It was a day of recovery for the top challengers for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship, and it started with Will Power.
The driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet escaped serious contact in a squeeze with Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward on the opening lap of Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Evidence of the scrap was a mark on the side of Power’s car, and Herta had one, too. O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet looked better, but his was the one spinning. Soon, Power was reeling, as well, called to pit road earlier than expected.
“Definitely a rough start,” Power said. “I got pushed around in Turn 1, got pushed into Pato, which spun him, then Helio (Castroneves) went for a big move and pushed me on the curb.”
The call to pit came on Lap 3 during the caution for Dalton Kellett’s stalled No. 4 K-LINE/A.J. FOYT RACING Chevrolet. Being the first to make a stop in the 85-lap race, Power was at the back of the pack, trailing even series points leader Marcus Ericsson, who had started at the tail of the 25-car field due to a mechanical issue in Friday’s qualifying session.
The much-too-early pit stop meant Power had to spend the rest of the race in major fuel conservation, and he executed it perfectly. Power has accomplished great things in his career, led by a defining victory in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, but finishing third amid these circumstances deserved a spot somewhere on his list.
“Great recovery, man,” he said, with a smile as big as the Speedway itself. “You can never expect all of that in INDYCAR, even like three-wide driving as good as I can … I was like, ‘I doubt (I make it through unscathed).’
“It was just one of those things. Everyone’s very aggressive, and it’s so hard to win in this series. It’s the toughest series in the world, so everyone fights hard for position. You’ve got to keep (the car) clean.”
The irony of Power’s third-place finish was that he started fourth. On paper, it was ho-hum, but the reality of it was much more complicated.
"It's amazing that we can go all the way back there (in the field) and then recover to third,” he said. “I’m so happy for that. Thanks to Chevy for great fuel mileage.”
The reward from the last-to-the-podium drive was a 17-point gain on Ericsson, flipping the top two drivers in the standings heading to next weekend’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville (3 p.m. ET, Sunday, Aug. 7, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network).
Power appreciates having a nine-point lead, but he knows there are still miles to go before the Astor Challenge Cup is awarded Sept. 11 after the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“You’ve just got to do what you know,” the 2014 series champion said. “That’s what I’ve been doing. I know this game so well, and I know (the standings) can change very quickly. You’ve got to take what you can get every day, every race day.”
Ericsson Salvages Something, Too
Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Ericsson similarly turned something good into what didn’t look very promising when the race began.
Ericsson was the last car to take the green flag because his No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda needed to be shut off approaching Turn 5 on the first lap of Friday’s qualifying session. Per INDYCAR rules, bringing out the red flag in qualifying costs a driver his two fastest laps – Ericsson made none – and disqualifies him from advancing in the session.
The 25th-starting position was the lowest of Ericsson’s four-year NTT INDYCAR SERIES career, but he steadily moved through the field, getting all the way to second place on an alternate tire strategy. Ultimately, he finished 11th, a gain of 14 positions and, more importantly, 14 points.
“I think it was a good day for us,” Ericsson said. “Obviously, it was not a good situation what happened (in qualifying), but a top-10 (finish) was our goal – we almost got there.”
A caution flag on Lap 36 for Simon Pagenaud’s stalled car derailed Ericsson’s strategy that he expected would have pushed him to about eighth in the final running order. Still, he remains within nine points of leader Power with four races remaining. Ericsson is the defending champion in Nashville.
Other Salvage Jobs
The championship battle remained tight – the top five drivers are separated by just 46 points – because all of them managed to get what they could out of the Gallagher Grand Prix.
Josef Newgarden, who came to the event unsure if he would be medically cleared to participate, finished fifth to hold serve with the leaders. The driver of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet leapfrogged Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and heads home to Nashville 32 points out of the series lead. Newgarden is seeking his third series title.
Dixon finished eighth Saturday, but that was acceptable after troubles in qualifying reduced him to a 20th-place starting position. Ericsson gained 14 positions, Dixon 12. The six-time series champion trails Power by 38 points.
O’Ward scrambled back to finish 12th. His points deficit is 46.
Odds and Ends
- Honda completed the 2022 IMS sweep Saturday, winning the GMR Grand Prix with Colton Herta, the “500” with Marcus Ericsson and the Gallagher Grand Prix with Alexander Rossi.
- Power earned his 92nd career podium finish, tying him with Dario Franchitti for seventh place on the sport’s all-time list.
- IMS gathered its champions of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and the Brickyard 400 on Saturday for a group photograph at the Yard of Bricks. The drivers represented 24 Indy and 20 Brickyard wins, led by A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson.
- Mario Andretti, who was in the photo, joined the line at Friday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES autograph session and got Scott Dixon to sign a hero card for him. On July 17, Dixon tied Andretti for second place on the all-time wins list with 52.
- Johnson had one of the funniest lines of the day in a post-race NBC interview with Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The subject was his learning curve in INDYCAR. “I’ve learned here it’s more fun to run better,” he said with a laugh.
- Another funny line came from former TV talk-show host David Letterman about one of his drivers, rookie Christian Lundgaard, finishing second. “He’s a kid,” Letterman said. “I had to pick him up at daycare.” Lundgaard turned 21 last week.
- Three-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. was among the former winners on hand. He arrived with his 8-year-old son Sam III. Two months ago, Hornish became a father again, the family’s fourth child.
- Pagenaud, the “500” winner in 2019, had played the early strategy well and climbed from 12th to sixth, but his No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing ran out of fuel ahead of a pit stop on Lap 35. He finished last in the 25-car field.
- Marco Andretti was at the Speedway on Saturday, a week after breaking his wrist during the race in which he won the SRX Racing championship.
- Dr. Geoffrey Billows, who is retiring as the medical director at IMS and INDYCAR after this season, will wave the green flag for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race, the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard.