It's a delicate balance at Team Penske with the IndyCar title on the line

It's a delicate balance at Team Penske with the IndyCar title on the line
Courtesy of Chevrolet

MADISON, Ill.—Will Power had the dominant car at World Wide Technology Raceway on Saturday—but Mother Nature rained on his Bommarito Automotive Group 500 parade.

Power led 128 of 260 circuits. Twenty-five laps into the contest, the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet had already caught the tail end of the field.

But selecting the wrong strategy, followed by a restart after a lengthy rain delay, ultimately relegated the IndyCar Series points leader to a sixth-place finish and a precarious position in the standings with two races left to decide the championship.

“It was a good day,” Power said. “It's P6 and obviously we wanted more. We just made a mistake there and didn't take that yellow, and it was just the wrong thing to do. But that's IndyCar. 

“It's never, never just straight-forward, never. You expect that in the championship. It might come back to us in the next two (races) in a different way. That's how it is.” 

Before the two-hour rain delay, Power was still in contention. He sat fourth with 36 circuits to decide the contest with his teammates Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden running first and second, respectively. But before the race returned to green, seven drivers running behind Power pitted for fresh tires. Between the competitors with new rubber behind him and lapped traffic, Power was a sitting duck.

“(Simon) Pagenaud’s guys, I don’t know what they were doing, but they sent him out in that battle a lap down,” Power said. “He came out and was just in the way. He was on the line I was, and I lost the (clean) air and lost a couple of positions. 

“I don’t know what they were doing there, but that’s how I lost those. Otherwise, we were going to be looking pretty good.”

Seven drivers entered WWTR battling for the title. Power held a six-point lead over Scott Dixon prior to the race—but the No. 9 Ganassi Racing driver, who finished eighth, never figured into the mix. That wasn’t the case for Newgarden, who entered the weekend fourth in the standings and trailed Power by 22 points. Newgarden passed McLaughlin for the lead on Lap 224 and held the point for his fourth victory at World Wide Technology Raceway.

With Newgarden’s fifth win of the IndyCar season, he cut Power’s advantage to three points. But the 41-year-old veteran doesn’t seem concerned. In 2019, Power won at Portland and finished on the podium at Laguna Seca. He’s hoping his past success will benefit him on this final run to the title--on those same two tracks.

“We’ve got some good tracks coming up,” Power said. “Like I predicted, it will be a tough battle all the way to the end. I’ve been around a long time and know how these things go. The best thing about today is that we finished in the top-six, so that’s still pretty good.”

Newgarden, 31, has finished fifth in his last two visits to Portland International Raceway and has an average finish of 7.5 at Laguna Seca. Newgarden says he’ll continue to race Power the way he always does, but as the two-time IndyCar champion showed on Saturday, he can be relentless.

“It's kind of as simple as that,” Newgarden said. “We race all year, we race hard. It's not going to be the first time Will and I have raced together. We've had many, many races that have been in lockstep, 1-2, pit strategy, the whole thing. We'll just fight it out as normal. Clearly, we don't want to do something that jeopardizes the whole group because it is bigger than us. At the end of the day, we've got three cars in the fight still. There's nothing that matters more than putting a Team Penske car in Victory Lane.

“As much as I want that to be, believe me, I do, I will work to be that person. We also have to just make sure we remember that it's about all of us and it's about all the effort we put in. We have to make sure one car secures the championship. It's just a balance. We're just going to race like we always do. Hopefully, it doesn't turn ugly at some point.”

Team Penske president Tim Cindric will ensure that doesn’t happen. For more than two decades, Cindric has embodied the Penske way. Although he’s currently Newgarden’s race strategist, he previously held the same position with Power until 2016. Until the last lap of the last race, the goal is to bring the Astor Cup to Team Penske.

“I think really it's a matter of having the right drivers and the right crew that understand what the priorities are and how to race each other clean,” Cindric said. “It doesn't always work out perfect. We've got it on all fronts. These guys are all competitive and it's their careers. You see that, whether it's our IndyCar team, our sports car team or our NASCAR team. 

“There are days when it's your day and days when it's, you know, the other guy's day. So yeah, balancing that, it's not easy.” 

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