AVONDALE, Arizona — The old Will Power would have been a mess. The analytical Australian would have internalized such a lousy start to a Verizon IndyCar Series season that his self-confidence would have deconstructed into misery.
Not that the Team Penske driver can put any disappointment behind him so quickly — he had the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama on April 23 won until a slow-leaking tire forced him to pit with 13 laps to go.
But winning the series championship in 2014 had a profound impact on Power. Regardless of the highs and lows of a roller-coaster racing season, he doesn’t doubt himself like he once did. He desperately needed and delivered a positive run in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet as he qualified and finished second to teammate Simon Pagenaud in Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.
Despite winning two of four poles this season, Power’s three previous starts ended in 19th, 13th and 14th. Just like last season, when he missed the season-opening race due to illness, he’s playing catch-up again.
But he’s not rattled. After finally coming through with a strong and complete race at Phoenix Raceway, the 36-year-old jumped to seventh in the points standings. Last season, Power rallied to push Pagenaud to the final race before the Frenchman prevailed for his first series title.
“Yeah, (I’m) used to digging myself out of the hole,” Power said with a chuckle. “So we'll see what happens. We'll keep going. That's all you can do.”
Pagenaud was never seriously threatened in the last half of the race, as he led 116 of the 250 laps on the 1.022-mile Phoenix oval. The only drivers to lead this race were Team Penske cars as Helio Castroneves was out front for 73 laps, Power for 59 and Josef Newgarden for two.
“It was good,” Power said. “I would have loved to have got the win. But, you know, I'll take second. I need the points. You know, that's a championship-type day. Now we need that for the rest of the year, which we've been doing.”
But he obviously hasn’t quite put the “deflating” result at Barber Motorsports Park the previous week out of his mind. How could he?
“We should have won at Barber,” he said. “Had a great shot at winning here. St. Pete, you know, had the engine issue. Been good everywhere, just a matter of finishing.”
After Castroneves edged Power for the Phoenix pole on Friday night, Power spoke of how much he’s grown in 174 series starts, which includes being a four-time points runner-up. His 29 career wins are tied with Castroneves and Team Penske driver coach Rick Mears for 11th on the all-time list.
Acutely aware of the intense competition within the Verizon IndyCar Series and how difficult it is putting all the elements together to win a race, Power knows he gave one away at Barber through no fault of his own.
“Barber was really disappointing, I have to say,” he said. “Like, I just think about it on the drive home. Oh, man! Usually when you put a weekend like that together, you put everything right, usually you win the race.
“I got over it pretty quickly, but it's disappointing. It is because it's such a competitive field, you don't get many chances at winning races.”
Power, 36, kept his poise and it paid off at Phoenix.
“When you've been around racing long enough, you know you're going to have bad runs, you're going to have really good runs,” he said. “You do, it just happens like that. Things can't go your way all the time and they can't go badly for you all the time. It's just percentages. It's math.”
He chuckled at his analysis, another indication a self-amused Power won’t panic.
His next start will be May 13’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a race Power won from the pole in 2015. He’s always excited to race at Indianapolis, especially in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28th. He finished second in that race in 2015 and still considers it the No. 1 priority on his resume checklist.
If anything, Saturday night helped restore some Power swagger for the challenges ahead.
“I felt great,” he said. “Feel energetic. I'm back to where I should be, feeling like I can make the difference.”