Category archive: Will Power
FONTANA, Calif. -- This time, there were no mistakes.
There were no penalties. No crashes. No contact. No controversy.
This time, Will Power did exactly what he needed to finally claim his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship. By finishing ninth in the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, Power held off his Penske Racing teammate Helio Castroneves and put to rest the ghosts of his past championship failures.
AP Photo/Will LesterWill Power finished ninth Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway to claim his first IndyCar Series crown.
He wasn't the only happy man at Fontana on Saturday night, as Tony Kanaan won his first race for Target Ganassi Racing with Scott Dixon completing a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi's team. But the story on the night was Power taking Roger Penske's first Indy car championship since Sam Hornish Jr. won the 2006 title for "The Captain."
"It was a great year for the whole team," Power said. "I feel with the two teammates, Juan [Pablo Montoya] and Helio, they gave good feedback, and we were a very strong combination. Full credit to the team.
"That was one of the hardest races ever," he added. "I was crying over the line. It's surreal to be champion, man. I can't believe it."
Power appeared to be on edge in the run up to the season finale after an unforced error a week ago at Sonoma Raceway made the championship battle closer than it should have been.
The pressure piled on even more when Power started 21st in the 22-car field after he nearly crashed in his qualifying run.
Despite a lack of yellows (the first 175 laps were run without a caution), Power never dropped off the lead lap, and he steadily worked his way into the top 10. He then moved into the lead shortly after the only restart of the race, but an incorrect front wing adjustment during his final pit stop spoiled the handling of his car and he faded to ninth place at the flag.
By then, it didn't matter, because Castroneves, after starting from pole position, made an illegal pit entry for his own final stop, and the subsequent drive-through penalty left him 14th in the final reckoning.
It was the fourth second-place finish in the championship since 2002 for the Brazilian.
"I was pushing extremely hard because I knew the only way to get in front was in the pits," Castroneves said. "My bad, guys.
"It stings a little bit, but that's what motivates me," he added. "It's good to be upset when you finish second in a championship, which gives me another reason to come back stronger next year and fix what we can fix to win a championship."
Power won a series-best three races in 2014 and led far more laps than any other driver. But a series of unforced errors (pit lane penalties, blocking violations and spins) kept Castroneves and several other drivers in contention until the very end.
AP Photo/Will LesterTony Kanaan picked up his first victory of the season in Saturday night's finale in Fontana.
Given his checkered history in critical championship battles, some observers expected him to crack again Saturday, especially with his jittery prerace demeanor. Instead, Power was calm and collected as his rivals eliminated themselves over the course of 500 miles.
"I'm so mentally exhausted now, and my hands are like numb from holding the wheel so tight," Power said. "The last 14 days have been the worst in my life. Just mentally and emotionally so bad -- not sleeping and stressing. I feel bad for my wife, keeping her up at night.
"You never think it can happen until it happens. I can't believe I won, and this is just mega."
While Roger Penske is the runaway leader with 15 Indianapolis 500 victories, in recent years, Ganassi has edged closer and closer to Penske's tally of 12 series championships with all 10 of his titles scored since 1996.
Meanwhile, Hornish's 2006 crown was Penske's only championship since 1994. Until Power got the job done Saturday.
"I think tonight shows you the strength of the team, and Will did a great job," Penske said. "What a night -- you couldn't ask for anything more. We got what we wanted: the championship."
With Castroneves finishing second in the championship and Montoya fourth, it was Penske Racing's most successful season since Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy finished 1-2-3 for the team in the 1994 CART-sanctioned championship.
Ganassi ended the 2014 season strongly, with victories in three of the final four races, including Kanaan's at Auto Club Speedway.
With a new engine manufacturer and driver lineup, the entire Ganassi team started the 2014 campaign slowly, but Kanaan and Dixon were the hottest drivers in the series since July.
"It's been a long time coming," Kanaan said. "Chip gave me the opportunity, and it's Target's 25-year anniversary with the team. At the team meeting, Chip said 'If you win the last race, you get to brag about it for seven months.' It's an awesome feeling. I think it shows our potential. We turned the situation around, and the team got a grip on what we needed to do."
The 2014 IndyCar Series matched the modern-era record established in the 2000 and 2001 CART-sanctioned series with 11 race winners.
TORONTO -- Rain pushed Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto "2 in TO" doubleheader back from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning, and it returned later Sunday in the afternoon to significantly shake up the second Verizon IndyCar Series contest of the day.
