By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
After being a lap down and needing both his front and rear wings changed, Will Power managed to turn an off-strategy run into another Verizon IndyCar Series win at Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
Tony Kanaan led the first lap as the field had many drivers gaining or losing several positions in the first ten laps. Helio Castroneves gained ten positions very quickly while Josef Newgarden gained eight positions in the first seven laps. However, Castroneves faded to 13th by that lap while polesitter Takuma Sato faded to ninth soon after.
2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi took over the lead on Lap 12 with Kanaan, Power, Charlie Kimball and Simon Pagenaud following.
The first major problem of the race befell Esteban Gutierrez. The Mexican driver had contact with the wall exiting Turn 3. His right rear wing pod was damaged and caution was called on Lap 23. Gutierrez would retire from the race.
The entire field came to pit road as Rossi beat Power, Kanaan, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Castroneves, Newgarden and Pagenaud to the blend line.
Hunter-Reay had started 21st after a Turn 3 incident in qualifying and had heroically charged through the field. The green flag came out again on Lap 28 as Kanaan took the lead in a three-wide move to the outside.
Dixon would take the lead on Lap 30 as Hinchcliffe would move up to second with Kanaan falling to third. The first 100 miles would pass with Hondas 1-2-3-4-5 with Rossi and Rahal in fourth and fifth, respectively.
After the first round of green flag pit stops, Rossi led Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Power and Kanaan after 150 miles. Soon after, Power made a pit stop on Lap 67 for four tires and a front wing change. The change dropped Power to 21st and one lap down.
Power’s stop was necessitated by a ring under the front wing adjuster breaking, causing the wings to adjust themselves.
The next round of pit stops came and went with Dixon getting back to the lead ahead of Pagenaud and Rossi. The biggest loser was Hinchcliffe after overshooting his marks and sliding through his pit box, running over an air hose. The penalty would be a monetary fine.
At halfway, the order was Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Dixon, Rahal, Newgarden, Kanaan, Pagenaud, Marco Andretti and Castroneves.
Soon after, Hinchcliffe would get passed by several cars after nearly losing control of his car and saved that car in a way that would rival many dirt track racers coming off of a corner.
Dixon and Ed Carpenter started the next round of pit stops on Lap 111 as Dixon pulled off from third place.
Meanwhile during the pit stops, Sebastian Saavedra brushed the wall coming off of Turn 1 and pulled off the racing groove at the entrance to the tunnel turn on Lap 116, causing a caution.
Hunter-Reay, Rahal, Kanaan, Rossi, Conor Daly, Gabby Chaves were in the pits at the time.
The green flag came out on Lap 123 and after the field settled down, Kanaan took the lead ahead of Rahal and Hunter-Reay but the green would not last long. Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand would hit the wall in Turn 1 on Lap 125 after light contact with each other.
At Lap 128/200, the only car running that was not on the lead lap was Max Chilton who had some turbocharger trouble early on. Chilton would retire a lap later.
Power managed to get his way back onto the lead lap after the cautions and ended up having to have a rear wing assembly changed after he was hit.
The restart happened on Lap 133 as Rahal took the lead from Kanaan heading into Turn 1 but Kanaan would grab the lead again heading into Turn 3.
Rahal would lead the next lap as he and Kanaan would swap the lead several times before the next round of pit stops.
With 100 miles to go, not every car had made their final pit stops. Power was leading as Andretti, Daly and Chaves all pitted. Power would pit on Lap 161 after having set the race’s fastest lap to that point and would cycle back out to the lead.
Power and the rest of the late potters pitted late under the previous caution, putting them slightly off sequence from the rest of the field. However, Power was able to maintain a steady gap during the first laps after his last pit stop.
Dixon would then make his last pit stop on Lap 177 with Power pitting one lap later, starting the final cycle of pit stops.
Power resumed the lead on Lap 190 after Andretti made his final stop of the race but Newgarden and Rossi were both within a second of Power coming to the final few laps of the race.
Power started a defensive line heading into Turn 3 to keep his lead, forcing Newgarden and Rossi to rethink their late race move but they would run out of time as Power would win his 32nd IndyCar race, moving him ahead of Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti for ninth on the all time wins list.
The 2014 IndyCar Series champion’s late race defending ended up helping Power seal up his third win of the 2017 season and his second in a row at Pocono.
“I just knew that if [Newgarden] got up to the inside that would be it,” Power said. “And so I was very, very conscious of protecting the inside. Yeah, he was very fast at the end. And we kind of had to add a lot of downforce because we went to the back and went a lap down so you had to try to get good in traffic.”
However, what really helped Power win was pitting under the yellow for Hildebrand and Hinchcliffe’s accident. The No. 12 Team Penske Verizon Chevrolet made three pit stops under that yellow, topping off the fuel on Lap 131 which allowed the car to go until Lap 160 while the majority of the cars running up front stopped almost ten laps earlier.
With a lighter fuel load, Power was able to turn the race’s fastest leading lap of 217.430 mph before pitting on Lap 161.
“We had clear air as people peeled off to pit and we could pump out some fast laps,” said Power. “I had no clue who was in the game and what until the end. They’re saying Josef is closing on you.
“I’m like, okay, that’s who I’m racing. Once we went a lap down, I mean, you just hang in there and then try and get your lap back, and then you’re fighting a lot of traffic, trying to be smart on those restarts, like you didn’t want to get involved in an incident,” Power added.
Newgarden’s points lead grew to 18 points and despite finishing second, the Tennessee native views it as a positive day.
“I don’t think we had enough for Will to be honest with you,” Newgarden said. “I did everything I could to try and get by him, and I just felt like he was a touch quicker than us. That was difficult for me to overcome.
“I was doing everything I could. I just didn’t have enough for him, and I kind of knew that. I still gave him my best effort. I was going to try and beat him, I wasn’t going to just try and finish second. But I kind of knew he was just better than me.
“He had more speed was the thing, so I couldn’t quite get a run where I was going to complete a pass. With his move to block, it was really impossible, I think, for me to try and outside pass because I didn’t have the speed to clear him on the outside and it would have been just very risky,” Newgarden added.
Rossi, meanwhile, had a completely different problem that prevented him from advancing as far as he wanted to.
“The difficult thing was our fuel trim knob came off part of the way through so we were stuck in the mix and it certainly wasn’t optimum,” Rossi said. “It made restarts challenging, and definitely at the end when the two guys in front of me were pushing quite hard. We didn’t have all of our full on power, which is usually quite strong around here. It was a bit unfortunate, but like I said, I mean, everybody else was really strong from the weekend, so [Andretti Autosport] being on pole and being on the podium backs up kind of the form we know we have on super speedways, and it’s good momentum going into the last few races.”
The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday August 26th.
1. Will Power
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Alexander Rossi
4. Simon Pagenaud
5. Tony Kanaan
6. Scott Dixon
7. Helio Castroneves
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay
9. Graham Rahal
10. Carlos Munoz
11. Marco Andretti
12. Ed Carpenter
13. Takuma Sato
14. Conor Daly
15. Gabby Chaves
16. Charlie Kimball
17. Ed Jones
18. Max Chilton
19. JR Hildebrand
20. James Hinchcliffe
21. Sebastian Saavedra
22. Esteban Gutierrez