MONTEREY, California – It was the morning after Team Penske’s Will Power had elevated his already legendary racing status by clinching his second NTT IndyCar Series championship.
The Toowoomba, Australia, native was trying to get in a quick breakfast between media obligations in a hotel conference room … when he suddenly realized there was an extra container to open on the counter.
Power’s eyes lit up over the beautiful sight of crispy bacon.
Power is normally a man with a strict regimen regarding his diet. The cockpit of an Indy car is very tight, and at 41, Power works extra hard to keep the waistline of a teenager.
But on this morning, he allowed himself to indulge on several extra pieces of bacon as a tasty treat for winning a championship.
All hail the champion of IndyCar, a man who became part of motorsports royalty on Sunday by winning a series championship for the second time in his career.
“It’s very satisfying,” Power said Sunday after clinching his second title in eight years with a third in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. “Very satisfying.”
What a team effort 💪
— Will Power (@12WillPower) September 12, 2022
Once considered a wild man, fatherhood and middle age have brought a calming maturity to Power. It’s the simple things in life that Power loves the most, like holding his 5-year-old son, Beau, in his arms on pit lane.
Green tea is Will Power’s favorite beverage, and he enjoyed it Sunday night when he was celebrating with his team after one of the greatest accomplishments of an IndyCar career that includes the all-time record for pole positions (68) and 41 victories, including the 2018 Indy 500.
Power belongs somewhere in the conversation of the greatest IndyCar drivers ever. He has been highly successful during the era of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti.
Since 2017, one of his fiercest competitors has been his Penske teammate, Josef Newgarden. Power’s longtime race strategist, Team Penske president Tim Cindric, left Power’s pit stand to take over the same duties for Newgarden.
The combination brought instant success as Newgarden won the 2017 IndyCar title in his first season with the team. He won another in 2019.
At Penske, the motto is, “When the team wins, we all win.” But Power recalls seeing Newgarden’s championship celebrations and not being in a joyous mood for his teammate.
“No, I was not happy for him,” Power told NBC Sports. “You’re not really. Honestly, you are really disappointed because you’ve got the same equipment as him. You see a teammate come in and win a couple of championships, it motivates you, and it is disappointing because you are measured off your teammate.
“Just having tough teammates improves you, simply.”
There have been times since when it externally seemed Newgarden was favored, and Power had been moved down the roster.
In his 40s, Power knows his chances at championships are waning. That is why he was so determined and focused to win another before his career was over. And that’s how he devised a strategy of consistency to notch nine podium finishes — offsetting Newgarden’s series-high five victories — in 2022.
“In 2020, I had amazing pace and almost had the ability to win seven times,” Power said. “I was in great position to win. So, I was always there trying to win another championship.
“This year, it all fell together very nicely, very consistent. I finished every lap of every race. I can’t think of a season like that I’ve had in my career, actually.”
Power entered the season finale with Newgarden hot on his tail. Power led Newgarden and Dixon in the championship by just 20 points, but Newgarden had the edge based on his five victories.
Power knew that he would have to contend with Newgarden in Sunday’s race, even after Newgarden’s failure to advance out of the first round of Saturday’s qualifications because a crash in the Corkscrew had him starting 25th.
Power won the pole, breaking a tie with Mario Andretti for the career record.
“It definitely took the pressure off in that first round when Scott Dixon was out, and Josef was out,” Power recalled. “I was pretty focused on getting the job done either way.
“That’s big pressure off. Then it’s all about getting pole position to give yourself the best chance to lead a lap, which makes it even harder on those guys.
“That was a critical point where you didn’t want to make a mistake and put yourself in that position.
“It would have been interesting to see how the race would have played out even if Josef had got through in qualifying.
“Who knows? Maybe he gets pole, maybe he doesn’t. But if he is top-six, it makes it an easier race because you are 100 percent queuing off him rather than wondering what to do, and he has the same tires as you do, too. He had a bunch of tires, and that was my worry going into the race.”
Even with Newgarden so deep in the field, Power knew it was just a matter of time before he would be near the front. On Lap 46, Newgarden passed Power for second place.
“At that point, you are thinking you have got to give it everything you have to maintain the position you are in,” said Power, referring to the fact that he was running third and that would clinch the championship regardless of anyone else. “You knew it didn’t matter if he passed you, but if you kept him behind, it would have made your job a lot easier.
“I had to dig deep. I really did. That stint where he pulled 12 seconds on the same tire, the next stint after we changed tires, I was quicker than him. It was very strange to us and very strange to me there was variability in the tires there.”
It was also at that point that Power became Alex Palou’s biggest fan.
The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion drives for rival Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou had built a lead so large over Newgarden, he was in a different zip code.
In third place, Power was hoping Palou would finish in a different time zone ahead of Newgarden.
“Oh, yes, at that point, I was cheering for Alex, big-time,” Power admitted. “Alex was on another level. He was solid. When the team said Palou had a 20-second lead on Josef, I said, ‘This is making it a lot easier on me.’
“As the laps slowly wore down, I thought, ‘OK, this is looking pretty good.’ ”
Newgarden’s secret weapon is Cindric, who may be the best race strategist in the business by seeing the big picture of the race as it unfolds and quickly determining a strategy for success.
In charge of the entire day-to-day racing operation based in Mooresville, North Carolina, Cindric actually is Power’s boss. But on race day, Cindric’s competitive drive is focused on getting Newgarden to victory lane.
