INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power and his place in the history of the Indy 500 and NTT IndyCar Series easily can be backed up by a look at the numbers.
The Team Penske driver has 40 career wins including the 2018 Indianapolis 500, an astonishing 64 career poles and the 2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship.
His 40 career wins places him fifth on the all-time list, just one ahead of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser and two behind Michael Andretti in fourth place. Scott Dixon is third with 51 victories, Mario Andretti second with 52 and AJ Foyt is the leader with 67 wins.
When it comes to poles, there is nobody better in today’s INDYCAR SERIES than Power. His 64 poles are just three short of the all-time record of 67 set by Mario Andretti.
HOW TO WATCH POLE QUALIFYING: Sunday schedule for Peacock and NBC
Ironically, for a driver so adapt at winning poles, Power has never been the fastest qualifier for the Indianapolis 500. He has won six poles on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but has never won a pole on the famed 2.5-mile IMS oval.
His mentor at Team Penske, Rick Mears, is the all-time pole winner in Indianapolis 500 history with six.
“That was Rick’s deal,” Power told NBCSports.com during an exclusive one-on-one interview Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I’d just like to get one myself. It’s crazy, out of all the poles I’ve had, I’ve never had one here. I’ve had all these front rows here, too.
“That’s pretty funny.”
Power gets another chance to claim the No. 1 starting position for the Indianapolis 500 during Sunday’s Fast 12 that will help set the order of the first four rows for the May 29 106th Indianapolis 500.
.@12WillPower has completed his first qualifying run.
— Team Penske (@Team_Penske) May 21, 2022
Power was the 11th fastest driver in Saturday’s first round of qualifications with a four-lap average of 231.842 mph and that locked him into Sunday’s Fast 12. It will be televised on NBC beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.
The six fastest drivers in the Fast 12 will advance into the Fast Six and each driver will make one more four-lap run to determine the pole and the first two rows of the starting lineup.
Power can add to his incredible career if he claims his 65th pole on Sunday. But with 40 victories and 64 poles already to his credit, where does the native of Toowoomba, Australia fit in the history of IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500?
“All you can do is look at the stats,” Power said. “At the Indianapolis 500, I’m only a single-time winner. I’ve won once. When you look at IndyCar as an overall series and championships, then you look at race wins and poles. Everyone has their place in the sport. That’s all you can do is look at numbers to try to understand that.
“And, at times, that doesn’t tell the whole story.”
Power remains in great shape and enters the Indianapolis 500 qualifications as the NTT IndyCar Series points leader. Although he hasn’t won a race this season, he is the only driver that has finished fourth or higher in each race this season.
“He is doing a hell of a job,” Mears told NBC Sports. “Top four every race this year. That is championship-type running.”
Racing for a championship is always at the forefront of Power’s list of goals. When he arrived in INDYCAR after his impressive debut in the Champ Car Series in 2005, Power was a perennial contender for the championship from 2010 to 2012. His championship contention dropped off in 2013, but he roared back in 2014 to score his only career INDYCAR championship.
“It ate away at me a lot,” Power said of the lost championships. “If one thing in any of the other seasons had gone the other way, like one yellow nor one small thing, it was amazing it didn’t come together.
“Whatever that reason was, I could quite easily be a four-time champion if things had gone differently over the years. Being a one-time champion is very much disappointing.
“But in 2014, I never thought of points. I did my job and I raced hard. I raced to win and enjoyed the racing and never looked at the points. That’s the one year I won the championship. Had I done that in previous years and raced harder, maybe if I had done that, I would have won more than one championship. The worst one was 2012. All I had to do was run around and finish the race and I would have won the championship. That was ridiculous.
“In 2010, it was frustrating because Chip Ganassi Racing turned up at the last race with quicker. Cars. There was nothing I could do about it, and it was frustrating. I was pushing and pushing and pushing and ended up scraping the fence and damaging the car.
“In 2012, that was an easy one for us. All I had to do was stay behind Ryan Hunter-Reay all day and we would have won the championship.”
From 2009 to 2011, Power’s nemesis was Dario Franchitti of Chip Ganassi Racing. Power and Franchitti had many memorable incidents on the track, especially on the streets of Toronto when the two cars got together, and Power’s racing machine ended up in the tire barrier.
At that time, Power was extremely vocal and called Franchitti “a dirty driver.”
“He was very good at putting his wheel right where it didn’t damage his car,” Power said of Franchitti. “It was tight racing. He knew the game well. That’s just one of those instances that happened. You look back and laugh at it now, but it was fun. It was fun.
“I wish I enjoyed it more at the time.”
Franchitti had the upper hand, winning three of his four career IndyCar Series championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Franchitti also won two of his three Indy 500s in 2010 and 2012.
“He was towards the end of his career and didn’t have the ultimate speed,” Power said. “I always outqualified him but when it came to ovals, his experience was so much greater. And it was experience. He was mentally better. He experienced the champion and was simply better.
“Knowing now my experience, he simply had more experience in every way. He did a better job at that stuff.”
When Power clinched the championship at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, no driver probably enjoyed the celebration more than the man from Toowoomba.
“It lifted a massive burden,” he said. “In 2013, it was great. It weighed on me. Had I not been a contender in those previous years, it wouldn’t have been a weight on my shoulders. It weighed on me a lot and it was great to finally get that championship.
“It was always coming up to the last little bit of the championship.”
A more relaxed, more focused Power could be on his way to another championship in 2022 with his approach this season.
