Will Power’s runner-up at Long Beach not without controversy

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Eventually, Will Power will probably feel pretty good about opening the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship with a win and a runner-up.

But immediately following today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Australian wasn’t entirely happy after his second-place finish behind winner Mike Conway – not so much because he couldn’t reel in the Englishman in the final laps, but because of his contact with Simon Pagenaud off a restart at Lap 32.

Going into Turn 6, Power maneuvered to the inside of Pagenaud while battling for fourth and wound up hitting him. The contact sent Pagenaud’s No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda into the tire barriers.

Upon backing out, Pagenaud’s left-front tire and suspension was partially enclosed by a piece of a Tecate banner that had covered the tires.

Pagenaud ultimately recovered to finish fifth but the Frenchman was spotted wagging his finger at Power on the cool-down lap; he later noted to NBCSN that he was careful to use “the right finger” and not the one that can make for lighter wallets.

Power, for his part, was apologetic afterwards.

“Man, I’m really sorry for what happened,” Power told NBCSN. “I honestly thought he had a problem because he went back really slowly, so I went up his inside and then realized he was just going to turn and try to back out and I got him.

“My bad. I feel bad. That’s – I don’t like to be raced like that and I’m surprised I didn’t get a penalty…He should be angry. I’d be the same.”

Power’s victory two weeks ago in the season-opener at St. Petersburg also came with controversy, as he appeared to lead the field to a mid-race restart slower than expected. The subsequent accordion effect caused rookie Jack Hawksworth to spin out and collect Marco Andretti in a crash.

But his issues with Pagenaud aside, Power did have a good day after failing to advance out of the first round of yesterday’s knockout qualifying in a surprising setback.

A key part of his drive to second was being able to evade the multi-car pileup that ensued on Lap 54 after Ryan Hunter-Reay got into race leader Josef Newgarden in Turn 4.

“I could see that happening – when Hunter-Reay went to go up [Newgarden’s] inside, he wasn’t quite there and I just kind of hung back,” Power said. “I was ready for something to happen because they were all on cold tires.”

Power ultimately takes away a 27-point championship lead over Mike Conway going into the next race in two weeks’ time from Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

However, the Australian’s mindset appears solely set on checkered flags – at least, for now.

“[I’ll] definitely take second from 14th,” he said in the post-race press conference. “Good for the championship – not that I want to think about that crap anymore.

“I just want to race. I’m just going to race to win every time.”

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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