Power poised for IndyCar title following oval gains, Milwaukee domination

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. – It’s a sign of how far Will Power has come on ovals that the only thing that screwed him up Sunday in Milwaukee was the celebration in Victory Lane.

Power, who’d led 229 of 250 laps to dominate Sunday’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers, the 16th of 18 races in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, had the rest of the field covered.

Yet on the podium, it was third-placed Tony Kanaan who covered Power with cream puffs – a traditional Wisconsin State Fair delicacy – that Kanaan wedged either side of Power’s ears.

It forced an impromptu trip for Power to the medical center, in what was probably the first recorded “cream puff delay” in racing history.

“I did!” Power joked post-race when describing the trip.”Poof, it went in. Cream puff, all that stuff coming out. That’s good. My ears are clean and dry now. That lady was there for a while like squirting, squirting, squirting. Doctor is looking in my ear. Yeah, it’s clean, now.”

Also clean? Power’s on-track behavior and runs for the last five race weekends, and six races, that have positioned him for this year’s championship, that elusive first one the Australian has been seeking since he joined Team Penske in 2009, and full-time in 2010.

After accruing five penalties through Pocono – mostly drive-throughs – Power has since made it through Iowa, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Milwaukee penalty-free. He’s also made the best out of those situations, results-wise, too.

Other than Iowa, when he fell to 14th, ninth after his Saturday spin and crew recovery in Toronto race one, a podium in race two, a sixth at Mid-Ohio and now the Milwaukee win have netted him the points lead as others around him (Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay) have all had various stumbles.

“I’ve just been calmer this year, plodding away, doing my job,” Power said.

And on ovals, he’s turned from them being his bogey tracks to some of his better ones. He ran a respectable Indianapolis 500, could well have won Texas, ran top-three at Pocono before his penalty there for blocking on Castroneves, and then crushed the field at the Mile.

Overall, he’s third in the oval points standings with 240 points scored, trailing only Team Penske teammates Juan Pablo Montoya (275) and Castroneves (266).

Power, who first raced an oval at the Milwaukee Mile in 2006, has undoubtedly come a long way.

“It’s a race I had in my mind all year that I wanted to come and win, definitely,” he admitted. “I thought last year I had a very strong car. I was at a point where I really wasn’t in the championship hunt. I had Helio in front of me, so I didn’t want to make a move.

“But today was just one of those days. A perfect day. Really good car. Worked hard on it in the test, then came back here. I was just really determined to have a very good racecar and this is what we got.”

As for the championship itself? This win and his much-discussed Fontana win last year are two elements Power has now that he didn’t have in any of his three title near-misses thus far, 2010, ’11 and ’12.

“I’ve been in this situation before. The difference is that I don’t have a weakness anymore,” Power said. “I said it before we went to the past few races, in past years of the ovals have been, I don’t know. Last year ovals were very strong for me, and this year even stronger.”

It was the latest strength that has Power, now 39 up on Castroneves with two races remaining, well-positioned to capture the title. If he can execute as he should at Sonoma and Fontana, he’ll be able to take home the title.

Josef Newgarden wins for 3rd time in 4 years in rain-shortened Honda Indy GP of Alabama

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Given how well he’s done there, they may want to consider renaming Barber Motorsports Park to Newgarden Motorsports Park.

Josef Newgarden won for the second straight year and third time in the last four races at BMP to capture Monday’s rain-delayed Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

“I like it here,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We could do the whole series at Barber. That’d be great.”

Newgarden won his ninth career IndyCar race on what he considers his home track, just three hours from his home north of Nashville, Tennessee.

Monday’s race on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course was a timed event of 75 minutes after Sunday’s rain-postponement after 22 laps of the scheduled 90 laps.

As it turned out, both ends of Sunday’s start and Monday’s finish, a total of 82 laps were contested.

Rain once again became an issue in about the last 15 minutes of Monday’s rescheduled event but Newgarden – who started from the pole – made a stop for rain tires with 14 minutes left and that proved to be the winning strategy. He also regains the lead in the IndyCar point standings from Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi.

“The rain made it more eventful than I would have liked,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We had good fuel mileage and good reliability, that’s what we needed to win this race.

“It seemed like smooth sailing for the most part — we had no yellows, which we were hoping for no yellows — and then the rain crept in. … Fortunately, we had a big gap, which helped us win the race, just building that gap over the beginning part. … It’s a great day for Team Penske.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, followed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens, with Sebastien Bourdais finishing fifth.

“Solid weekend for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 in qualifying and two cars in the top 5 in the race. Pretty proud of these boys. It’s good to get a couple Hondas up there. Maybe not the top steps in the podium, but we took the rest of it.”

Bourdais had hoped to finish the race on slicks and win. But he was forced to pit with 7:15 left after his car became too difficult to control in heavy rain, swapping to rain tires.

Unfortunately, pitting essentially cost Bourdais the win.

“We were in the catbird’s seat for second and were hoping that he’d get some good times on the drives in the wet, but the wet just kept coming and we had to bring him in,” team owner Dale Coyne said.

Added Bourdais, “We’re in it to win it, did everything we could, it was seemingly going to be good enough. … I think we had beaten (Newgarden). Yet, the sky opened and that was it.”

Scott Dixon finished sixth, followed by Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti.

Eleventh through 20th were Rossi, Matheus Leist, Zach Veach, Jordan King, Spencer Pigot, Rene Binder, Gabby Chaves, Tony Kanaan, Zach Claman De Melo and Ed Jones.

Rounding out the final three finishing positions were Will Power, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball.

INCIDENTS:

* Spencer Pigot and rookie Zach Claman De Melo got into a tangle early on, but both were able to get going and damage appeared minimal.

* With 8:30 left, Rossi spun into the Turn 5 gravel but was able to get going.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* Will Power’s team was able to get his damaged car repaired and he was back on-track roughly 10 minutes into Monday’s action.

* Scott Dixon lost much of the electronics on his car with about 28 minutes left. He essentially had to handle things old school, going by feel. He wound up being penalized for speeding on pit road when his dashboard went out.

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