“It’s been very consistent, very methodical, well-thought-out races and taking at much as we can taking advantage of the situations we’ve been dealt,” he explained. “The way to win a championship is to finish in the top five. You have to throw a few wins in there to win a championship because you will have a couple of bad results. But to be super competitive, you have to be top five every week. It’s so competitive now, if you fall out of that top five, you fall behind in points.”
Next up on the victory list is Michael Andretti, a driver Power followed and revered when he was coming up through the ranks of racing before moving to the United States.
“He’s a big name and when I was in Australia, you definitely knew who Michael Andretti was,” Power explained. “I’m two behind him, but it’s getting harder than ever to win in the NTT IndyCar Series with all of this great young talent that is coming in.”
Does Power have 10 more wins left in him? That would give him an incredible 50 wins in his career.
“Can I make it to 50?” Power asked. “I’m not going to get to 50 wins in this day and age. If I had two wins a year for five years, that’s a pretty good run, but that’s going to be tough. I see what is feasible is to equal of pass Michael. That’s pretty tough and it only gets tougher as the young guys come in.
“Fifty wins would be tough.”
Once Power claimed the IndyCar championship in 2014, the next major goal was to win the Indianapolis 500. He came very close in 2014, barely losing to then Team Penske teammate Will Power by just 0.105-of-a-second.
Power had become IndyCar’s Don Quixote, and the Indianapolis 500 was his windmill.
He was 10th in 2016 and 23rd the following year.
Finally, in 2018, he achieved his elusive dream.
“It built on you year after year,” he explained. “It was a weight on your shoulders again and that was the biggest feeling that I had afterwards was like, ‘Oh, thank God, I won that thing. I’ll never have to stress about never winning the 500.’ The whole experience was so great, you want to do it again. It’s a tough race to win to get all those things together. It’s hard.
“It was just fantastic because I know what it means to Roger Penske (his team owner who now owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and the team. It was great when I finally saw Roger in Victory Lane. I know what it means to him to get another one. I think he was waiting a long time. He wanted me to win one badly. He has multiple drivers but when you have paid your dues, you deserve to win. I think he felt that way for me. That was pretty cool.”
Power’s emotions let loose after he took the checkered flag. He could be screaming on the team’s radio “Respect Me!!!”
Ask Power about that today, and he wasn’t directing that comment at anyone in particular, but everyone who ever doubted him.
“It was a career full of big disappointments at times with so much potential,” Power said. “That was it and the questions. It was a career full of coming so close and putting out so much effort and release of that. Those things were eating at me. At the beginning of that month, I was thinking of my career, and I was quite disappointed. I thought with all of the potential and speed that I had and all the pole positions and wins, to have one championship to show for it, I would be quite disappointment to finish my career that way.
“I’m an emotional person and things like that upset me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve calmed and accepted that’s life. I’m extremely lucky to be in the position I’m in. I’m lucky and blessed to have a career in motorsports, which I am.
“Since I’ve developed that attitude and realize lucky, I am and how bad some people have it in the world, it doesn’t bother me anymore. How lucky am I? I’m going to do the best I can.
“Whatever the result, I’m lucky.”
Power has given so much of himself to racing in order to reap the rewards of his success. He’s had two broken backs, including one at Sonoma Raceway in 2009 when he was T-boned by Nelson Philippe.
The second broken back came on IndyCar’s “Dark Sunday” at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when he was part of the massive 15-car pileup that claimed the life of two-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver Dan Wheldon.
It was on October 16, 2011, and it haunts him to this day.
Power’s Chevrolet went airborne in the multi-car pileup, at least 30 feet off the air.
He’ll never forget the moments afterward.
“The air I had got and how high I was going and the direction I was going, I knew I was going to the catchfence and that’s all bad when you get into the catch fence,” Power explained. “The banking goes up as I was going up. The back touched down and I ended up on JR Hildebrand’s car.
“The impact was enough for a compression fracture of the back. When I landed and it came to a stop, I was like, “Wow, I’m alive, thank God. It’s not that bad.’
“I broke my back a couple times before that, so I knew what that was like. I sat there. It was a terrible experience. I stopped there and the car was looking right into the cockpit was Dan Wheldon. I had to watch that unfold.
“That caused me a lot of issues. It still does if I talk about it for too long, it gives me panic attacks.”
To this day, Power remembers the scene as safety workers tried to save Wheldon.
Through it all, Power raced onward and achieved even more success.
There is something much different about Power these days. He was once a driver that let the little things in life drive him crazy. He was great at tackling the major problems, such as driving a race car around a track with fearlessness and ferocity.
But minor annoyances would drive him crazy.
Not this year.
“It’s the same Will, just in a little bit different frame of mind,” Mears explained. “He decided he isn’t going to sweat the small stuff. I think that is great.
“He has come to that conclusion that he doesn’t have to be the fastest driver every lap or the fastest qualifier every race. He has settled in to taking what he can get today, which I think is great.
“He is more relaxed about it.”
An older, wiser, more mature Power has experienced glory that makes him one of this generation’s great drivers.
“His career numbers are very impressive,” Mears said. “The way he has been all the way up to now has not been a bad thing because that has gotten him to where he is. He has taken all the good things from different ways and putting them together.
“He belongs up there with the best of the best. He is one of the very best out there.
“The big thing is not letting himself get worked up. The way I ran, if somebody cut me off in Turn 1, I wanted it to be over in Turn 2. That’s the way he has become. If I have a third-place car today, if I get second, fine, but otherwise, I’ll take third place. That has worked out well for him.
“Part of that is called age and wisdom. We all grow as we go. He has just reached another level.”