KRAVITZ: After so many years and so many close calls, Power puts an exclamation point on his career

Will Power celebrates after winning the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500, Sunday, May 27, 2018. (WTHR Photo/Scott Hums)
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Bob Kravitz

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WTHR) - He had waited so long, through so many years, so many close calls, so many successes without earning the ultimate prize – the Indianapolis 500. Will Power had checked off all the boxes in a sterling career: 34 IndyCar victories, 40 poles, a series championship, had established himself as a massively talented road-course racer while having struggled on ovals.

Then, on the second-hottest day in Indianapolis 500 history, the 37-year-old Australian finally – finally – got it done, zipping to the lead on the final, late restart, ultimately cruising to victory and a celebration that figures to last for a very long time, both here and Down Under. Power was fourth on the final restart with six laps remaining, but he passed Oriol Servia while the two leaders, Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey, were forced to pit and get fuel. Now, it was clear sailing, and Power found himself screaming for joy – I mean, really screaming – which, if you’ve ever been around the eternally stoic Power, you know that raw emotion is not normally in his toolbox.

"Was I really screaming that much?" he said later, laughing. "Everybody's asking me about the screaming. I'll have to watch it later and see if I screamed that much."

Yes, Will, you screamed. And it was downright melodious. It was a primal scream, years, even decades, of pent-up frustration and emotion and desire all distilled into one victorious lap to the start-finish line. Here was Power, a man who admits he can be negative at times, howling with unvarnished joy.

Will Power celebrates after winning the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 Sunday, May 27, 2018, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (WTHR Photo / Scott Hums)
Will Power celebrates after winning the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 Sunday, May 27, 2018, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (WTHR Photo / Scott Hums)

We see these stories in sports all the time, but they never get old. Why? Probably because the appreciation for the achievement is so deep and raw. Because the emotion is real. This is a driver who didn't particularly like ovals – OK, he despised ovals – and his career numbers reflected that distaste. He had his moments, but by and large, he was dominant on road circuits while simply tolerating life on the ovals. But today, the man who has a picture of the Borg-Warner Trophy on a table by his bedside will have his likeness sculpted into that trophy – the real one.

He's accomplished so much, winning 34 IndyCar Series races, taking the 2014 IndyCar points title, finishing second in the 2015 Indianapolis 500. But those were lines on a resume, something you stick on a driver's Wikipedia page. Winning the 500 is life-changing and it's closure, an exclamation point on a terrific career – a career that is not nearly over, by any means.

The man who once hated ovals is now the king of racing’s ultimate oval. Funny how that happened.

"He had the bit in his mouth this month, for sure," said Roger Penske, the famed team owner who has now won 17 Indianapolis 500's.

It should be noted: Power became the first driver to do the double, win both the Indy Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. The Power Double. The perfect month.

"The one thing he always talked about was, 'I have to win the Indy 500," said Tim Cindric, Team Penske's president. "'I have to win the Indy 500 to get where you need to be.' To see this culmination, you saw how excited he was today. You don't see that out of Will too often."

Early in his career, Power hated making all those infernal left turns that an oval demands. It seemed rote, boring…something. But over the years, he got better and better at navigating them while continuing his dominance on road courses, and around three, four years ago, he learned to go beyond simple tolerance for ovals, even learning to embrace them.

"I remember listening to him complain on the scanner, and I didn't really like him much in 2008 because he hated this place," second-place finish Ed Carpenter, Jr. said. "Somewhere along the line, Will and I became friends somehow. You can ask him now, like his favorite parts of the schedule are the ovals. It's bizarre, but we kind of bonded since I'm an oval guy. He likes to think of himself as an oval guy; he definitely has one up on me now.

Will Power celebrates after winning the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. (WTHR Photo / Scott Hums)
Will Power celebrates after winning the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. (WTHR Photo / Scott Hums)

"I'm really happy for him. I know how hard he worked to figure out how to be better on ovals because he just flat-out didn't like them at first. He turned a weakness into a strength. He'll make a great champion."

The new car proved eminently difficult to drive, just as the drivers suggested all month that it would be. The conditions didn't help, the heat making the track slick as it can possibly be. All afternoon, crowd favorites were falling, first Danica Patrick, then Helio Castroneves, and the list goes on and on. But Power drove beautifully, survived the conditions, then was overjoyed when he saw that two of the drivers leading him, Wilson and Harvey, were forced to pit for fuel.

All those years of tough luck, and now Power was getting a break. And it didn't hurt that at the end, he had the best car on the track. He seized the moment, drove perfect lines all throughout the steamy afternoon, and saw his life change forever.

"It's the re-start of my life," Power said shortly after the race. "[The leaders] pitted and I said, 'I think I'm going to win this.' I was wondering if I was ever going to win this race. My career, I've had so many wins and poles. But everyone always talked about me not winning the 500...

"It's run through my head the last year more than ever because I've won so many races and poles, led more laps than anyone. I just hadn't done it here. I've been thinking, 'Am I going to finish my career without a 500 win?'"

Wonder no more. Finally. Finally. Power is an Indianapolis 500 champion, and they could hear the screams all the way over in Australia.

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