The 33-year-old Australian finished ninth in Saturday’s MAVTV 500 on the two-mile Fontana oval, five places ahead of his only serious rival, teammate Helio Castroneves. Power came into the race with a fifty-point lead; he needed to finish sixth or better in Helio won; any finish ahead of his Brazilian rival would earn him the title.
Finishing sixth wouldn’t be easy; while Castroneves on the pole, Power spun during his qualifying run and had to start dead last. To get into a winning position, he would have to negotiate his way through the entire 21-car field which would be lapping at well over 200 miles per hour, with every driver also trying his best to get to the front.
Will Power had lost his shot at the title three times due to crashes on oval tracks, two which were entirely his fault. This time he drove a flawless race, sitting safely mid-pack through the first 180 laps before surging to the front and staying in the top five until Helio Castroneves cracked.
With 32 laps left, the 39-year-old three-time Indy winner, also chasing hard after his first title, entered the pit lane approach too quickly, sliding wide and crossing the commitment line, which earned him a drive-through penalty and took him out of championship contention.
Power, who was wrestling an ill-handling car after a crew member misadjusted it, dropped out of the top five after he heard the news of his teammate’s penalty, satisfied to get his car home safely and collect his trophy.
Tony Kanaan won the race, his first of the season, but no one much noticed. All eyes were on Will Power, waiting to see if he would once again make a fatal mistake and sink his own chances. Power performed perfectly, took no unnecessary chances, and manhandled his understeering machine across the line. As he took the checkered flag, he started crying, telling his crew “Thank you so much” on the radio.
After the race Power seemed more relieved than elated. While he might have claimed earlier that he hadn’t been thinking of the title, he admitted after the race that he had hardly slept all week because of nerves
“That was one of the hardest races ever. It went on and on and I slowly made up positions, and the car wasn’t great,” he told NBCSN. “It’s surreal—I can’t believe it.
“I am so exhausted now—my hands are numb from holding onto the wheel so tight. I want to be a lot more excited but I am so drained. That was just mega. I can’t believe I won it.”
Will Power celebrates with his wife Elizabeth after winning the 2014 IndyCar Championship. (Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
“The last 14 days were the worst in my life. 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.”
Power didn’t ask his team about his championship standings through the first 180 laps—he stayed focused on the race. Not until he took the lead after the lap 187 restart did he permit himself to consider the bigger picture.
“When I took the lead I thought, ‘This is good, we have a pretty good shot here.’ When I heard he [Castroneves] got the drive-through, I thought ‘This it it, we can do this; we can win it.’
“It’s unbelievable. That’s 15 years of hard work. I started taking it[racing] seriously in 2000. That’s 15 years of hard work.”
Three Strikes Before the Home Run
Will Power started driving full-time in IndyCar in 2006, won two races in 2007 and another in 2008. His aggressive driving and evident ability attracted the eye of Roger Penske, who signed the Australian driver in 2009 to substitute for Helio Castroneves, who was dealing with tax evasion charges. When Castroneves was cleared and returned to the team, Penske put Power in a spare car and was rewarded with another win.
Three races later, at Sonoma, power was involved in a collision which left him with two fractured vertebrae. Roger Penske believed in the driver enough to keep a spot on the team for him, and Power returned to racing in 2010.
Will Power was a demon on road- and street courses but had no experience on ovals. He immediately repaid Penske’s faith by winning the first two races of the 2010 season, and three more before the season finale on the 1.5-mile Homestead oval, where Power finished a disappointing twenty-fifth after hitting the wall and damaging his suspension, leaving him second in the points.
Power won six races in 2011, including his first oval win, at Texas, and might have won the championship that year, but he got caught up in the 15-car crash on the 1.5-mile oval at Las Vegas which claimed the life of Dan Wheldon and again finished second.
2012 was another good year for Power; he only won three races, but was still second in points coming into the final race of the season at Fontana, a two-mile oval. Power again hit the wall, finishing 24th in the race and again, second in the points.
Power finished fourth in 2013, again winning three races but numerous collisions and a slow pit stop in the first Houston race kept him from competing for the championship. He did win the final two races, the second half of the Houston double-header and the season finale at Fontana, his first superspeedway win.
Power started 2014 telling the press he was not going to think about the championship, but would focus on winning races. During the off-season he had struggled with disappointment and dissatisfaction; he had a talk with fellow Aussie racer Mark Webber who told him that he wouldn’t last if he didn’t make racing fun again.
Armed with an improved attitude, Power won the 2014 season opener at St. Pete, then won again at Detroit, and on the famed “Milwaukee Mile,” after which race he exclaimed, “I love winning on ovals!” His only weakness as a driver had been his oval-track performance, and quite clearly, he had learned that part of the craft.
Power had also earned enough points to come into the season finale, again at Fontana, needing to finish sixth or better to finally win a title. The Aussie drove an uncharacteristically calm race for the first two thirds; then on lap 189, after the race’s only caution, Power charged into the lead.
Power only stayed out front until lap 204; apparently he had toasted his tires and couldn’t hold the pace, dropping quickly to fourth, where he stayed until he pitted for the last time on lap 217.
Here bad luck nearly caught him again. He wanted more front wing, but a crewman misunderstood and took off some wing, leaving power with severe understeer. Power held onto fourth for a few laps; then word came down that Helio Castroneves had violated the pit-entry rules and was given a drive-through penalty, which dropped him to 14th.
With only 32 laps remaining Castroneves had no chance to get back to the front of the field; Power relaxed and focused on getting his car home eventually finishing ninth—five places ahead of his teammate and rival Helio Castroneves and safely ahead in the points. Will Power, at age 33, was finally an IndyCar champion.