ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – A very eventful offseason – and unfortunately often not for good reasons – took another rough turn this week for Will Power and his wife, Liz.
Battling a staph infection that already had been touch and go enough to force her husband’s withdrawal from the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, Liz Power was hospitalized for the second time in two months this week.
The ordeal began Sunday night with a 911 phone call that led to a 2 a.m. hospital visit. Liz returned to the hospital later and was held overnight before being released Tuesday.
It’s been a lot to handle for Will Power, who will begin defense of his second NTT IndyCar Series championship with Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but the Team Penske star always has been a creature of habit.
The Australian has found comfort in his routines despite being at the season opener without Liz (and their son, Beau) for the first time in several years.
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“I’ve done this for so long that it’s about what your focus is when you get in the car,” Power said Friday before the opening practice session. “Honestly, you can know it so well that once you’re locked in the car, there’s not even a thought of anything outside of that. So I know that from years of experience.
“I’ve had tough times in my career and then just got in the car and totally performed and hasn’t even been a thing. Getting back in your office and you’re on your game. I’ve done all the fitness and prep work anyway. I don’t feel I’ve missed out on anything.”
OPENING PRACTICE: Speeds from the first session of the 2023 season
Power, IndyCar’s all-time best qualifier with a record 68 poles, seemed on his game Friday when many IndyCar stars weren’t during a 75-minute practice marred by several incidents and two red flags. Power, who has qualified first for nine of the past 13 races at St. Pete, posted the eighth-fastest lap in a session led by Scott Dixon, Colton Herta and Alex Palou.
The top-ten times in opening practice for the @GPSTPETE.@scottdixon9 with @CGRTeams was fastest. #INDYCAR pic.twitter.com/8Fp6OgYv3t
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) March 3, 2023
Family have helped care for Liz and Beau at their home in Troutman, North Carolina, ensuring he’s getting regular sleep. Liz’s brother also is coming to St. Petersburg to ensure Will has company this weekend.
“All that’s been good,” Will said. “We’ve had it organized that way. It’s just seeing Liz struggle sucks. It really does. Someone who’s always up and going to be somewhat bedridden and unable to do a lot of what she normally does.
“It sucks her not being at the race. I know how much she loves it. I love having her here. Loving having my son here. That’s lonely.”
Liz Power has been an ubiquitous presence at the racetrack as her husband’s biggest supporter. After winning the 2022 championship, Will Power credited having confidence from a preseason premonition by Liz that he would win the title.
“Just leaving home without them is sad. Obviously you got FaceTime and all that stuff, so I’m calling her multiple times in the day. Yeah, it’s nothing you can do about it.”
After complications from surgery, Liz was hospitalized for several days in mid-January, and Will nixed his sports car debut at Daytona to care for her.
He remains optimistic that Liz will get the good news in a couple of weeks that the infection is virtually gone, and her blood is sterile.
“The doctors said just get through (mid-March),” said Will Power, whose tumultuous offseason also included fractured ribs in a go-karting crash. “She did see a spine doctor, and the healing looked good, but the infection is the key thing to get under control. She’s still going to be on antibiotics into April. It was 12 weeks they wanted it, so just praying that eliminates it completely. And the numbers on the blood just keep going down. It’s going slowly, but it’s heading in the right direction.”
So are things for Power, who turned 42 Wednesday heading into his 18th season. Though he declined to discuss specifics, Power said he is set to continue driving Penske’s No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet beyond the 2023 season, and sponsor Verizon recently announced an extension.
Power told NBC Sports that he intended to drive into his mid-40s.
“We’re all good,” Power said. “We know what’s going on going forward (and) set beyond this year. Just leave it at that. We don’t talk about contracts at Penske.
“As long as I’m competitive, we’ll just take it as it comes.”