Will Power played an IndyCar tire management game to perfection Sunday, winning the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Raceway.
The Team Penske driver scored his first victory of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series and won by 1.0027 seconds over a hard-charging Alexander Rossi.
With his 41st career win in IndyCar, Power moved one behind Michael Andretti for fourth on the all-time list. He also extended his streak to 16 consecutive seasons with at least one IndyCar victory, second to Scott Dixon (who entered 2022 with 17), with the 100th win for Chevy since the manufacturer returned to the series in 2012.
“Just drove it as straight as I could, really nice on the brakes, on the throttle,” Power told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “I knew that if I could keep a reasonable gap to the end, we’d be OK, but I was a bit worried because I saw how badly (the tires) died. There was a lot more rubber on the track at the end.
“Stellar job by the team. A very enjoyable race because you had to chop through the field, fight hard, good passing.”
Power started 16th on the primary tire compound (which is slower at the start of a stint but more durable) and moved into the lead on Lap 14 as many of the drivers on the alternate red tire (faster but less durable) pitted in front of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet.
That started with Rossi, who pitted on the fourth lap to get off the softer red compound (IndyCar drivers are required to use each compound during a race) on the first of three stops for his No. 27 Dallara-Honda.
Power elected to make two stops, switching to reds with 20 laps to go. The tires faded in the final 10 laps as Rossi took huge chunks out of a 16-second lead but eventually ran out of time.
“I think one more lap would have been really interesting,” Rossi told Snider. “You’ve got to give credit to the 12 guys and Will. That’s hard to do at the end to hang on. Huge thanks to all of these boys behind me. The 27 Napa AutoNation Honda was amazing, and yet again we come here with an amazing car and can’t quite get the win, but it was a good recovery from yesterday. The strategy was good. We’ll take it.”
It was Rossi’s best finish since a runner-up at Portland last Sepember. Rossi, who is leaving Andretti Autosport after the season for Arrow McLaren SP, will try to end a nearly three-year winless streak next week at Road America, which was the site of his most recent victory on June 23, 2019.
“We’re finally just executing our potential,” said Rossi, who has consecutive top five finishes for the first time since October 2020. “It’s been frustrating for a lot of reasons, but the speed has been there, just been a lot of factors. But it’s two weeks in a row the team has executed in a big way in pressure moments.
“Big thanks to them, and we’re going to Road America, a place where we’ve had some success. It would be fitting to come full circle with a win there next weekend, so we’ll try for that.”
The Detroit result was somewhat full circle for Power, who dominated but finished 20th at Belle Isle last year because his car didn’t refire in the lead immediately after a red flag with four laps remaining.
But this year, he got to take the celebratory dip by the winner in the James Scott Memorial Fountain.
After taking the checkered flag Sunday, he immediately radioed his team, “Yes, yes, yes! Redemption, boys! Redemption!”
— Will Power (@12WillPower) June 5, 2022
“I was just waiting for something to happen those last 10 laps,” Power later told Snider. “Just stayed laser focused. I was just hitting my marks. Very, very focused. Very, very good performance mentally for me. I always judge my performances, and I really left nothing on the table.
“I got right in that sweet spot of the zone, so that’s why I was able to pump out really quick laps.”
Power employed a strategy that previously had burned teammate Josef Newgarden, who led 67 of 70 laps but finished second to Pato O’Ward last year because of some ill-time yellow flags.
Newgarden went with the opposite approach Sunday, starting from the pole position on red tires that he nursed until his first stop. After leading the first 13 laps, Newgarden finished fourth as the final race on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile street course ended on a last-lap yellow but had no other caution flags.
“It’s hard to not get annoyed,” Newgarden told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “When we need a race to go all green, it doesn’t go all green. We needed that last year. We basically ran Power’s strategy last year, but that was not the race to do it. Today would have been the day, so we tried to not do it today because of what happened last year.
“I don’t know what to tell you. We ran a good race. Just strategy-wise, it didn’t work out. A day like today, the track is less grip at the beginning. So reds aren’t favored early. But you don’t want to run the risk of yellows, which is what happened to us last year, running reds at the end. I don’t know.
“We ran a good race, it just wasn’t the race to run today. I don’t know I can blame anybody. It’s just typically IndyCar. You can’t predict these things. It’s good to see a Team Chevy car get the win. Happy for Team Penske and Will. Just a little annoying.”
Employing the same strategy as Power, Scott Dixon started ninth and finished a season-best third, rebounding from a bitter 17th-place finish in the Indy 500 with his first podium since the 2021 season finale.
“Kudos to Will he, drove aggressively at the start (and) jumped us,” Dixon told Snider. “Rossi did a hell of a job as well, especially on those reds the first set. Feels good for the No. 9 to be back on podium. Feels good for us and hopefully we get on a roll here.
“I can’t change anything about (Indy). Trust me, I was gutted, man, but mostly gutted for all the effort in the team. The saving grace was obviously (teammate) Marcus (Ericsson) doing a hell of a job and now an Indianapolis 500 champion, which is very special. Congratulations to them and all we can do is try our hardest and try to get some wins soon.”
After 30 years on Belle Isle, the Detroit Grand Prix will move to a new downtown layout next year.
Power took over the championship points lead, moving three points ahead of Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and 12 ahead of Pato O’Ward, who started and finished fifth Sunday.
“We ran a really good race,” O’Ward told Burns. “We were the best car on reds. I’m really happy with the solid points we got today. I think we maximized. We’re going into Road America with good position. We’re right there with the leaders in the championship.”
Rossi moved up to seventh in the standings.
“Yeah, this team and who I am as a person, we’re going to try to win this championship,” he said. “I don’t care about any of the external factors. We’re here to win, and we’ll keep pushing until we can accomplish that.”