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.
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“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.