When an inner ear infection caused him to miss the season-opening race at St. Petersburg – and all the potential points that came with it – it appeared Will Power would have a hard time making up that lost ground.
Some observers even wondered if perhaps Power’s season was already over before it had even started.
But not only has he made up that lost ground, Power has stomped and trampled and pounded that ground, particularly in the last five races.
Just when it appeared Penske Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud would make the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season championship a runaway, Power has suddenly given IndyCar fans what they want: a real championship battle.
Power has won three of the last five races, and finished second in the other two, to climb from 12th to second in the standings with four races remaining.
In addition, he’s cut deeply into Pagenaud’s lead, to the point where entering Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Power is just 58 points behind his teammate. Granted, Pagenaud scored a seismic win at Mid-Ohio that saved the gap from closing even more.
With four races remaining – including Pocono – Power looks to continue as the hottest driver in the series, while Pagenaud continues to do anything and everything to protect his lead.
“We’re in the championship hunt and that’s all I could ask at this point after missing the first race,” Power said. “The whole team has worked so hard to get ourselves back in it. We just need to finish strong.”
Pagenaud won the most recent IndyCar race, his series-leading fourth of the season, nearly three weeks ago at Mid-Ohio.
And as the pair head to Pocono this weekend, they’re literally in a dead heat when it comes to who might have an advantage at the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle.”
In three prior starts at Pocono, Power has two fourth-place finishes (2013 and 2015) and a 10th place showing (2014), giving him an average finish of 6.0 (an and average start of 3.0).
Pagenaud, meanwhile, is just a tick behind Power with an average finish of 6.3, the result of a pair of sixth-place finishes in 2013 and 2014, and a seventh-place showing last year (plus an overall start of 7.0).
Frankly, Sunday is anybody’s race. And with Pocono being the kickoff to the final fourth of the season, instead of Team Penske’s all for one and one for all team attitude, it’s more of every man for himself when it comes to the championship battle between Power and Pagenaud.
“The Verizon Chevrolet team is ready for Pocono,” Power said. “We have a lot of momentum right now and it’s a track that we’ve had some good performances.
“It’s a track made for these cars. There is a lot of passing and jockeying for position.”
While Power is clearly on the attack and wants to close the points gap on his teammate, Pagenaud, meanwhile, is trying to take more of a relaxed, one race at a time approach.
“Pocono has such a great history with Indy car racing,” he said. “The list of winners at the track is amazing. The track was designed with these cars in mind.
“The racing produces a lot of passing and lead changes. It’s very similar to Indianapolis in many ways. … I like the gains we’ve made in our oval-racing program. Pocono suits our team very well and it will be a very competitive race.”