FONTANA – Will Power has won 36 pole positions and 24 races in 10 years of racing. But the feeling he enjoyed Saturday night, after a race he didn’t win, eclipsed all the rest.
And maybe the roots of that feeling came from his experience last October at Auto Club Speedway, when he was the guy who won the race but somebody else walked away with the big trophy.
That time, Scott Dixon won the IndyCar points championship. This time, Power nailed it down after three times as a runner-up, methodically picking through the field after starting next to last and finishing ninth in the MAVTV 500 that Tony Kanaan won.
Power held a 51-point lead over Penske teammate Helio Castroneves going into the finale. He wrapped up the championship the moment Castroneves was busted for a pit entry violation, on lap 220, and finished 62 points ahead.
The experience of 2013 changed him. Power dropped back to fourth in the points race last year, and he said he learned something about himself.
“I think the fact I wasn’t in the championship chase made me realize how aggressive I could be,” he said. “I got back to how I used to race when I was younger: Just attack, and not be conservative.
“The three championships we lost were (the result of) me being conservative in certain situations. Now I feel like I’m racing naturally. It was a change.”
The 33-year-old Australian’s championship capped a big year for the forces of Team Penske. Besides the 1-2 finish for Power and Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya wound up fourth in the season standings after finishing fourth in Saturday night’s race.
And while Penske said Friday that there would be no team orders and each of his guys would be racing for themselves, he did try to reinforce a one-for-all attitude when he addressed his personnel before the race.
“I said only one was going to win here, but it was a team effort for all of us and everybody had something to do with the championship,” Penske said. “Obviously, Will gets the championship ring for winning it. But to me, it’s something Helio had a big part of, and also Montoya. You saw how hard he ran. Having that stable of drivers is going to give us a great opportunity in the future.”
All of that sounds good. Then again, it’s no fun to be the runner-up, especially when a mistake may have made the difference.
“It stings a little bit,” Castroneves said. “But that’s what motivates me.”
The combined forces of Penske won five races and nine poles in 2014. They’re the ones everyone else aims at, and now the Penske headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., can boast a 13th series champion.
“I think the great thing about driving for this team is, whatever you want as a driver, whatever direction you want to push the development, you can,” Power said. “And that’s what we’ve done.”
Those sighs in the background? It’s the envy of those drivers who wish they had the resources available to Team Penske.