Is a potential first Pagenaud vs. Power at Penske battle on tap?

Pagenaud and Power. Photos: IndyCar

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Two years ago, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had a notable dust-up in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach when driving for separate teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series. To follow it up, there was an encore at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans in June.

Since Pagenaud joined Power at Team Penske prior to 2015, however, there’s been no animosity since as the two join Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya in fully uniting under Roger Penske’s single, one-team focus mindset.

They laughed off the Long Beach contact in 2015.

Heck, they’ve all poked fun at each other over the last 16 months – Pagenaud even took the opportunity to imitate Montoya during an interview this weekend.

But will Sunday mark a renewal of the rivalry? A spark of sorts as Power starts second but has actually been beaten to a pole, on a road or street course, by Pagenaud for the first time since Pagenaud joined Team Penske?

It’s a potential turning point in the inner Team Penske ascendancy between the team’s two younger, if still experienced, drivers, and the stats bare it out.

Last year, Power scored five Verizon P1 Awards on road or street courses – and he out-qualified Pagenaud on all but one of the road or street qualifying sessions.

The only time Pagenaud beat him was when Power missed it during Q1 at Long Beach last year and started 18th; Pagenaud made it into the Firestone Fast 6 and started fifth.

This year? Different story. Pagenaud qualified third to Power’s sixth last week at Long Beach and took advantage of his opportunity to win his first race. Power had a nondescript run to seventh and missed his marks on a pit stop.

Now, Pagenaud has the pole for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Diplomacy and cordiality ruled out between the two of them rather than any fighting words during the post-qualifying press conference.

“Simon did a mega lap there, an awesome lap. To do that on these reds is very good,” Power said of Pagenaud.

Of beating Power, Pagenaud replied, “It’s definitely a game that I enjoy. Qualifying is fun, and Will is definitely the best in the business, so when you can beat him, it feels nice for sure.”

Nice words, for sure, today.

But when the two of them launch from the front row tomorrow, it will be fascinating to see whether the nice words last when it comes down to getting the lead into Turn 1.