LEXINGTON, Ohio — Will Power didn't hide his dejection as the sweaty driver toweled off, drank fluids to hydrate, gulped extra hard and kept shaking his head.
Second place. Again.
This time last year, he had allowed Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud to overtake him on a restart. That decided the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Pagenaud went on to win his first Verizon IndyCar Series title. Power, the 2014 series champion, settled for being a points runner-up a fourth time.
Power has finished second too often in his 13-year Indy car career, especially at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, where he’s never won in eight starts.
The determined Australian reasserted himself today by winning the pole position for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200. It’s the third time he’s claimed this race’s pole, the 49th of his career (tying Bobby Unser for fourth all time). From 2013-16, Power rolled off the line in second, which means he's qualified on the front row for this race six consecutive times.
His best result? Second place, three times. Mid-Ohio, in fact, is the only road or street course on the current Verizon IndyCar Series schedule that Power has yet to conquer.
That’s why, on yet another sun-splashed afternoon, he wasn’t basking in today’s accomplishment for long after working up yet another sweat in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. His pole-winning lap in the deciding Firestone Fast Six was 1 minute, 4.1720 seconds (126.672 mph).
“I’m OK,” Power said, still wearing his Verizon P1 Award hat while standing next to a Team Penske transporter.
Just OK? What about winning the pole?
“Yeah, but I want to win the race,” he said. “That’s what I want to do. I want to win some races.”
Translation: He needs to win. Big picture is never lost on the 36-year-old competitor’s perspective. Power does have two wins this season (INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis and Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas) and sits fifth in the points, 64 behind the 423 of rival Scott Dixon from Chip Ganassi Racing. The drivers in second, third and fourth are Power’s Penske teammates: Helio Castroneves is second at 420, Pagenaud third at 404 and Josef Newgarden fourth at 400.
Newgarden will start alongside Power on the front row for Sunday’s 90-lap race. Castroneves and Dixon qualified fifth and sixth, respectively, and Pagenaud will roll off seventh.
Just like last year, Power sees the opportunity for a Mid-Ohio victory as a springboard with four more races remaining to a late-season run at a second series championship.
“I’ve been trying to win here for a while,” Power said of the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course. “I would love to do that. But this is INDYCAR racing. I’m going to try. You do your best on the day and it will give you what it will give you. But I’d like to take what it gives me.”
Power couldn’t help but praise Pagenaud for last year’s fateful pass. As Team Penske driver coach Rick Mears always reminds, and continually proved when he distinguished himself as a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, there’s a time to go for it and a driver must seize that moment.
That Pagenaud did and Power didn’t was particularly frustrating for the Australian.
“It was pretty much a done deal at that point,” Power said. “It was a matter of getting a restart and that was it. Simon did a very good job on the restart and I did a bad job, then we raced wheel to wheel for quite a few corners.”
There didn’t appear to be much drama involving Power in practice the past two days as his best lap ranked just 10th out of 21 cars in three sessions. His ability to zoom to the front had many wondering where he found the extra pace. He shrugged it off as knowing how to pace himself throughout race weekend.
“It's just a matter of getting it all together and understanding what you've learned over that weekend and putting it all together during the qualifying, especially when it counts, the Fast Six, not use too much energy all weekend,” he said. “When you’ve got to use it, use it.”
As he was reminded last year at Mid-Ohio, use it or lose it. Power vows to do anything he can on Sunday to ensure runner-up history doesn’t repeat itself.
“I haven't really won here,” he said in a modest understatement. “It's something that I would really like to do.”
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