A very long day of racing was prolonged by multi-car accidents that blocked the narrow 1.755-mile street course at the start of Race 1 and the end of Race 2, the latter prompting INDYCAR officials to red-flag the event with 4-½ minutes remaining.
Sebastien Bourdais' victory in the dry in Race 1 was a straightforward affair, with the Frenchman leading 58 of the 65 laps to secure his first Indy car victory since November 2007, when he won the swansong race of a five-year tenure in the Champ Car-sanctioned series.
Meanwhile, Race 2 started dry, but a midrace shower caused a series of incidents that brought the action to an end after a predetermined 80-minute time limit, rather than the scheduled 65 laps. It also introduced the element of tire strategy, as drivers and teams tried to determine the perfect time to switch from Firestone rain tires to slicks on a drying track.
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesRace 2 winner Mike Conway, from left, third-place Will Power and second-place Helio Castroneves had time for a selfie on the podium.
It was Mike Conway who called it best, calling for dry tires two laps earlier than the majority of the field. The gutsy move earned Conway and Ed Carpenter Racing their second race win of the year, matching their victorious performance at the Long Beach Grand Prix in April.
Conway had just returned to the track on slicks when Sebastian Saavedra nosed into the Turn 3 tire wall, prompting INDYCAR to throw a late-race red flag for the second time in less than a month. The Englishman then had to sweat out a restart and three more laps as he held off Tony Kanaan for his fourth career IndyCar race win.
"That's Mike," team owner Carpenter said in a television interview, giving Conway credit for making the call for slicks.
"He was out there on the track and said he was ready for dries. We thought it was a bit early, but this one is all down to him."
Despite the victory, Carpenter was not totally pleased with INDYCAR's decision to throw the red flag, a move similar to one made in Houston three weeks ago to allow the race to end under a green flag.
"It worked out for us today, but the question is how many times are you going to go red?" he said. "As competitors, we don't always know what's going on out there."
Conway said the call for dry tires was, well, cut and dried.
"It was really difficult conditions in the wet and we were kind of struggling a bit," he said. "As soon as I saw part of a dry line, I knew it was time to come in and it was a great call.
"From there we just took off and kind of controlled the race," he added. "I was kind of nervous about the red flag but we had Justin behind us [Wilson, one of the last drivers on rain tires] and we were able to close it out."
Kanaan enjoyed his best weekend of the 2014 season, finishing third and second in the two races. He passed Will Power for second with two laps to go and crossed the line 3.542 seconds behind Conway.
Power, meanwhile, executed some nifty damage control by finishing third in Race 2 after a ninth-place finish in Race 1 dropped him 30 points behind IndyCar Series championship leader (and Team Penske teammate) Helio Castroneves.
Castroneves increased his points lead from 9 to 30 by finishing second to Bourdais in Race 1, but he got dropped from eighth to 12th place in the frenetic final three laps after starting Race 2 from pole position.
It was a tough afternoon for the Brazilian, who looked in control of the proceedings until the rain jumbled things up for everyone.
Power's podium finish in Race 2 pulled him back to within 13 points of Castroneves with four races remaining in the season. The three other main championship contenders all suffered through a dismal afternoon in Race 2, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (-70), Simon Pagenaud (-71) and Juan Pablo Montoya (-92) all dropping points to Castroneves.
"I just wasn't willing after yesterday [when Power was lucky the race was delayed to Sunday after he crashed before the green flag] to take a big risk and get caught out again," Power said. "Typical IndyCar race. It throws everything at you and you just have to survive.
"Anytime you gain in the points it's a great day, and the championship is going to be a battle to the end."
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Will Power didn't win the Firestone Indy 600 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
But he sure had fun trying.
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for Texas Motor SpeedwayWill Power led the most laps Saturday night, but couldn't catch Ed Carpenter at the end.
The Team Penske driver dominated the first half of the race and led nearly two-thirds of the 248-lap contest, but Power lost the lead to Ed Carpenter on the 182nd lap, then made the costly error of speeding in the pits as he entered for his final stop.
A late caution flag gave Power the opportunity to pit for fresh tires, and he used them to carve from sixth to second over the course of the last couple laps. But he was unable to catch owner/driver Carpenter, who scored the third Verizon IndyCar Series race win of his career and the second for his team this year to go along with Mike Conway's victory at Long Beach.
For Power, there was no shame in finishing second to Carpenter, the only driver in the IndyCar Series who came up through a traditional oval racing path of midgets and sprint cars.
