On a day when Team Penske was anything but perfect, Will Power salvaged a runner-up finish in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday.
Power started fourth on the grid and dodged the early carnage that was triggered when teammate Josef Newgarden broke loose off the exit of Turn 4. He maintained position amongst the top five for a majority of the 90-lap contest, only falling out during cycled pit stops. While polesitter Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi set the early pace up front, they opted for a three-stop strategy and were unable to regain the track position lost through the extra stop. Meanwhile, Power and eventual first-time race winner Alex Palou stretched their fuel mileage around the 17-turn, 2.38-mile road course to make it on two stops.
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At one point, Palou had a gap of over 6s on Power and the rest of the field while leading during his opening 30-lap stint on the softer Firestone reds. That gap eventually faded as Power pitted just slightly off-sequence from Palou to make up the lost time.
As the laps ticked down, Power was able to get close, but ultimately crossed the finish line 0.4016s behind Palou. Power’s other two teammates, Simon Pagenaud and rookie Scott McLaughlin, flirted with a top 10 early on, but ended up fading to finishes of 12th and 14th respectively.
“Obviously, (I) went from a three stopper to a two stopper with all those yellows at the beginning, which I didn’t mind,” said Power, noting the combined eight of 11 caution laps to start the race. “I know we’re very good at getting fuel and lap time, but Alex (Palou) pulled away extremely fast.
“I was surprised. I actually thought he was on a three-stopper. But I think he had a very good middle stint saving fuel, and we came out close to him. I still had to save a bit of fuel at the end there, so in the last few laps I could use Push to Pass. Made a little mistake, which made the gap not possible to close.
“Very happy with the day, though. Really, really just wanted a solid start to the season, and that’s what we got here so far.”
The result is only the second time since 2016 Power has kicked off the season with a podium, with the other being a third on the streets of St. Petersburg in 2019. It’s also his best result at Barber Motorsports Park since his victory in 2012.
“It’s just obviously satisfying to get a good start,” said the 39-time race winner. “Obviously it was a very calm day for me, and I’m calm about the season, to be honest. I’ve been around long enough to know how this ebbs and flows, and I think I’ve got a very good group of guys on my car this year. I’m very happy with it. I think our stops are going to be really good all year. I think we’ve got the right combination to win another championship.”
Power still had over 104s of Push to Pass available and was within 2.8s of the Palou for the race lead with eight laps to go. Six laps later, the gap at the front closed dramatically as Power used up the remaining boost on his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. Although victory was within sight, he didn’t have enough to attempt a last-gasp lunge.
“Yeah, it’s pretty tough once you get close to them to pass,” said Power. “(Palou) would have had to have made a mistake or got caught behind someone slow that made a mistake.
“I had saved enough fuel to use Push to Pass for the last two laps, then I made a mistake in Turn 9 and that opened the gap up too much. I closed right up to him at the end.
“Obviously, it’s the last lap and he’s not going to take any risks. But he was solid all day. When he was pushing, it was so tough to close the gap. I was happy just to have a good start to the year. Obviously a win is always great, but compared to the way we started last season, this is nice.”