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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Will Power's No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet was riding fine as he enjoyed a Sunday cruise through the Alabama countryside.
That was before a punctured tire left the Team Penske driver deflated.
Power led 60 of the first 76 laps in Sunday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First and was comfortably out front. But with 14 laps remaining in the high-speed road race at beautiful Barber Motorsports Park, Team Penske team manager Jon Bouslog gave Power the bad news over the team radio. Computer telemetry revealed his rear tire was losing air pressure fast.
At first, Power didn't want to believe the team's command and said his car felt fine. He was still running “race pace” and staying well ahead of the second-place car driven by teammate Josef Newgarden. But a lap or two later, the telemetry showed the tire had dangerously low air pressure and Power was starting to feel the car “dribble” underneath him like a basketball.
Power pulled into the pits on Lap 77. He finished 14th and continues to take a beating in the Verizon IndyCar Series points, also sitting 14th in the standings after three of 17 races. When Power climbed out of his car after the race, he was visibly angered by the turn of events but quickly realized there was little he could do about it.
“I couldn't believe it,” Power said. “It was such a great car … such a great car! It had so much pace. I felt the tire going down and then it started bottoming more.
“That's five races in a row starting with Watkins Glen last September that we've had bad luck,” said Power, who started the Barber race from the pole position a record fourth time. “I can't believe how bad of a run I'm having.”
Power was hoping he could “will” the air to stay in the tire, but that was only a dream.
“Oh, man, you work so hard for a day like that and then you don't get it,” Power said. “It's so annoying.
“We definitely have what it takes to win, but I just want a good result. I want to finish without an issue. This is just too much.”
Bouslog didn't want to deliver the bad news to his driver but had to in the interest of safety.
“I feel horrible for Will and these guys,” Bouslog said. “From the very first minute of the practice session (Friday), we were good this weekend. Will was focused, the pit stops were great and the strategy was good with these guys.
“It's gut-wrenching. That's why we stayed out (as long as possible). We wanted to make sure it wasn't a (tire pressure monitoring) sensor but they were convinced it was a puncture. It was a slow leak so Will didn't feel it right away. Unless somebody made a big mistake, it was going to be Will's day.”
David Faustino, Power's longtime race engineer, had set up a fantastic car and potentially a winning strategy. Faustino was also deflated after the race.
“We had the best car, for sure, and we executed well and that's not easy here,” Faustino said. “I was proud of what we did to still be leading on the final stint, be able to pull away and pit and stay ahead and all that.
“It's definitely heartbreaking to come down to a small puncture making the difference in a race like that.”
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