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By Jason Vondersmith/Portland Tribune/Team Penske driver's Grand Prix title puts him in tie for sixth

PMG PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Will Power takes the checkered flag in his Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet as he wins the IndyCar Grand Prix of Portland.Team Penske's Will Power won the second IndyCar Series' Grand Prix of Portland last weekend at Portland International Raceway, and he continues to climb the list of the all-time greats in open-wheel racing.

He's tied for sixth in wins with 37, 30 shy of A.J. Foyt's record, and his total of 56 poles ranks second to Mario Andretti's 67.

Power pays homage to the all-time greats such as Foyt, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti and Al Unser — four men ahead of him in all-time wins.

"It doesn't seem right to have your name up there with them, when you idolize someone," he said. "You still feel like they're above you and untouchable."

But Power said the current generation of drivers, which includes himself, Scott Dixon (47 wins, third all-time) and Sebastien Bourdais (37 wins), as well as the likes of 2019 series leader Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi, should someday be held in such high regard.

"That's going to be the era kids look up to, a great era for IndyCar racing, probably the most competitive era ever," Power said.

Power barely missed out on his 57th career pole last Saturday, as Colton Herta spun a fast lap in qualifying to take the top spot for the race (he went on to finish fourth).

But on Sunday, after lap-leaders Herta and Dixon had some issues (Dixon exited with power problems), Power proved to be too fast in his Chevy Dallara. He even beat runner-up Felix Rosenqvist and third-place finisher Alexander Rossi after a caution and four-lap sprint to the finish line.

It was his first win in Portland, the site of his first IndyCar test in 2005 when he came to the United States from his native Australia.

He remembers driving PIR's road course and thinking, "I could get paid to do this? This is awesome."

He's among a handful of IndyCar drivers who raced at PIR in the Champ Car World Series, before its demise in 2007. Last year, Power set the track record with a qualifying lap of 57.2143 seconds (123.577 mph) in the inaugural IndyCar Series race here. He finished 21st in the 2018 race, after suffering a gearbox problem and then going off track and into a tire barrier.

"It's awesome to win here," Power 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 (along with Long Beach, Road America, etc.), and I love winning at tracks that I haven't won at."

He's a former series champ (Dixon has five series crowns). He's an Indy 500 winner (2018). And, Power continues to climb up to the pantheon of all-time greats.

• It ended up being a two-stop race on Sunday, rather than three, based off a 12-lap caution flag on the first lap. Graham Rahal bumped into Zach Veach, saying he "misjudged" the corner. The incident involved about six cars — but not Newgarden, who saw what happened and stopped before making contact.

It helped him stay in the points lead. He moved up to 593 points with his fifth-place finish, ahead of Rossi by 41 points and Simon Pagenaud by 42.

Both Portland IndyCar races have involved first-lap, first-turn accidents in the chicane area once known as the Festival Curves. Last year, Dixon survived a wreck and finished decently and went on to capture the season championship. The same could happen with Newgarden, as IndyCar heads to its double-points series finale at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, Sept. 20-22.

It's part of racing, but Newgarden, Power and James Hinchcliffe, who was knocked out of Sunday's race in the first-lap contact, lamented the first-turn chaos.

"It sneaks up on you," Newgarden said. "All it takes is one person, but you can get that anywhere, I don't think it's a Portland thing. Certainly there's more history here (with the corner)."

Said Power: "Every year, someone brakes too late. I don't know if it's deceiving or something."

Hinchcliffe had the strongest reaction, for good reason.

"You're never going to make that corner. It's frustrating," he said.

Ryan Hunter-Reay took out Jack Harvey in the first turn shortly after the caution ended.

• Newgarden enjoys PIR, too, even if one mistake cost him in qualifying at the road course. He qualified 13th, and Team Penske teammate and 2019 Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud qualified 18th.

"Great track, great fan base up here," Newgarden said. "It's a track where there's not much margin, you can't make mistakes. In qualifying, I made one mistake, and it shoved me out of transferring (to the Fast 12). That's just the nature of this place, you make a small mistake and it penalizes you. But, from a driver's perspective, it's a fun drive. I'm a big fan of it."

• Herta, the youngest race winner in IndyCar history (19, at Austin, Texas), had a great weekend with the top qualifying mark and fourth-place finish.

"I had a blast leading 37 laps of the race, and our pace was really quick," said Herta, son of former driver Bryan Herta.

Meanwhile, the other sons of former drivers finished lower: Graham Rahal (son of Bobby Rahal) was 23rd/last, and Marco Andretti was 13th (he's the son Michael Andretti and the grandson of Mario Andretti).

At the other end of the spectrum, Tony Kanaan, 44, made his IndyCar-record 316th consecutive start, finishing 12th.

And, Takuma Sato, 42, last year's race winner, finished 15th after being involved in the first-lap incident.

• The third Portland race — which will be the third on IndyCar's contract with Portland and Green Savoree Racing Promotions — will be held Sept. 6, 2020, Labor Day weekend again.

All parties seem happy with the Portland race.

"What another great turnout for the 2019 Grand Prix of Portland," said Kevin Savoree, co-owner, president and COO of Green Savoree Racing Promotions, owners and operators of the race. "We have a great group of foundational partners for the Grand Prix of Portland. Plus, we hosted many prospective new sponsors over the weekend as we look for additional strategic partnerships."

Indeed, the race still needs a title sponsor, a la G.I. Joe's in yesteryear. The old Champ Car World Series suffered without a Portland title sponsor, and now IndyCar hasn't locked one up, either.

But, IndyCar trusts Green Savoree to make it happen, as the promoter works on building tradition here.

"They're among our best promoters in the sport, handling four races," said Stephen Starks, head of IndyCar promoter and media partner relations. "They blew it away last year; the fan response was good. This is another good year overall. Crowd is comparable. They made some headway and increased exposure in greater Portland.

"I don't know I'd say it's imperative," to have a title sponsor, Starks added. "Most of our events have title sponsors, but there are rare exceptions. The Green Savoree team is working hard on getting it. You still see the corporate presence here is really strong; all corporate display space and hospitality suites sold out right away. In that respect, there's a huge corporate presence."

• Savoree pointed to the addition of support race Stadium Super Trucks to go along with Indy Lights and three others. Stadium Super Trucks was put together by Robby Gordon, a top-notch driver from years past, and featured two big names: Greg Biffle, a longtime NASCAR driver from Vancouver, Washington, and Casey Mears, another big-time driver. But, Sheldon Creed and Matt Brabham were race winners at PIR.

"It proved to be a fan favorite," Savoree said of Stadium Super Trucks.


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