BELLE ISLE, Mich — Man the NTT INDYCAR Series sure knows how to make a caution free street course race exciting. One that saw the winning driver lead by 16.079-seconds with 20 laps remaining.
However, strategy was the name of the game in Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix as Will Power won the final race on the streets of Belle Isle.
Power started 16th from the field but for the 3rd straight race on the 2.35-mile track the race winner came from Row 8. Marcus Ericsson started 15th in Race 1 last year while Pato O’Ward won from 16th a day later. The last time Power started 16th here?
He did so again.
“Yeah, obviously very satisfying,” a jubilant Power said. “Redemption from last year.”
Power was 1 of 9 drivers to start the race on the Firestone primary tires in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet. That was the race winning move. With all but 2 cars in front of him at the start on the alternate tires, they saw their cars fall off quickly. That’s about the time that Power rose. He went from 16th to 2nd in 11 laps and by Lap 13 he was passing his teammate and pole sitter Josef Newgarden for the lead. He’d remain out front for all but 2 more laps to score his 41st career Indy Car victory including 3 of which occurring on the island. It was also his 16th straight season with at least 1 win which is 2nd most ever.
Power though made this tight when he pit for primary tires again on his first stop. See, Alexander Rossi was on a 3 stop strategy and pit early on Lap 4. He went from 11th to 8th in before doing so. Newgarden was on the reds and lasted until Lap 18. Power hit pit road for his first time on Lap 25. Both Chip Ganassi Racing teammates of Scott Dixon and Alex Palou also each started on blacks and would last until Lap 26. Kyle Kirkwood was the only other one on this strategy with a shot as he too pit on Lap 23.
At that point, you had Power and Kirkwood on blacks knowing they had to run the final stint on reds. Dixon and Palou were now on reds while Rossi was on blacks again who had pit for a second time on Lap 24. Newgarden was now off the strategy on blacks and tops among his group.
Dixon would lead Lap 25 when Power pit and again on Lap 26 as he led Palou down pit road. Power would inherit the lead and never look back. The thing is, all had 1 more stop coming.
Palou bailed off the reds on Lap 43. Dixon, Newgarden and Pato O’Ward all pit for their final time on Lap 44. Rossi was next on Lap 46. Power who was hoping to go the shortest on reds had to stretch his stint a few more laps.
Finally he pit on Lap 50. He’d have to go 20 laps on reds in which the fall off on these tires came around halfway through. Could he build enough of a lead to make it work?
He hit pit lane 35.781-seconds up on Rossi. He exited 16.079-seconds.
20 laps, 16 seconds.
3 laps later, it was down to 14.9507-seconds. 2 laps after that the lead was down to 12.6534-seconds. However, this is where Power won this race. His lead held steady. On Lap 58, it was still 11.7301-seconds. On Lap 60, it grew to 12.0130-seconds.
10 laps into his stint, his lead only dropped .6-seconds.
On Lap 63, he led Rossi by 10.0512-seconds. With 5 to go, it was down to 8.2928-seconds. With 3 to go it was 6.5551-seconds. A lap later, it was 5.1271-seconds. By the white though, Rossi had chopped the lead to 2.4652-seconds.
2.35-miles, 2.4 seconds.
Power narrowly held the hard charging Rossi off by 1.0027-seconds to score Penske’s 4th win in 7 races run this season.
“Yeah, the last stint, it was good because it had such a gap,” Power said. “On the out lap, it was really nice. You can do a bit of damage on the cold tires. I was really cognizant of not slipping the tire too much. Then just got in a rhythm and drove it really straight, really straight. Can be very quick that way. Just a certain way you can drive when tires are like that.
“The fact that the track had rubbered so much looked after them. They never, like, dropped and I was like, Oh, my God. I just looked after them in case there was a battle at the end. If I had to go hard at the end, I think I could have.”
Rossi’s 43 race winless streak was nearly snapped as it grows to 44 heading to the site of his last win in 2019, Road America. This was Rossi’s 3rd top 5 in his last 5 Belle Isle starts.
Dixon brought his No. 9 Dallara-Honda home 3rd for his 7th top 6 finish in his last 10 Belle Isle tries. Newgarden had to settle for 4th in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet while O’Ward rounded out the top five in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet.
Power becomes the 5th different driver to lead the points after 7 races as well as the 6th different driver to win a race this season. We’ve also had 7 different pole winners in this span too.
Is Penske Back?
Team Penske started the 2022 season off 3-0. Then the month struck May. Between the GMR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500, as well as the event at the Barber Motorsports Park on May 1, the question was if they could go 6-for-6 to start the season off with. However, a winless Month of May ensued and many wondered if they could bounce back.
They did just that.
