Will Power is looking to continue his hot finish to 2013 into the new Verizon IndyCar Series season, and is leading what has been, so far, a caution-free Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Pole sitter Takuma Sato kept Ryan Hunter-Reay in his rear view mirror during the opening stint and was able to return to the lead after the first round of pit stops for the leaders took place under green.
But when the cycle was over, Power was in his rear view mirrors and on Lap 31, the Aussie made his move. Using one of his push-to-pass boosts, Power set up Sato down the front stretch but went on the outside of the ex-Formula One racer in Turn 1.
The two went side-by-side through the corner, but Sato couldn’t hold on the inside of Turn 2 and Power took the lead for the fifth consecutive race at St. Petersburg.
Meanwhile, Sato was forced to battle for second with Helio Castroneves, who has made steady headway in the first half after starting 10th at the green. Also running strong were Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson, who rose into the Top 5 during the second stint after starting 16th, and Ed Carpenter Racing’s road/street racer, Mike Conway.
Power pitted from the lead at Lap 52 and came out in third behind Sato and Scott Dixon, but moved to second upon Dixon pitting at Lap 56. Sato would stretch his fuel load to Lap 57 (making for a 30 lap stint) before pitting and giving the lead back to Power.
With the cycle complete at Lap 60, Power’s lead over Castroneves sits at 9.1 seconds. Hunter-Reay is in third place, followed by Conway in fourth and Sato now settling in fifth.
We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.
And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.
After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.
In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.
Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.
“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.
“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.
“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”
Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.
“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”
Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.