ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – There might eventually be a better qualifier than Will Power in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but it likely won’t happen as long as Power drives for Team Penske.
Power excelled again today, winning the pole for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It was the seventh time in eight years he’s done so, including last year when he was so sick some feared he had suffered a concussion in a crash in practice the day prior. (He had not.)
This was the 45th pole of Power’s career, the 39th since joining Roger Penske’s organization in 2009. Power pulled within two poles of teammate Helio Castroneves on the sport’s all-time list and is now within four poles of Bobby Unser’s total, which ranks third.
There aren’t many categories where a modern-day driver can accumulate statistics at the same level of A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, but this is one. Andretti won a record 67 poles in his career, Foyt 53. Power is at least on pace to catch Foyt.
Since going full-time with Team Penske in 2010, Power has averaged 5.14 poles per season, with as many as eight on a pair of occasions (2010 and ’11) and six in 2015.
Regardless of what Castroneves does in qualifying sessions the rest of the season – he was 16th of 21 drivers today – Power could catch Unser in 2017. At five per season, Power will overtake Foyt sometime next year.
Is Andretti’s mark untouchable? Probably, but don’t dismiss Power’s chances.
Again, based on five poles a season, Power could have 64 after the 2020 season. He’d only be 39 years old, which is nearly three years younger than Castroneves is now. Think Power won’t still be a weekly speed threat at that time?
Power is one of the most single-minded drivers in this sport, knowing only one speed in qualifying, and his ability to pull big moments out of single-lap runs is unmatched by this era of drivers. During the time in which Power has 39 poles with Team Penske, Castroneves has 13. All other Penske drivers have 18 combined.
Regardless of where Power finishes on the all-time pole list, this much is known: Power is a hot-lap master of this 14-turn, 1.8-mile street circuit. But the goal Sunday is to pace the field at the end of Lap 110, and that’s no certainty. Only twice has he won here.
But Juan Pablo Montoya, who has won the past two years here, isn’t in the field and Power is the most recent winner after that. Another win would give him 30 for his career, breaking a tie with Rick Mears and Castroneves. Another win would make Power 10th on the sport’s all-time list. In other words, he knows how to start and finish races.