Power had started to cut into Carpenter's two-second lead in traffic prior to both drivers making their final stop on Lap 213. That's when Power got popped, the subsequent drive-through penalty dropping him to sixth place, nearly a lap down.
The break that nearly won him the race came on Lap 241, when Takuma Sato suffered the third Honda engine failure of the race.
"Obviously, the penalty hurt, but I was trying to close the gap to Ed so I could try to go for the win," the championship leader said. "The team made a great call to get tires at the end.
"I had so much fun," he added. "That was even more fun than Fontana [where Power won the 2013 IndyCar season finale] -- I just didn't get the bloody win."
That honor went to Carpenter, who simply got stronger and stronger as the race progressed.
"I knew we had a good car," Carpenter said. "We had a good test here back a couple of weeks ago, or a couple of months ago. Whenever it was. I just felt like we left some on the table in qualifying, but it made me extra motivated for tonight.
"We had one bad stint, but the guys just made great adjustments all night," he continued. "The Fuzzy's car was hooked up, and I think we were for sure the car to beat at the end."
Carpenter admitted that the final yellow flag caused him some concern. "I was a little worried," he said. "I knew guys were going to come in. We talked about what we would do in that situation, and we were kind of undecided, but Tim [team manager Broyles] and the boys made the right call.
"Awesome night," he concluded. "I have loved this racetrack for a long time and had a lot of bad luck here. I've really always wanted to win here, so I'm super excited."
Juan Pablo Montoya had the best race of his return to Indy cars in taking third place. The Colombian made an early, out-of-sequence pit stop when Marco Andretti brought out the first of three cautions on the night with a blown engine on just the fifth lap. Montoya was often the fastest car on the track, but he lost a lot of ground on the next-to-last stint.
However, he had moved back into second place before the final yellow. Montoya was bitterly unhappy after the race, claiming Carpenter jumped the last restart for the green-white-checkered finish.
"When you let people jump starts and you let them get away with it, it's impossible," Montoya fumed. "The first thing he did was slow down, which you're not supposed to, and then he went. It was like 200 yards before we're supposed to go.
"I was sure they were going to make a call, and they didn't," added Montoya. "So I was kind of disappointed, and I'm going to go talk to IndyCar now and see what they say."
This year's Texas race was closer to the 2012 contest than last year's strung-out affair, the addition of approximately 300 extra pounds of downforce making the cars able to run closer together but still a handful for the drivers.
"A bit of a struggle. Really loose all night," fifth-place finisher Scott Dixon said.
"I'm proud that we actually held the car on the track instead of putting it in the fence."
DETROIT -- With the eyes of corporate Detroit watching and General Motors CEO Mary Barra on his timing stand, Roger Penske delivered on Sunday.
Penske, the driving force behind the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, saw his drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power score a 1-2 finish in Race 2 of the Dual in Detroit. Team Penske swept the Detroit weekend, as Power won the opening race on Saturday afternoon.
Penske, who was a key figure when Detroit hosted the Super Bowl a few years ago, is one of the city's most important corporate figures. His guests on Sunday included Barra and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesHelio Castroneves was untouchable Sunday at Belle Isle.
Penske Corporation, based in suburban Detroit, revived the Belle Isle race in 2007 and has grown it ever since. Blessed by spectacular sunny weather, the IndyCar twin bill (which also included the Pirelli World Challenge and the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship) drew healthy crowds each day.
"We had three great days and there's no question right now that people see what we have here at Belle Isle," Penske said. "At a race like this, people can come and bring their kids. Seeing all the kids here was the most important thing for me.
"From a racing standpoint, you dream of these kind of weekends -- we won both races and sat on the pole," he added. "I better get out of here in a hurry!"
Pit stop strategy wasn't as critical in Sunday's race as it was on Saturday, the biggest mover being Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, who finished fourth after starting from the back row.
Like most of the leaders, Castroneves pitted under yellow on Lap 11. Mike Conway seized the lead at that point, but Ed Carpenter Racing's strategy of making Conway the only driver to start the race on standard tires backfired as he dropped through the field during his stint on the alternate tires.
Castroneves seized control of the event by half distance, but he had to make two perfect restarts late in the race to hold off Power and third-place finisher Charlie Kimball.
"That was a great race for several reasons," Castroneves said. "One, we were racing hard to the very end. My car was so fast and I could do whatever I wanted. It's very rare you have that scenario.
"To be honest, fifth place [Saturday] was great points, but I was very disappointed because we had a dominant car. Today Roger had the strategy to put me in front. I don't want to sound cocky, but I was really confident. I knew exactly what my car was doing, and when you have a car like that, you just have to deliver."
Power found himself embroiled in controversy again after being involved in a first-lap incident that ended with Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal in the Turn 3 wall. Power looked to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but INDYCAR called him in for a drive-through penalty on Lap 7 for instigating avoidable contact.
The Australian once again had one of the fastest cars and he was able to work his way back up to another podium finish.
"It was a bit of a surprise to end up second," Power said. "Fantastic weekend for Roger and for Chevy. I have a feeling we would have won without that penalty, but we've been on the right and wrong end of those calls.
"I wasn't going to attack [Helio] at the end," Power added. "A 1-2 for Roger is better than two cars in the wall. Second is good points instead."
Power was the big winner on the Detroit weekend, moving back into the championship lead with a 19-point advantage over teammate Castroneves.
Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay had a miserable weekend in Detroit, failing to finish either race. Hunter-Reay is now third in the standings, 27 points behind Power after arriving in Detroit with a 40-point cushion.
DETROIT -- Will Power didn't have the fastest car in qualifying for the first race of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit.
But he certainly did in the race itself -- which, combined with perfect pit stop strategy from Team Penske, allowed the Australian to score his second Verizon IndyCar Series win of the 2014 season and 23rd of his career.
Like so many Indy car races, this one was decided by fuel management and the timing of full-course cautions. Power started 16th after battling handling problems in qualifying, and his run to victory was keyed by an early pit stop under yellow on Lap 7 after Simon Pagenaud tapped the wall.
AP Photo/Dave FrechetteWill Power gets a champagne shower courtesy of Graham Rahal, left, and Tony Kanaan on Saturday.
Power made the second of his three pit stops under green on Lap 30, turning a series of quick laps that allowed him to take control of the race from pole winner Helio Castroneves and the other drivers who stuck to a standard two-stop strategy. Once the final round of stops cycled through, Power led, and he held off a charging Graham Rahal by 0.3008 seconds at the flag.
"Graham made it very difficult -- man, he never gave up," Power remarked. "I thought I could pull a gap, and every time I'd relax, he'd be straight back on me.
"What a tough race," he added. "No fuel saving, just run hard, and good strategy from the guys. I'm very happy."
Power still probably wasn't as happy as Rahal, who posted his first podium finish in 22 races dating to Long Beach 2013.
Rahal ran a stint in the lead and he and Power were the only drivers to lap in the 1-minute 17-second bracket.
"I thought I was going to finally get the monkey off my back today," said Rahal, whose last Indy car race win came at the 2008 St. Petersburg GP. "I knew I had a car that was as quick as him.
"I said after Indy that this team was made of champions and that it would come in time, and we're going to win one," he added. "We're going to do it -- I can promise you that, and it's coming soon."
"When you can put Will out front and get him some clear laps, he certainly puts them together," said Team Penske president Tim Cindric.
"Things kind of fell our way. We needed some of those breaks to break the race up a bit and we really took advantage of it. An awesome day for all of us."
It was a big day for Power in the IndyCar Series championship, as he cut Ryan Hunter-Reay's lead from 40 points to three. Castroneves is third in the standings, 44 points behind Hunter-Reay.
The Indy 500 winner had a terrible Saturday in Detroit, with a crash in qualifying forcing him to start from the back row. Pushing hard at the end of the race, Hunter-Reay again crashed on the last lap, costing him a potentially crucial five points as he dropped from 11th to 16th place.
Power looked somewhat knackered when he stepped from his car, but he said that his stamina will not be an issue for Sunday's 70-lap contest (ABC, 3:30 p.m.ET).
"I was thinking on the last stint, 'Man, I've got to do this again tomorrow!'" Power admitted. "I was absolutely puffing.
"But that's why we do fitness and I'll try to recover the best I can to come back and do it again."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Five years between Indianapolis 500 victories is an eternity for Roger Penske.
It's a drought the legendary businessman/racing team owner has had to endure only once since 1979, when Rick Mears claimed the first of his four Indy wins, the second of Penske's record 15 triumphs in the famous Memorial Day race.
The seven-year gap between 1994 and 2001 in Penske's Indy win resume comes with an asterisk. In 1995, his cars failed to make the race, unable to muster the speed to make Indy's field of 33 in an era when there were far more entries than starting berths.
From 1996 to 2000, embroiled in the politics of the era, Penske chose not to participate at Indianapolis. But he simply couldn't stay away from a race he first attended in 1951, and since his return to Indy in 2001, Penske has won five times.
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesHelio Castroneves is hoping to win his fourth Indy 500 and break Team Penske's Indy drought in one fell swoop.
Still, the last win came courtesy of Helio Castroneves in 2009, and there have been only two Indy victory lane celebrations since Gil de Ferran capped a run of three straight for Team Penske all the way back in 2003.
Taking that absence from the late '90s away, the current five-year winless skein is Penske's longest in 35 years. Three years without a Penske win at Indy is a rarity, and that fact doesn't slip past him.
"I've seen a lot go on here at Indianapolis, and obviously we've had the success to have cars in the winner's circle 15 times," Penske said. "But that doesn't really mean anything. It's, 'What are you going to do this year?'
"For me it's another journey, this year with three great drivers," Penske added. "Helio [Castroneves], looking for his fourth win; Will [Power], leading the championship; and Juan Pablo Montoya, coming back from NASCAR after having the opportunity to drink the milk the last time he was here.
"I think with these three drivers we have the right combination, no question. And potentially we've got the winner."
There's no doubt that the re-expansion of Team Penske's effort in the Verizon IndyCar Series to three full-time cars this year was based on the desire for a stronger showing at Indianapolis. After all, Montoya led 167 of 200 laps to dominate the Indianapolis 500 in his only attempt (in 2000, while driving for Chip Ganassi), and he also boasts a strong record in the NASCAR Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was recently announced that Montoya will drive a Team Penske Ford at the Brickyard in late July.
Team Penske president Tim Cindric has been saying all season long that Indianapolis was where Montoya would start to show the form that won 12 Indy car races and a CART-sanctioned championship in 1999-2000. Montoya admitted Thursday at Indianapolis 500 Media Day that the recent Grand Prix of Indianapolis was the first time in four races this year that he had his Dallara-Chevrolet tuned to his liking.
"It's a shame we got behind at the start, because I could really push the car and I thought we were one of the fastest cars out there," Montoya said.
"At St. Pete, the team said, 'Take it easy.' I was always a session behind those guys [Power and Castroneves]," he continued. "At Long Beach, I decided to just go for it, and it worked a lot better. I'm starting to understand what I want out of the car and how to get the most out of the red tires."
Just when Montoya was starting to get comfortable on road and street courses again after seven and a half years out of formula cars, he got pitched onto the famous Indianapolis oval. Like at St. Pete, he seemed to be one session behind his teammates; he was disappointed to miss out on the Fast Nine in Saturday qualifying, then came back to post the second fastest speed of the day Sunday (231.007 mph vs. pole winner Ed Carpenter's 231.067) to lead the drivers competing for 10th on the grid.
Power ran a slightly slower speed but landed on the outside of the front row.
"The biggest thing for me about being back here is the honor of being with Penske -- the tradition, the history," Montoya said.
"I came here once and I won it, so I have a little bit of pressure to make it 2-for-2," he added with a chuckle. "I know how important this race is for everybody, and this year it's so close that the smallest detail can make the difference between having the winning car and not."
Castroneves' bid to tie Penske icon Rick Mears' record of four Indianapolis wins will be easy to follow on the racetrack. His Dallara-Chevrolet is decked out in a vivid yellow retro look that mimics the Pennzoil-sponsored cars that Mears drove to Indy wins for Penske in 1984 and '88.
"The color yellow helped me before on 'Dancing With the Stars,' so I'm hoping for the same," joked Castroneves, who will start from the inside of Row 2 on Sunday.
Meanwhile, some observers believe Power is the Penske driver who will end "The Captain's" victory drought. Any questions about the Australian's oval speed or racecraft were put to rest when he conclusively won the 500-mile 2013 IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway.
"The 500-mile race in California was a big breakthrough for me," said Power, who is acknowledged as the top road racer in the series. "I'd never been so excited at the end of a race.
"But this is a very different place and a very different style of racing," he went on. "I feel like this year we have a much better car. I feel much more comfortable in traffic and seem to be able to pass and run in traffic a lot better."
There was plenty of hot air blowing Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, and it wasn't all atmospheric pressure.
Most of it was coming from the direction of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. After winning the first of the night's twin 275-kilometer races, Dario Franchitti, who is rarely known for making controversial public statements, was not shy about expressing his displeasure over the bad luck of drawing the 28th (out of 30) starting position for the nightcap.
Scott Dixon wasn't much happier after pulling the 18th grid spot, and you have to wonder whether the Ganassi drivers would have sung a different tune had their chief IndyCar Series championship rival Will Power not chosen the No. 3 starting spot.
