In Will Power’s first three serious attempts as a championship contender in the Verizon IndyCar Series, he was a fairly one-dimensional driver for Team Penske.
From 2010-2012 Power dominated the street and road-course races to become IndyCar’s "King of the Road" — but when it came to ovals,Power never came close to matching those results.
During that three-year span Power won 14 IndyCar Series races but just one came on an oval — the second half of a "Twin" race at Texas Motor Speedway in June 2011. In each of those years the final race of the season was held on an oval and in each of those year’s Power was in prime position to clinch the title for Team Penske, but faltered badly.
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He crashed after 143 laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2010 and Dario Franchitti won the title. Power had a commanding lead at Kentucky Speedway in 2011 but Ana Beatriz ran into his car as it left pit road after a pit stop. Again, Franchitti won the title.
In 2012, he was in a heated battle with Ryan Hunter-Reay entering the final race of the season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., but crashed early in the race when Hunter-Reay was attempting to pass him in Turn 1. Power’s car drifted high on the track, caught a seam in the asphalt — and that sent it into a spin and crash. Hunter-Reay would go on to win the championship.
But last year began a transformation for Power. He was out of championship contention early in the season and entered the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma without a victory. He re-established his road course dominance that day by winning the race and would go on to score another street-course victory at Houston in the second race of a double-header. He closed the season with a convincing win on an oval with a superspeedway victory at Auto Club Speedway.
The transformation of Power from a one-dimensional street and road-course driver to a well-rounded driver on the ovals was underway.
He continued to display his transformation as a driver this past Sunday in the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers with his first short-oval victory of his career. Power led 229 laps in the 250-lap race at the famed Milwaukee Mile and that gives him a 39-point lead over Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves heading into Sunday’s Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
"It feels great," Power said. "I really love winning on ovals. (They have) become my favorite tracks. This year every oval we have gone to we’ve been good. At Texas I had so much fun and should have won that race except for a bloody drive-through. At Pocono I felt we should have won that race as well but had another drive-through. The same with Indianapolis. I really enjoy the ovals. They are great fun."
What makes the IndyCar Series championship unique is the champion has to excel on street courses, permanent road courses, short ovals, intermediate ovals and superspeedways.
"I think you have to attack every track, no matter what it is and know you have a chance to win," Power said. "That is how you become a champion. I am very determined to have that happen this year.
"I’ve been in this situation before. The difference is I don’t have a weakness any more. In past years the ovals have been a detriment but last year I was strong on the ovals and this year even stronger. I have the whole package. Now, it’s about executing on the race weekend. There is no doubt in your mind you can do it. I know I can do it. I have to be very focused and get the job done. I have the confidence to do that, for sure."
His latest conquest was the 24th IndyCar win of his career, tying him with Bobby Rahal and Ralph DePalma for 16th on the all-time list. He defeated teammate Juan Pablo Montoya by 2.7949 seconds and that gives him tremendous confidence heading into the home stretch of the championship battle.
"It’s a race I had in my mind all year that I wanted to win," Power said. "Last year I had a very strong car and wasn’t in the championship hunt. I had Helio Castroneves in front of me so I didn’t want to make a move so today was a perfect day. I was very determined to have a very good race car here and that is what we got."
What has helped transform Power into a driver capable of winning on all types of tracks is his understanding on the situation. A high-emotion, high-intensity driver Power has taken a different attitude to oval racing.
"I understand when the car is bad, you’re not a bad driver," Power said. "That’s a thing that you start to lose your own self-confidence. I think you just kind of really learn to work on the car because you know you can do it once you’ve won a couple of ovals, once you’ve had a good car.
"You realize you really have to make sure you’ve got a good car, then you know you can do it."
After this weekend’s final road-course race of the season, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series concludes on the big oval at Fontana in the MAVTV 500 on Saturday night, Aug. 30. Power has proven that he will be ready.