Power starts 2-for-2
When Power gets hurt, he seems to come back stronger.
Barely seven months after breaking his back in a scary crash, Power continued crafting a stirring comeback tale on Monday by winning the rain-delayed Honda Grand Prix for his second victory in as many IndyCar events this year. Power went to the front after a restart on the 78th of 100 laps, then stayed there the rest of the way and held off Justin Wilson by nearly a full second.
"I don't think there's anything better than winning, unless there's some other position," Power said.
Power is the first driver to start an IndyCar season 2-for-2 since Sam Hornish did it on his way to the series title in 2001, and he's already got a 44-point lead in the standings over defending series champion Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Wilson.
Plus, Power led a huge day for Penske Racing. Dan Wheldon was third, Helio Castroneves fourth—and after that, no one in the field finished within 22 seconds of the lead.
"I think we're pretty good just about anywhere," said Wheldon, who started 19th.
Wilson ran great at St. Pete for the third straight year, but even he could never make a serious run at the lead in the final laps.
Wilson led 18 of the 83 laps in the 2008 race in southwest Florida – only Graham Rahal led more that day, with 19. Rahal won, with Wilson settling for ninth. And last year, Wilson led 52 of the 100 laps, losing the lead late and eventually finishing third behind Briscoe.
"Third last year, second this year," Wilson said. "Can't wait for next year."
Wilson's team gave him a less-than-complicated strategy: Stay with Power.
It almost worked. Power came close with the wall on the 95th lap, but stayed clean and Wilson resigned himself to the second-place showing.
"My team just kept saying, 'Just follow Will,'" Wilson said. "Obviously, when you're hot, you're hot, so we knew he would always be on the right strategy. We copied him exactly. ... I was pushing hard every lap to try to see if I could get close to Will, to see if there was any chance he would make a mistake. It didn't come."
There were 10 lead changes, five cautions for 23 laps, and plenty of near-misses.
Power avoided the mayhem on a track still a bit slick in some areas from 4.03 inches of rain that fell in a span of about 20 hours from Sunday afternoon through Monday morning. The race was scheduled for Sunday before thunderstorms put much of the 1.8-mile street circuit under water, but the course was fairly dry when the green flag finally fell.
Franchitti was fifth, Alex Tagliani sixth and Danica Patrick – who started 21st – neatly worked her way up to seventh at the end.
"I was way too conservative," Patrick said. "I just didn't want to do something dumb in the first 10 laps. We saved a bunch of fuel and luckily we were able to go through."
Power might have started this season as the afterthought in Penske Racing's loaded IndyCar stable of drivers.
"Really happy for Will Power. ... He's doing a great job," Briscoe said. "We're all learning from each other, and I'm learning a hell of a lot from him, too."
The day had plenty of incidents, one even before the start when Milka Duno spun entering the final turn of the first pace lap. Duno got out of the car after only seven laps, citing handling issues.
Scott Dixon's day ended on lap 74 when he clipped the inside wall, careened across the track and came to a quick stop. The caution came out, Power went to the front, and the race polesitter stayed there the rest of the way.
Power was the fill-in owner Roger Penske hired to drive Castroneves' car in St. Petersburg last year, when the two-time winner at St. Pete was off the track because of a tax evasion trial. Power impressed Penske quickly, and even after Castroneves returned to IndyCar after winning his trial, Power remained in the team plans.
When Power broke his back in a practice crash at Sonoma, one of the first conversations he had was with Penske. In that chat, Penske assured Power he would try everything he could to have him drive full-time in 2010, and that faith has been rewarded nicely ever since.
"We just have to stop the guy, man," Castroneves said moments after congratulating his teammate. "What's going on with Will Power?"
That's the question everyone in IRL is trying to answer.
Power said the bandage was only because of a blister that popped up on his hand a couple weeks ago. By the time the IRL season resumes at Barber in two weeks, Power expects the blister to be gone.
The blistering of the IndyCar field, well, that just might continue.
"I just hope he doesn't break any more bones," Briscoe said. "He seems to get faster every time he does."