Team boss Ganassi's grapes weren't any less sour as he called any driver who had the nerve to have drawn a starting spot ahead of Franchitti a "backmarker."
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesWill Power was elated after drawing the third starting position for Race No. 2 of the Firestone Twins 275s at Texas Motor Speedway.
After Power ran strongly on the way to third place in Race 1, the second sprint was clearly his race to lose. And he didn't, claiming a relatively easy victory over Dixon -- who charged from 18th to second after he got done complaining about his draw.
Franchitti drove a masterful race, too, passing 21 "backmarkers" on the way to seventh place and minimizing the damage to his championship hopes. When the Texas twins were over and done with, Dario lost only five points to Power in the championship chase, probably far fewer than the Ganassi team's mismanagement of the final 40 laps of the Indianapolis 500 cost him.
But his image took a hit by what many fans perceived as excessive moaning. The blind draw for the second race may not have created a level playing field, but the rules were the same for everyone. And the estimated 50,000 fans present at TMS seemed to enjoy the halftime spectacle every bit as much as they did the 550 kilometers of clean, fast Indy car action.
On Monday, while at a joint appearance in Boston that named MoveThatBlock.com as the title sponsor for the upcoming IndyCar Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Franchitti and IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had a chance to discuss the controversial Texas format. Bernard indicated that changes are already being considered.
"I took a lot of heat for my comments, but people don't understand, in my opinion, the big picture," Franchitti said. "Had they inverted [the Race 1 finishing order] I would have started worse, but it would have been fair for everyone. I would have started last, Scott would have started second-last and Will [Power] would have started 28th. It would have been some performance parameter, and that's all I was asking for."
"We have to evaluate everything we do this year and make sure that we are providing the best competition, entertainment and value to give that great fan experience," Bernard responded. "It was a little bit gimmicky, and I take the blame for it. I think it's important to make sure we sustain credibility, and I'm not convinced that what we did Saturday night does that. A draw takes away from that, especially if somebody loses the championship by five points to a draw."
It's fair to say that the Texas twin races created every bit as much controversy as TMS president Eddie Gossage could have hoped for. With that in mind, here's who emerged as winners and losers after the smoke cleared ...
• Winner -- Will Power. Not only did the Team Penske driver claim his first oval track victory and increase his championship lead to 21 points over Franchitti, he gained positive PR points for basically agreeing that the Ganassi drivers got screwed by the gimmick format. He also was extremely lucky to get away with bumping his left front wing endplate on Takuma Sato's rear tire without damage to either car.
• Winner/sore loser -- Dario Franchitti. The Scotsman dominated Race 1 for an easy victory but could uncharacteristically barely contain his anger after being left with the 28th starting spot in the reverse order blind draw for Race 2. He was right to say that simply inverting the field for Race 2 would have been much more fair -- as well as potentially more exciting for the fans. But he probably could have expressed his feelings more diplomatically.
• Winner -- Scott Dixon. Dixon drove beautifully all night and finished second in both races. He also came up with perhaps the best solution to the Race 2 starting order quandary: award bonus points for the number of cars passed. Maybe next year?
• Winners -- Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. Power's Team Penske colleagues both kept their cool and notched solid finishes at Texas -- sixth and third for Briscoe, 10th and fourth for Castroneves. Helio in particular needed a decent result to stabilize his season and put himself back in the frame of mind needed to again challenge for race wins after a horrible start to his 2011 campaign.
• Winner -- Marco Andretti. By finishing sixth in the second race, Andretti matched Franchitti as the biggest position gainer of the night with 21 cars passed. He was Andretti Autosport's top finisher in both races, albeit a lowly 13th place in Race 1.
• Winner -- KV Racing Technology. Before the races, almost no one would have guessed that KVRT would pack up after the Texas twin bill with three intact race cars. But not only did the cars emerge unscathed, Takuma Sato matched a career best with a fifth-place finish in Race 1 and improved 13 places to 12th in Race 2, making him seventh on aggregate for the night. Crash-prone EJ Viso notched a pair of top-10s, and team leader Tony Kanaan claimed finishes of 11th and fifth, helping him maintain fifth place in the IndyCar Series standings.
• Loser -- Oriol Servia. Servia dropped from third to fourth in the points chase after a best finish of 15th place on Saturday night. Servia and Newman/Haas Racing weren't terribly confident about their Texas setup, and the Spaniard was called out by Franchitti for dangerous driving during the first race.
