KRAVITZ: Pole winner Power drives Penske into the IndyCar winner’s circle for the record 200th time

Will Power, of Australia, celebrates after winning the IndyCar Grand Prix auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Bob Kravitz

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WTHR) - By now, the numbers Roger Penske and his team have produced defy rational logic. The Captain is so far ahead of the rest of the IndyCar crowd, ahead of the curve in open-wheel racing, it’s downright silly. Saturday at the Indy Grand Prix, Team Penske, led by driver Will Power, earned the legend his 200th IndyCar victory. Nobody else is close: Since 1956, Penske has 200, Newman-Haas 107 and Ganassi 103.

Power led 58 of 85 laps to win his third Indy Grand Prix in the five-year history of the race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, leading early, then taking the lead back for good from super-rookie and third-place finisher Robert Wickens on the 51st lap. He then hung on, brilliantly, despite dehydration that left him feeling woozy after the race.

“Two hundred wins in IndyCar just shows Roger’s determination and the way his team works and his passion for winning,’’ Power said. “It’s a real pleasure to drive for him. You’re given equipment week in and week out to win. I have to say it’s amazing to be a part of that history of Penske Racing because it’s such a deep history.’’

Truth is, it was one of the hardest races Power has ever driven, noting on the TV broadcast and then later in the post-race media conference that he’s never bore down quite so hard during a race – even the Indianapolis 500. Afterwards, Power, who was wearing a hat embroidered with “200’’ on the front, looked and felt completely spent. There’s a lesson here for all you athletes, young and old: Hydrate.

Will Power, of Australia, celebrates after winning the IndyCar Grand Prix auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

“Yeah, it was very hot and I don’t think I drank enough before the race, and then I didn’t drink in the race, so I was just dehydrated,’’ Power said. “It was my fault. I should have hydrated better before the race. Sometimes you’re so busy doing appearances and stuff, you forget to [drink] and you think you’ve got the bottle in the car but when you’re racing hard, you forget to drink. And you get to the end and suddenly you’re like, 'Man, I don’t feel good.' While you’re racing, you’re fine, but as soon as I stopped, I was like, 'Ooh.' It was a pretty hard day.

“...Every lap was like qualifying. That’s the first time I’ve had to do that in a way. I’ve been wanting to do that in a race for so long because I hate fuel save and all that kind of thing, when you’ve got to save fuel, save tires, but man, today I drove just absolutely perfect all race, just hitting my marks, hitting my brake points and just really extracting the most out of the car.’’

It was just the second clean race for Power during this early portion of the Verizon IndyCar Series. Every week, it’s been something or another slowing him down, except for Long Beach, where he finished second. He came to Indy in a bit of a hole in terms of championship points, but will close the gap a bit with this victory and walk away with momentum heading into the Big One in two weeks.

Power has come close in the Indianapolis 500, but close doesn’t change your life. Maybe this is the year. Maybe.

“I’ve had this [momentum] a couple of times now,’’ he said. “This is my third win here and it always helps you because the team has more confidence. I’m very upbeat and have a lot of confidence, and I’ve had my eye on the 500 anyway since last year. Really, the new car, it’s going to be about sorting it out, and it’s a chance to get ahead of everyone else. Just really got [the Indy 500] on my mind. When I have had a race on my mind in the past, I usually win at some point.’’

Down the stretch, Power had a distinct advantage over Wickens, who has taken IndyCar by storm in his rookie season: He is used to going fast while saving fuel; it’s normal protocol in IndyCar. Wickens, however, noted that he’s never had to do that very delicate dance before in his career in other series. He will learn, and based on what he’s done so far, it’s safe to assume he will learn very quickly.

“That was the first race where I kind of felt like a true rookie there in that final stint because I’ve never had to save fuel before,’’ Wickens said. “We’ve kind of practiced it a little bit in warmup where you do like one lap of fuel save, but the amount of fuel that we were having to save to make that work was something that I didn’t even think was possible.’’

Will Power of Australia celebrates after winning the IndyCar Grand Prix auto race, next to second-place Scott Dixon, left, of New Zealand, and third-place Robert Wickens, of Canada, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The most impressive drive of the afternoon, though, came from The Iceman, Scott Dixon, who showed again why he is among the best, if not THE best, drivers in the series. He had a disastrous qualifying run, finishing 18th. His team couldn’t find any speed, and listening to Dixon after the race, he didn’t sound terribly pleased with the way his team handled the run-up to the race. Still, they made massive changes to the car Saturday morning – “It’s a long list,’’ he said – and suddenly, Dixon had the speed to compete for a podium, ultimately finishing second behind Power.

In the end, though, there was Penske, his team wearing those “200’’ hats, extending his IndyCar wins lead over the rest of the field, lapping his closest competitors.

That, though, was just the appetizer.

The track opens back up for practice Tuesday, and then the real fun begins.

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