Power turns it on for Portland IndyCar victory
Will Power has a hard time talking about himself in the same breath as A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti and others in the annals of open-wheel racing.
"I feel they're still above me," the Team Penske driver said. "It doesn't seem right to have your name up there with them."
But, the 38-year-old Australian deserves to be up there, considering he's now tied for sixth on the all-time IndyCar wins list.
The 37th of his career came Sunday, as he powered his Chevy Dallara to the finish line to win the NTT IndyCar Series' Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway.
He's tied with Sebastien Bourdais, two wins behind No. 5 Al Unser (39) and five behind No. 4 Michael Andretti (42) and plenty behind Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52). One of his contemporaries, Scott Dixon, ranks third with 47 wins.
Power was edged out in Saturday qualifying by 19-year-old Colton Herta, but Herta had some temporary issues in the race, leading to a pass by Chip Ganassi Racing's Dixon midway through the 105-lap event on the 1.964-mile PIR road course.
But a short time later, Dixon inexplicably lost power in his car — purportedly from a bad battery — and Power assumed the lead and never relinquished it, even through a four-lap sprint to the end after a caution.
It was Power's second win in three weeks.
Chip Ganassi Racing's Felix Rosenqvist finished second, and Andretti Autosport's Alexander Rossi took third.
Power is too far behind points leader Joseph Newgarden to capture the 2019 IndyCar season championship; Newgarden, who had a solid, fifth-place finish after a poor qualifying, has 593 points and leads Rossi by 41 points and teammate Simon Pagenaud by 42 heading into the double-points series finale at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, Sept. 20-22.
An incident on Sunday's first lap involving six cars in the two-turn curves at end of PIR's straightaway led to a yellow caution for 12 laps. Graham Rahal "misjudged" the tight first turn and hit Zach Veach, and it hurt others as well. Newgarden missed the fray by steering around it, and Pagenaud also escaped major damage.
"I was disappointed for myself and the guys affected," Rahal said.
One guy affected was James Hinchcliffe, who left the race on the first turn for the second consecutive year, then lamented about the corner, "You're never going to make that corner. It's frustrating."
The caution affected the race, because it allowed teams to make only two pit stops. Another, brief caution a couple laps after the restart came when Ryan Hunter-Reay bumped into fast Jack Harvey at the first turn, presumably as Hunter-Reay protected teammate Rossi. Harvey's team was not happy about it.
Herta had a fast car and eventually finished fourth, but not before Dixon hounded and then burst by him on the back stretch of lap 37.
But Dixon encountered his power problem, leaving Power to battle Rosenqvist and Rossi. Power built a lead, pitted ahead of Rosenqvist, and then had enough to hold off the challenges, despite a yellow caution for Santino Ferrucci's electrical issue that led to the four-lap finish.
Power had enough push-to-pass time, just in case — drivers can push a button for more horsepower — and good Firestone black tires, and he sprinted to victory.
"I couldn't believe it," Power said of the late caution. "But I wasn't going to make it easy for anyone."
Power has good memories at PIR, stretching back to 2005, when he first tested for a Champ Car team. Fresh from Australia, he remembers driving and thinking, "I could get paid to do this?"
He's among a handful of IndyCar drivers who raced at PIR in Champ Car before its demise in 2007.
Power set the track record with a qualifying lap of 57.2143 seconds last year (123.577 mph) in the inaugural IndyCar Series race at PIR. He finished 21st in that race, after suffering a gearbox problem and then going off track and into a tire barrier.
"It's awesome to win here," he said. "There's a lot of history; a lot of great drivers have won here. These are the tracks you really want to win at, and I love winning at tracks that I haven't won at."
Meanwhile, the Swede Rosenqvist leads the rookie points standings after his second podium finish.
"I felt we had a chance with blacks (tires) at the end, but he was better on blacks," Rosenqvist said of Power. "And then I struggled at the end with a loose car."
Rossi kept the series pressure on Newgarden and Pagenaud with better qualifying and then the third-place race finish.
"Not that I wanted more (points), just less for him (Newgarden)," Rossi mused. "It's the best we could do today."
Newgarden qualified 13th, felt fortunate to avoid the first-lap crash and then felt good about simply finishing fifth.
Similarly, Dixon avoided damage during the first-lap crash last year and managed to exit Portland with points on the way to his fifth championship for Chip Ganassi Racing.
"I missed all the chaos. I was just trying to stop, because I had nowhere to go. I knew it was a long race," Newgarden said.
With Herta struggling to stay ahead of him, Newgarden felt content to be fifth at the end.
Herta, of Harding Steinbrenner Racing, said red tires weren't good enough for him in the race: "I had a blast leading 37 laps of the race, and our pace was really quick. ... I really feel we could have won the race, but I'm overall happy with fourth."
Pagenaud was also fortunate to leave Portland with points after qualifying 18th and then surviving the first-lap crash and finishing seventh.
It appears Dixon, who's fourth in points, 85 behind Newgarden, doesn't have much of a chance at his sixth title.
"We had a great car, and it was clean sailing out front for us in the lead," he said. "We just lost power, and when that happens you can't shift and you can't use the clutch. Luckily, we were able to get to pit lane so the crew could get us to the pit box. I just hate giving away an easy win like that."
The Portland race will be back next year -- IndyCar released its 2020 schedule on Sunday, and the Grand Prix of Portland again is the next-to-last event, set for Sunday, Sept. 6.
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