• Loser -- Danica Patrick. On a track where she normally runs well, Danica was not remotely competitive on Saturday night, and eighth place in the second race was a result that flattered to deceive. She also got into a war of words with rookie Jay Howard. Wonder how she'll like TMS in a stock car next year?
• Loser -- Justin Wilson. One of the best road racers in the IndyCar Series had a bad night on the Texas oval, as he was lapped in both races on the way to 17th and 21st places.
• Loser -- Graham Rahal. He suffered the only mechanical gremlin of the night when his Service Central/Ganassi entry had fuel feed problems. Given what happened in qualifying and the race at Indianapolis, did the Ganassi guys simply fail to put enough fuel in the car?
• Winners -- IndyCar Series fans. Whether they were at the track or home watching on TV, they got a heck of a show. A pair of them, in fact.
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Two rounds into the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season, the jury has delivered a split verdict on INDYCAR's newly implemented double-file restarts.
Fans seem to have enjoyed the wheel-banging action, rising to their feet for every restart in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and tuning in on television for INDYCAR's best TV rating for a race other than the Indianapolis 500 in more than three years.
On the other hand, even after modifications for last weekend's event at Barber Motorsport Park, some competitors have grumbled about the restart procedures and team owners can't be especially happy about the bills they are paying for wrecked cars.
But looking back at St. Petersburg and Barber, the double-wide restarts have been mostly positive for the series. Both races featured first-lap accidents, but they occurred on the actual start of the events, not a restart. Some drivers have taken advantage, while others have fallen asleep at the wheel and fallen victim.
INDYCAR chief steward Brian Barnhart convened a driver's meeting at Barber that, in a series first, was opened up to the media. In the meeting, Barnhart revealed that the drivers would be allowed to start accelerating earlier when approaching a restart (325 yards instead of 200 at St. Pete) and that the restart speed would be increased.
Reaction to the changes from the drivers was generally upbeat.
"We probably got a better exchange of ideas and information, and a better understanding of what the needs are from both points of view than we ever have," said 2008 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who was crashed out during the chaotic race start at St. Petersburg. "But the drivers need to actually listen to the changes.
"The problem is, when the green flag drops, we all get a bit stupid."
"It's a learning process for everyone involved," Barnhart said. "We've made a pretty radical change from how things have been done for over a decade. They're going to have to adapt and improvise."
Both races were marred by a series of full-course cautions following accidents on restarts, lending credibility to the old adage "cautions breed cautions." But some drivers were keeping all four wheels on their cars and made considerable progress through the field as a result of their aggression and the misfortune of others.
At Barber, Tony Kanaan gained 10 places on the race start and the first restart after a poor qualifying performance left the Brazilian starting from the back of the 26-car field.
"We stayed out of trouble, and especially nowadays with the double-file restarts, that's what you've got to do," Kanaan said. "For the fans and the racing, the restarts looked more exciting.
"I still believe we need to try to take care of each other a little more. I mean, every restart had a crash, so it's not a coincidence. But every one had a lot of passing too, so it's a trade there. It's 50-50 right now."
Championship leader Will Power has run at the front of the field in both races, leading at Barber from start to finish. He was therefore not involved in the fracas breaking out behind him, but he's still not a fan of the new restarts.
"Talking to the majority of the drivers, we don't like it because of the encounters it causes, but at the end of the day we can make it work by giving each other respect and room," Power said. "Maybe if we go a little earlier it will spread things out. The more you spread them out, the safer it is."
One thing everyone is in agreement about: double-file restarts could produce mass destruction at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, thanks to the long Shoreline Drive straight leading into a very tight first-gear first corner.
Rumors persist that INDYCAR officials will shelve the two-wide restarts this weekend because of the layout of the first turn on the Long Beach street course.
"The restarts are my biggest worry at that track, into Turn 1," Power said. "It's going to be worse than St. Pete."
"I agree with that," added Dixon. "I think the style of the Barber track lends itself to a cleaner style. I think Long Beach is going to be a different story."
The 28-year-old native of Toowoomba, Australia, was running away at the front of an IndyCar Series exhibition race in Surfers Paradise, Australia, when he lost concentration and crashed.
Later that night, the crestfallen driver ran into Team Penske President Tim Cindric. It was a meeting that Cindric was unable to forget.
It also happened that Cindric was on the lookout for a driver to potentially substitute for Penske regular Helio Castroneves, who had just been indicted by the U.S. government for tax fraud.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntoshWill Power won the pole for the IndyCar Series race July 25 in Edmonton, Alberta.
