Much was made during the recently completed NTT INDYCAR SERIES season about the change in Will Power, how had he learned – even accepted – a different way of approaching his career of Hall of Fame status.
But two men who have worked the closest with Power in recent years said that while the observations were on target, they were a year late.
“People saw (a different Power) because what he was doing was finally showing through and we were getting results,” said Ron Ruzewski, Team Penske’s managing director and Power’s race-weekend strategist. “(In 2021), Will was frustrated because he knew the cars had pace and he had as much pace as the other drivers, but it wasn’t really showing (in results). But people didn’t exactly see that he was already on track (personally).”
So, what was the key to the professional makeover? Power has avoided divulging the answer, but it likely centers on an overall change in his approach to life. Note that Power, in addition to being 41, is five years into fatherhood, which often adds perspective. To wit, he spent much of 2022 talking about playing “the long game” to the season, which meant keeping his eye on the overall prize, a series championship.
Power conceded there were times in his career when he was been too fixated on winning races – he has won 41 times in this series, fifth-most in history – but titles bloom from consistency. Drivers learn that through experience, he said, and this was his 18th season in the series.
“You cannot beat experience, you just cannot beat experience,” Power said. “That’s all I’ll say.
“Every scenario that can happen to you to make a race go wrong has happened to me (and lead engineer Dave Faustino), and it happens to everyone. Just at this stage of your career you just know the game so well and you play on that experience.”
Experience is what Ruzewski has leaned on in recent seasons to mentally prepare Power and Faustino for their best chance at a series title since winning one in 2014. Ruzewski said he regularly stressed the benefit of averaging a fifth-place finish. In the series’ top-heavy points allocation structure, that piles up momentum and reduces the need for a go-for-broke mentality that Power appeared to drive with earlier in his career.
“I’ve always been a preacher of steady as it goes,” Ruzewski said. “If we run top three or top five all year, we’re going to get wins. Now, this year we only won once, but nonetheless if you look historically at winning championships, if you’re (averaging) fifth or lower, you’re probably going to win or even walk away with (the title) in dominating fashion.”
Power’s average finish this season was 5.9, easily the best in the series. Scott Dixon was the only driver close to Power in that category at 6.7. All the other drivers who finished in the top six of the standings had average finishes in excess of 8.0.
With that mindset, Power racked up a series-high 12 top-five finishes, three more than Dixon and four more than Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin and Pato O’Ward. He won the championship by 16 points.
“So it’s true, it works,” Ruzewski said.
Power’s consistency was evident in many other statistical categories, as well. He and Dixon were the only drivers to complete all 2,268 laps during the season, and Power tied Newgarden in leading the most races (10 each). Power and his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet were strong when it mattered most, too, leading the race in six of the final seven events of the season.
Faustino has been Power’s lead engineer for all but one of his 41 series wins, and he has witnessed the best and worst of Power’s emotions. Faustino said it’s one thing to aim for a season of top-five finishes, it’s another to commit to it, which is what Power has done over the past two years.
It’s important to remember, Faustino said, that Power competes from a unique perch in this sport. As the most successful qualifier in the sport’s history – he broke Mario Andretti’s record of 67 career poles in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca -- he often has nowhere to go in a race but down given that success is typically defined by progress. In racing, that’s finishing better than one has started.
“If you start on pole and finish third, as Will often does, you’re disappointed,” Faustino said. “The shift in him was when actual acceptance and positivity and happiness came from a (race) result that wasn’t a win.
“You can have a mindset and a mantra to win a championship, but if you don’t feel a certain way, you don’t really accept a result with the positivity that could win you a championship. You can say things, but you need to really feel things. I saw more of that personal satisfaction with top-five (finishes) and podiums – Will (became) satisfied with it rather than going for wins all the time.”
Faustino paused to consider one other element of Power’s approach.
“Now, I wouldn’t say that about going for poles,” he said. “He’d get out of the car after finishing second or third and be really upset. Maybe that was being so close to the record, where he was still putting a lot of emphasis on getting poles. So, maybe having the record will take the pressure off him.”
Said Ruzewski: “Will used to get so hyped up on qualifying, so jacked, and if he didn’t do well, it was such a big drama, as everyone used to see. We didn’t even talk about (the possibility) of getting the pole (at Laguna Seca). All week we talked about executing in qualifying, what we need to do to get to the next round and our strategy.
“To see him get the pole was really cool because he would have been OK if he didn’t get it. He just wanted a good starting spot. Definitely getting (the record) was a major sense of relief, and I think now he’s going to be even more of a weapon in qualifying because he won’t have that looming over his head. Everything now is a bonus.”
Power said he has also learned not to be too hard on himself and to accept what a moment has afforded him.
“From a championship perspective, every time you get a podium, that’s not the day you’ll look back on,” he said. “You’ll look back on the day you finished 19th at Road America. Those are the days that lose championships, the top-three (finishes) don’t. So, anytime I got a top four, I was pretty happy, but in the past I would have been (furious) … seething.
“When your teammates are winning, that was (difficult for me). Now it’s like, I don’t care, I’m going to weather their storm while they’re having a good run and just (accept it). That in itself was a mental change.”
Ruzewski said that’s a big reason why Power was showered with championship confetti at Laguna Seca.
“I think now he is truly thankful for everything (he’s accomplished), and that mentality has allowed him to enjoy (his situation), which means he’s not that concerned that he’s got to get this or get that,” he said. “I think he’s just enjoying it, and it’s working.
“He’s not as ‘Will’ as he used to be.”