ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Will Power has always said that if he can start the seasons off better, then watch out. 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 under a sun filled Florida sky on Sunday afternoon in St. Pete. While it wasn’t a win, a third place result in the 2022 season opener was just what the doctor ordered. Well, a runner-up last year in Barber to kick off 2021 was too but bad luck got in the way again.
Power’s podium that day in Barber as his only top five in the first eight races. Furthermore, half of those eight saw him finish 13th or worse. He’d then score three podiums in a five race span after before cooling off in the final three races of that season.
Heading into this season, if you combine the first two races over the last six years (12 starts), he’s had just three top fives and five top 10’s.
To get a podium this early is saying something.
“I’m really, really happy to start out this way,” Power said. “When I think about the day, just a really, really solid day for us. Got that yellow and then made the reds last in that middle stint. To finish on the podium, I was really, really happy with that. I didn’t expect — I expected us to be maybe in the top 10 after all of that. Great result. Happy with my performance.
“I couldn’t have done any more, and also with the team, we did everything that we could in the situation that we had. Really nice day and a great start to the season.
“I think we had a really fast car. The yellow was unfortunate, but still to get back to third, I was really happy with it. I think anytime you’re on the podium, anytime you have a top 5 that’s not the day you’re going to look back and go, oh, that cost me the championship. If you can keep rattling off those top 5s you’re going to be in the game. Definitely happy with the result.”
Power, went opposite as most others up front on Sunday. 10 of the top 11 in the lineup started on the Firestone alternates. Power, went with the primaries. It cost him early but allowed him to settle in for the rest of the way.
He’d go from second to fourth on the opening lap, then back up to third again later on in the first stint.
“I started on black tires, the harder compound,” he said. “The guys in front were on reds, so they were quicker for about five or six laps. I was getting a big fuel number for those left just knowing that those reds were going to come back to me, the cars in front, so I got some fuel and waited for them to go off a bit, then I went, passed a couple of cars and started to use my pace later in the stint.
“It was a pretty strategic race really. We used the pace when we had it and saved fuel when we were in other situations. Yeah, that’s why I dropped back.”
He’d hold onto the third spot in the two-stoppers to score his 86th career podium.
In saying this, the first race he’s getting down now. This was the 3rd podium in the last 4 years of the season opener, it’s the second race that he’s had the problem. The finishes of the second race in the past three years?
24th, 20th and 8th respectively. He was 13th and 22nd respectively in the two years prior to that.
We go to Texas next. He was 18th in 2018, 9th in 2019, 13th in 2020 and 14th and 13th respectively in the doubleheader weekend last year. That race is circled for him now in order to be a championship contender.
As to what he needs to do for this season now to turn this into a potential championship one?
“Finish really well in the double points race at Indy like we didn’t last year, and have my car start when I’m leading in Detroit,” he jokes. “That group of points right there probably would have put me in the game. So there’s a big chunk right there.
“But honestly, it’s those days that really got us. Like we were in — we were going to be a top 5 at Indy and then the brakes went to the floor and I had no brakes and then couldn’t pit really, and then in Detroit obviously the thing didn’t start.
“But those little gremlins, those little things are the things we look back as things that really cost us, kind of things out of my control, but I also reflect and look at where I can be better, as well. If that all comes together, I really believe we can win the championship and be right there, at least a contender right until the end.”