Josef Newgarden won the pole and finished 4th while Will Power scored his 41st career win to give Penske their 4th win in 7 races in 2022 as now all 3 drivers have won a race already. Power also takes over the points lead after having scored a top 4 in 6 of the 7 races run this season.
Also, Penske is now 3-for-3 on street course races run this season with another coming up next month in Toronto.
Josef Newgarden has to wonder what he did to piss off the Belle Isle racing Gods. The Tennessee native scored his 3rd Belle Isle pole on Saturday and looked like a favorite for Sunday’s wide open race. The problem is, he’s 0-for-3 here when starting from the top spot too.
Last year, Newgarden led the 1st 67 laps of the 2nd race of the weekend from the pole but he was on the wrong tire strategy and a late race caution allowed Pato O’Ward to steal the victory.
This year, he again was on the wrong tire strategy. He started off on Reds. So did 13 of the top 14 starters. However, this wasn’t the winning move as either playing the 3 stop strategy or starting on blacks was.
That relegated Newgarden off the podium and dropped him to 4th for his 6th top 5 at Belle Isle. He’s frustrated in that too.
“It’s hard to not get annoyed,” the driver of the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet told NBC Sports. “When we need a race to go all green, it doesn’t go all green. We needed that last year (when) we basically ran Power’s strategy last year, but it wasn’t the race to do it. Today would have been the day to do it. So, we tried not to do it today because of what happened last year.
“I don’t know what to tell you – we ran a good race. Strategy-wise, it didn’t work out … and I don’t think you can blame anybody. It’s typical INDYCAR: You can’t predict these things.
“It’s good to see a Team Penske Chevy get the win. (I’m) happy for Team Penske and Will, but it’s a little annoying.”
What Happened to McLaughlin?
Leaving Barber, Scott McLaughlin sat 2nd in points only 3 markers back from the lead. He had 2 top 2 finishes including a win in the 1st 4 races run. Now?
He’s 82 points back in 10th.
McLaughlin qualified 11th for the GMR Grand Prix but had a rough race and finished 20th. For the Indy 500, he qualified 26th and crashed on Lap 150 relegating him to a 29th place finish in a double points race. In Belle Isle, he started 10th but got off course early and stalled while trying to get back on track. He’d finish 1 lap down in 19th.
That’s 4 of his last 5 races seeing him finish 14th or worse now.
Strategy Race Peak INDYCAR
I wrote last year that Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix weekend was peak INDYCAR. We saw youth winners with strategy playing a huge role into how things played out. Well, Sunday’s race showed us Belle Isle will be missed. 3 different strategies played out in front of our eyes with the starting spots of the podium being 16th, 11th and 9th respectively.
In fact, 3 of the top 4 finishers were all on varying strategies giving us an action packed 70 Lap race which went green to checkered without any cautions.
The 2nd place finisher made up 15 seconds in the final 20 laps but came up 1 second short of the win.
This was one of the best races to witness of the season.
It’s no secret, Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon had to come to Belle Isle frustrated. Rossi was riding a 43 race winless streak and knew for almost a year now that he was going to move onto a different team. If anything could go wrong in this 2 year drought, it did.
Same for Dixon. He hasn’t won a race in over a year (19 race winless drought) and had just 1 victory in his last 28 tries. In that 28 race span are just 6 podiums too.
Both ended up on the podium on Sunday and looked like the drivers of the past for them.
Rossi pit on Lap 4 and basically ran qualifying laps for 70 Laps. He was going all out and he came up just 1.0027-seconds for earning his first win since June 2019 at Road America.
Dixon did what Dixon does best in saving fuel. He and Alex Palou went the longest on the 1st stint than anyone else in going to Lap 26 before their first pit stop.
The qualifying laps and saving laps put both on alternate strategies but ones that nearly paid off. It was only that Will Power going blacks-blacks on his 1st two stints and Dixon going blacks-reds to what allowed Power to beat him.
Rossi’s qualifying laps put him ahead of Dixon too but Dixon settled in to score his 128th career podium and 186th top five. It was also just his 2nd top five in his last 5 Belle Isle starts but 9th top 10 in the last 10 here.
For Rossi, this was what we’ve been waiting to see. This is the Rossi that we grew accustomed to seeing between 2017 and 2019. This is what happens when things don’t go against him. Now he heads to a track to where his last win came on.
Rossi has 2 podiums in his last 4 Road America tries. Then it’s to Mid-Ohio to where he has 6 straight top 6 results including 3 podiums in his last 5 tries. After that we go to Toronto to where he has 2 podiums in his last 3 efforts there too.
Dixon has 5 top 5’s in his last 6 at Road America, 6 wins at Mid-Ohio and 3 wins at Toronto including 2 straight top 2’s there.
I think Rossi and Dixon can each get a win in this next 4 race stretch.