Healthy dad Power eager to attack 2017 INDYCAR season

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Last offseason, Will Power endured four months of wellness issues associated with food allergies that he didn’t know existed at the time.

This offseason, the Team Penske driver became a father for the first time as wife Liz gave birth to a baby boy, Beau William. Renewed health and the joy of fatherhood have Power sounding upbeat as he prepares for the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Power’s health issues cost him a start in last season’s first race, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms and held out of the race after winning the pole position in qualifying, he instead was dealing with an inner-ear infection. Missing that start became a huge factor in the season as Power finished second in points to teammate Simon Pagenaud.

The 35-year-old Australian, whose 29 career wins are tied for 11th on the all-time list, has finished fourth or better in the points the past seven seasons, including winning the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship and finishing second on four occasions. As in a race result, a competitor often dwells more upon finishing second as a lost opportunity.

“Normally I turn up to the year very fit and ready to go,” Power said. “That was definitely not the case last year. I just kind of wasn't on top of my game, just struggling with some physical stuff like fatigue, and then missing the first race. 

“But I think going into Phoenix (the second race on the 2016 schedule), which was really my first race, (it) was more about am I physically fit enough to do this whole race because it's a very physical track. (I) kind of took that approach on a few races starting from there, which was a very different approach for me. Kind of puts you in a position to be a little bit more conservative, and gave me insight into that can be a good thing.”

Power eventually bounced back to win the second race in the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix doubleheader weekend, which started an impressive six-race stretch of four victories and two runner-up finishes to put him back in the hunt for a series title. The driver of the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet was especially proud of his win in the 500-mile race on Pocono Raceway’s tricky oval.

“I kind of thought at that point (at Detroit), if I want to have a chance of winning the championship, I really need to have a run like Pagenaud had, which was an unbelievable run,” Power said. “I didn't think that was possible. It actually happened, though, started flying well.”

But Pagenaud proved too strong at the end. Power placed 20th in the last two races, while Pagenaud sewed up the crown by winning the season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, where the points were double. 

“I have to say Pocono was my favorite race of the year, best win. Really enjoyed it and was starting that three-race run for the championship at the end. But unfortunately the last two races were DNFs. Literally three races' worth of DNFs there in the last two races, so that kind of ruined any chance.”

After Team Penske swept the top three in points with Pagenaud, Power and Helio Castroneves, the series’ dominant team re-signed Castroneves and added fourth-place finisher Josef Newgarden as a replacement for Juan Pablo Montoya, who will again drive for Roger Penske in May’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Power sees Newgarden, a three-time race winner in the past two seasons, as an immediate series title contender: “He's a young guy (26). He's fast, so he's got the energy.”

Competition will be even more fierce, not just against the rest of the teams but also in the Team Penske garage.

“It becomes more about getting the little details right, and I think that's the type of season that it will be,” Power said of 2017.

He also learned something from playing catch-up last season. Sometimes, a driver can be too aggressive and push too hard for a much-needed result.

“I think in the race you kind of just through experience know the situation and what it is and how aggressive to be,” Power said. “I just think you learn that it's not ‘you have to do well here.’ I think it's a mistake I did last year.

“I got to the grand prix race here at Indianapolis and said, ‘Right, I have to win here if I'm going to have a shot at the championship,’ which was absolutely not true. So I don't think there's any point in the year, apart from the last race, unless you're right on the cusp with two to go or something that you have to do something. I mean, you can only do your best.

“Any time you're saying to yourself, I have to do this, you're going to get yourself in trouble, I feel like.”

The good news is Power is healthy now and benefited from last offseason’s wellness concerns. He’s changed his diet and workout routine.

“I had to definitely work on the diet stuff and then just have like a month rest this year when I finished the season,” he said, “doing nothing but relaxing and getting myself energized and then back into it and being very smart about my exercising, not pushing too hard, too far, where you fatigue yourself.”

“I was tested for a lot of stuff, actually. Dairy was one of them, one of the issues, and there's a few other things in there that were not good that I was allergic to. Food was a part of it, and then pushing your body too hard was a part of it in the offseason last year.”

Power will be ready to go this week when all series regulars participate Friday and Saturday in the open test at Phoenix Raceway. Cars will be on track from 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET each day, with action streamed live on Indycar.com. Saturday’s activities are open free to the public.

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