After briefly chatting with Power, Cindric knew he had found his man.
"I really didn't know him too well," Cindric recalled. "We were out that night and ran into him, and I asked him about [the crash]. He said, 'I made a mistake. I feel terrible, but that's what it was.' He was able to man up to the whole situation.
"I was impressed by the way he handled that. He's made that mistake now. You don't make those kind of mistakes more than once, usually."
As they talked further over the next few weeks, Cindric became even more convinced that Power had the right attitude for a job that offered plenty of potential, but little in the way of promises.
"It came down to his focus, determination, and you could tell that from an appreciation level and an opportunity level, this was a much bigger deal to him than it was for really anybody else we talked to," Cindric related. "We didn't know how the situation was going to play out, and there could have been a lot of gray areas.
"You didn't need a guy who was going to ask a lot of questions or put a lot of pressure on you, saying, 'When is it going to be my deal?' You didn't get the sense he was trying to steal Helio's program. You got the sense he was truly there to help with the situation, and whatever happens happens. That's what we needed. We needed something that would complement the situation, not complicate it."
Power made the most of his limited opportunity with IndyCar racing's most historic and successful team. He drove Penske's No. 3 car -- Castroneves' car -- to a solid sixth place in the IndyCar Series season opener at St. Petersburg. Then when Castroneves was cleared of his charges on the opening day of the Long Beach weekend, Penske rolled out another car, which Power promptly qualified on pole position.
Power's reward was a run for Penske in the Indianapolis 500, which in turn led to an additional five starts for the Aussie. He has made the most of the chance, never finishing lower than ninth and claiming two poles and scoring an impressive victory at Edmonton.
"In the position he was in, there was no clear-cut answer, but he's never missed a beat," observed John Erickson, who has managed Power's third Penske car, crewed by a group that usually prepares Penske's entry in the Rolex Grand Am sports car series. "At Long Beach, one day he was in the 3, the next day he was in the 12, and his attitude was like, 'No worries.' And he put it on the pole and drove a good race.
"He's just set the example for the way you would want anybody to handle it. He's a good racer, a good strategist during the races and a pleasure for everybody to work with. I've been impressed. Obviously the results are there, but his personality has fit right in. He's been a treat."
Now in his fourth full season on the American open-wheel scene, Power is indeed making his mark. He gained the reputation for being fast over one lap but sometimes inconsistent during his two-plus years in the Champ Car World Series (where he scored three race wins, including the IndyCar sanctioned 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach). Thrust into the IndyCar Series when Champ Car folded, Power occasionally struggled to master oval racing.
Of course, now that he has aligned himself with the best team in the business, even if it is on a part-time basis, Power has proved to be a quick study. He has been smooth, fast and consistent every time he has taken to the track in a Penske-prepared machine.
"I didn't really contemplate much when I got the call from Roger," Power said. "I needed to be in a place exactly like this. You've always got a good car that never breaks down and I'm just finishing the races where it should finish. The first thing is to bring the car home, the next thing is to be fast and show that you can race well.
"I have driven differently this year, when I think about it. At Penske, you realize that sometimes you need to sit back and watch things unfold and sometimes you need to go. I definitely think about it more. We need to keep doing the job like that to have a better chance to be somewhere full time next year."
Cindric and Erickson definitely like what they have seen to date.
"On track he's probably exceeded our expectations, given the limited amount of seat time he's had with us," Cindric remarked. "Off track, it's really his approach to the thing that's given him the opportunity. It would have been pretty simple when Helio came back to just let Will go, basically, because we didn't have any commitments beyond that. With the way he handled that whole situation in Long Beach, we felt like if there was any way we could put something together for Indy for him, we really wanted to do that. But that was kind of where our loyalty card ended.
"Then it was a matter of trying to put together a proper program to run some limited races this year to see what we could do for a three-car program next year, whether it's limited or full time. The fact that he's still with us means that there is still hope."
For Power, the gamble of taking a part-time role this year with Team Penske rather than waiting on landing a full-time ride with another team has more than paid off. At this point, it would be a surprise if Penske didn't find a way to expand to three cars full time next year, which would mark the first time since 1994 that the team would run a three-car effort.
"I guess I showed I can run at the front week in and week out, especially on the road courses," Power said. "Even at the [Indianapolis] 500, I ran at the front and had a very good race there.
"I don't know if it's about showing people. Honestly, I just want a full-time ride, and I think I can win a championship if I'm given the opportunity. But I haven't been thinking too far ahead either. I've just been enjoying it and having fun."