LEEDS, Ala — Will Power admitted during the preseason media day that he’s in a contract year with Team Penske. It’s no secret, neither Roger Penske nor Tim Cindric are big fans of having a four car team on a full time basis. With Josef Newgarden being a superstar and Scott McLaughlin coming over as a rookie this year, I don’t see these two going anywhere anytime soon.
Rumor is Simon Pagenaud is also a free agent at seasons end too. Is this a battle between Power and Pagenaud for that third seat in 2022 and eliminating the fourth one in the process?
Power knows that he needs to improve these finishes and the rest will take care of itself. That includes getting off to a better start to the season. He’s consistently ended the years strong, it’s just the beginning of them that have been his Achilles heel.
Well, Power got the finish that he needed. While it wasn’t a win, a runner-up was just what the doctor ordered. It was Power’s first podium at the Barber Motorsports Park since his win in 2012 as he had two wins in his first three Barber starts, but none in his last seven. To get a podium in the first race of the season is rare for him lately.
“Yeah, it’s just obviously satisfying to get a good start,” Power said. “Obviously it was a very calm day for me, and I’m calm about the season, to be honest. I’ve been around long enough to know how this ebbs and flows, and I think I’ve got a very good group of guys on my car this year.
“I’m very happy with it. I think our stops are going to be really good all year. I think we’ve got the right combination to win another championship.
“Yeah, just been calm, honestly, about the whole thing, and just trying to get the most out of every weekend and every situation we find ourselves in.”
It was just his second in the last six seasons. In fact, if you combine the first two races over the last six years (12 starts), he’s had just two top fives and three top 10’s.
To get a podium this early is saying something.
Power has finished in the top two in the first race four previous times. He came home in the top three in the championship all four times including a title (2014) and second place (2010, 2011).
If you go back to last year, Power now has six top seven results over his last seven races. He had just two in his previous eight.
On Sunday, he had a shot to win in the end. He leapfrogged himself to second place following the final pit stop. He was then cutting into Alex Palou’s advantage each lap and went from 2.7 seconds back with 15 laps-to-go to 1.5 seconds arrears 10 laps later. With so much more push to pass at his disposal, could Power amount a charge to the lead?
He said that even with more horsepower boosts and a faster car at that point, it was going to be difficult for him to make a move to the lead.
“Yeah, it’s pretty tough once you get close to them to pass,” Power said. “He would have had to have made a mistake or got caught behind someone slow that made a mistake.”
Still, Power had enough left to make a charge with a couple laps left, but he made a rare mistake and opened the gap too far to do anything with it.
“I had saved enough fuel to use Push-to-Pass for the last two laps, then I made a mistake in Turn 9 and that opened the gap up too much,” Power continued. “I closed right up to him at the end.”
Power, finished .4016-seconds back but said that once he got the white flag, he wasn’t going to do anything dumb to ruin a much needed finish to start the year off with.
“Obviously it’s the last lap and he’s not going to take any risks, but yeah, he was solid all day. It’s very, very tough to even — when he was pushing, it was so tough to close the gap. Yeah, I was happy just to have a good start to the year. Obviously it’s only race one, but you know, obviously a win is always great. But compared to the way we started last season, this is nice.”