“I was absolutely concerned about that,” Power said. “Tim is one of the best strategists on pit lane. That’s tough. He’s pretty smart. He knows the game well.
“Tim is in a tough position because on one hand, he has to do the best for Josef. On the other hand, he wants the team to win the championship, so he doesn’t want us to take each other out.
“To me, he has a tough role.”
Since Cindric left to join Newgarden, Power’s race strategists had been as Jon Bouslog (2018) and team owner Roger Penske (2019).
When Penske bought Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar, he gave up his duties on the pit stand to avoid conflict of interest, so Power’s race strategist became Team Penske managing director Ron Ruzewski, a brilliant engineer and team executive who works closely with Cindric and IndyCar team manager Kyle Moyer (who calls the strategy for second-year driver Scott McLaughlin).
Ruzewski told NBCSports.com that as a championship heats up, the strategy meetings get interesting. Especially when the other two strategists ask, “What are you going to do?” Even at Team Penske, there is a certain amount of gamesmanship at an operation where the team comes first.
“That’s interesting,” Power said. “I didn’t even know when they have meetings they ask, ‘What are you guys going to do?’
“I think it’s fair to say you are going to hold some stuff back, because it is a competition, and you are racing your teammates for championships and race wins. It makes it interesting. It’s good, healthy competition.
“It’s usually pretty obvious what someone might do based on their position, where they qualified and what tire they are going to start the race on.”
Power’s secret weapon is longtime engineer David Faustino, who has worked with Power his entire IndyCar career with the exception of 2006 and 2009.
“I’ve been lucky with Dave,” Power said. “We hit it off straightaway in 2007. He has the same attitude as me. He’s very determined to win and works extremely hard.
“He’s been at three different teams as me. It’s a great combination over these 16 years.”
Power’s second championship is also the second IndyCar title for Faustino, but the first time the car that Ruzewski has been directly involved with winning a championship.
“I was very happy to have Ron,” Power said. “He’s pretty calm on the radio. Pretty easygoing and I think he works well with Dave. I’m really happy to get a championship for both of those guys and happy for Ron to get his first as a strategist.”
Earlier in his career, it was win or else for Power, who was determined to get a championship by winning the most races.
“Up until really recently, I was much more disappointed with fourth places,” the driver said. “If I didn’t get the win, it would get to me. Now, it’s a much different approach. Settling for second, settling for fifth place.
“A lot of things play into that. The way seasons start that put you in a hole and the more risks you take with strategy. It wasn’t me overdriving in any way. If you look at the history, it was a lot of mistakes that were out of my control.”
In the early days of Power, he was very high-strung. The highs were really high, and the lows were really low.
“We always reflect on every season with my engineer,” Power said. “Our bad days were just too bad. DNFs and 20th place finishes instead of an 11th or seventh, something that was not terrible.”
This year, he changed his focus to what he calls “the long game.” He was always mindful of the big picture of the season and realized if he had a third-place car that day, take third place rather than risk crashing it by going for the victory.
“I feel like I’ve almost always had a car that was capable of winning,” Power said. “It was other circumstances like strategy. My mentality, if I get shuffled back, with a fast car, maybe there was some frustration with that, and you might make a little mistake.
“If you go back and look at the years we’ve had, it’s not just a straight-up I’m taking big risks or making mistakes, it’s the combination of a lot of different things.
“I was always thinking of winning another championship after that first one in 2014. I would turn up to every season very determined to win a championship. I’ve been working on that since 2014. I had some issues in 2016 and 2017 with health. That was a problem. Those years I was just trying to survive. I wasn’t even going for a championship; I was trying to finish races.
“But after 2018, I got a lot better.”
Power also felt confident that he had the support of the man whose name is on the building at Penske.
“He has texted me after every race this year and encouraged me,” Power said of Penske. “I really feel like he wanted me to win this one based on his messages and chatting with him. He was extremely happy for the team and extremely happy to see me with the championship.”
Sunday night was a chance to relax with his crew. Power enjoyed his green tea while the team had a few drinks.
“We had some nice chats and conversation,” Power said. “That was the celebration. We’ll do something more when we get back to North Carolina.
“It was a good night.”
Later on Monday, Power was off with IndyCar officials and Team Penske IndyCar publicist David Hovis for a champion’s media tour in Los Angeles.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) September 12, 2022
The week of celebration wraps up Saturday night at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and the annual “Victory Lap” celebration, a small, invitation-only event that honors the champion.
Deep down, Power dreams of returning to Australia to see his family. Because of COVID-19 protocols, Power has not seen his family in three years.
“I’m trying to get David Hovis to get me out of an appearance so I can go back to Australia after the Victory Lap celebration,” Power said.
Power has become a multi-time champion. The next goal is to become a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner.
“It’s definitely on my mind after the last three years,” Power said. “It is definitely a race we need to get right next year.”
Now that the season is over, take a chance and reflect on Power’s impressive career and consider these numbers — 41 victories, the all-time pole winner with 68, an Indianapolis 500 victory, and now multiple championships.
There aren’t many drivers in the history of IndyCar that have a collection that impressive.
“I’ve been very, very fortunate to have driven for that team and have those numbers,” Power said. “I had in my mind I didn’t want to be a one-time champion because there are a lot of them.”