while Scott Dixon’s 2020 title run began by winning the first race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway. Alex Palou’s race to a championship last season started with a win at Barber Motorsports Park.

Power, winner of the 2018 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, said he thinks an opening win not only helps to set the tone for the season, but it allows the driver to play defense instead of offense.

“You're way more focused because you're leading the championship, and you're focused on not making a mistake instead of focused on trying to win,” he said. “I think some of the psychology behind it is that you're not trying to claw back. You set a pretty good base and boom, you've got big points and you adjust, nicely maintaining those points instead of desperately trying to claw back to get back in the game.”

Over the last few years, Power and his Team Penske crew have struggled to open the season strong, which he believes has hampered their championship efforts. By the time he and the No. 12 team found their groove, they were too far back in points to mount a championship run.

Since his championship year in 2014, the earliest Power has won in a season is the fifth race of the year in 2015, ’17 and ’18. All three wins were on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Last year, Power won the 12th race of the season at World Wide Technology Raceway, his lone win of 2021.

Power opened 2021 with a second place at Barber and an eighth at St. Petersburg before having a downturn of five consecutive races finishing outside the top 10. He finally scored a sixth-place finish at Belle Isle-2, but by that time, it was too late.

He doesn’t know why he and his team have struggled to open the first half of the season consistent and strong. But after having a glimmer of it in 2021, he hopes the team has the ingredients needed to capitalize on where they’ve historically struggled.

“For whatever reason, we have struggled early in the season,” Power said. “I guess we had a couple of good results early on (last year), and then it wasn't that special. But, yeah, can't really (figure out why). We've looked at every reason why that is.

“I feel like I've got a very good crew. I've got all the stuff, all the tools available to start really strong and be a contender from the beginning. I think Chevy has found some good stuff on the drivability side. We'll see. I'm maximum effort.”

Power is no stranger to this kind of strength in St. Petersburg. In addition to his track-record nine poles, he has two wins, in 2010 and in 2014. Outside of Newgarden, Dixon and Palou, only one other driver over the last decade has won the season-opener and the championship in the same year: Power in 2014.