Will Power breaks through for his first IndyCar victory at Mid-Ohio

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Will Power rediscovered his dominant form at the rare road course he had yet to conquer, winning Saturday’s opener of an NTT IndyCar Series race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

It was the first victory in 12 starts at Mid-Ohio for Power, whose No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet led 66 of 75 laps after starting on pole at the 13-turn, 2.258-mile track in Lexington, Ohio.

The Team Penske driver won by 7.4523 seconds ahead of teammate Josef Newgarden.

“We’ve had a pretty trying year, obviously everyone has, circumstances very tough with COVID, but the fact we’re out here racing and have some fans is fantastic,” Power told NBCSN reporter Kelli Stavast after his 48th career victory. “That’s what we love to do. Love to entertain. We love to drive.

MID-OHIO RESULTS, POINTS: Click here for the full postrace stats package

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: A roundup of postrace reactions

“That is probably the first race in about 10 years that I’ve just gone hard. Like every other race we’ve tried to save fuel and play a strategy game. Today I just said, ‘Let’s go hard, man. Screw this. We don’t want to get caught by a yellow. Let’s just run hard and use my raw pace and see what happens.’ And we won the race.

“It was a great strategy. It’s just putting down good laps, lap after lap after lap. Just a flawless day. It’s what you have to do to win races in this series. The whole team did a fantastic job. To see Verizon in Victory Lane again is fantastic because it’s been awhile.”

Alexander Rossi was third, followed by Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had been fastest in practice Saturday morning, as the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio ran caution-free for the third consecutive seeason.

It’s the series-leading 29th career victory on a road course for Power, who ended a yearlong winless drought by taking his first checkered flag since Sept. 1, 2019 at Portland International Raceway. Earlier Saturday, he had scored his 60th career pole position, seven short of the record held by Mario Andretti.

“It’s just great to tick the Mid-Ohio box,” Power said. “I’ve been on the podium here five times.”

Said Newgarden of his teammate: “Unbelievable job. He’s still Will Power. He’s been knocked down a few times this year, but he drove really well. That was a clinic he put on.”

Felix Rosenqvist, Jack Harvey, rookie Rinus VeeKay (who made an impressive pass late in the race), Colton Herta and points leader Scott Dixon rounded out the top 10 in Saturday’s 75-lap race.

Dixon made a last-lap pass to make the top 10, capping an eventful day that included qualifying a disappointing 17th. After gaining a flurry of positions in the opening laps, Dixon rear-ended Herta (who was exiting the pits) on Lap 27.

He avoided any damage to his No. 9 Dallara-Honda and soldiered onto an 11th-place finish.

“It’s was just OK for us,” Dixon said. “It just didn’t play out the way we thought it would. We went with a cautious move and made sure we ran the red tires first based on what we saw in qualifying. I guess looking back maybe we should have gone the other way, but who knows?

“Then we got caught up with Herta on the pit exit, and I’m not sure what happened there or why he slowed up or whatever, but I thought we might have broken the front end after that. I hit him pretty hard, but I guess at the end of the day we made up seven or so spots, and that’s a small win.”

The five-time series champion’s lead over Newgarden shrunk by 20 points but still remains a comfortable 76-point edge with four races remaining in the season — the next being Sunday at Mid-Ohio.

The green flag will be at 1 p.m. ET on NBC. Qualifying will be at 10:15 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold.