INDIANAPOLIS — Will Power can win anything now, even the Indianapolis 500, an intimidating race on an oval he hated because it marginalized his talent.
He drives for Roger Penske and nothing matters more to the boss than winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So Power worked to change his attitude, improve his performance on ovals and respect the track.
It got Power into the most storied winner’s circle in history Sunday when he won the Indy 500 to give Penske a 17th victory in “The Great American Race.” Power actually swept the month of May at Indy after winning on the road course two weeks ago and the 37-year-old Australian now has 34 wins in IndyCar, tying him with Al Unser Jr. for most on the career list.
“I can’t believe it!” he screamed in the winner’s circle. “I can’t believe it.”
Penske arrived in Indy with four fast Chevrolets, and an engine builder determined to snap Honda’s two-race Indy 500 winning streak. The Chevys were the fastest cars in the field and Team Penske had four strong chances to win.
As Power held off pole winner Ed Carpenter to win his first Indy 500, the 81-year-old Penske pumped his fist in the air and clapped for his driver. Penske was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame earlier this month, and had a shot at closing Sunday with a victory in the Coca-Cola 600 in North Carolina.
“He won this race today because he was the best,” Penske said.
In the winner’s circle, Power could not contain his glee. He screamed to wife, Liz, took a sip of the traditional milk, then dumped the rest over his head and around his crew. Liz Power reached for the empty milk bottle, then pointed out to her husband that he’d sprayed milk all over one of the Indy 500 princesses. He apologized, then screamed some more.
Splashing the princess was the only wrong move Power made all day during an event that saw many of IndyCar’s top drivers make costly mistakes. James Hinchcliffe, a championship contender, failed to make the race at all. Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais and Danica Patrick were among those who crashed in single-car spins. Defending race winner Takuma Sato was also knocked out when he ran into the back of a slower car.
Power led 59 laps but his final pit stop dropped him to fourth, behind three cars that were trying to win on fuel mileage. Kanaan’s crash with 12 laps remaining set up a final restart with Oriol Servia out front. He didn’t get a great restart and was passed by Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey. But all three needed enough gas to get to the finish line, and it was Power who was frantically chasing them down.
Wilson and Harvey both ducked onto pit lane for gas, giving Power the lead with four laps remaining. He knew he had it won when he took the white flag all alone, and spent the final lap yelling to himself in joy as he drove away from the field.
“I was wondering if I would ever win it and thoughts when through my mind during the month, my career,” he said. “I’ve had so many wins, so many poles. Everyone talks about the 500 and I just couldn’t imagine winning a race in front of a crowd like this, this many people. It’s just amazing.”
Carpenter was second in a Chevy and noted just how much Power used to hate the speedway.
“He hated ovals and now he loves them,” he said. “He and I love racing together. Maybe someday he’ll race for me. I don’t know if we have a tampering rule in IndyCar, but congrats Will.”
Scott Dixon used strategy and stretched his fuel to finish third and was followed by Alexander Rossi, who drove from 32nd to fourth and made some of the most spectacular moves in the race. Rossi had no choice: It was difficult to pass in the 2018 car on a day that fell just 2 degrees short — it was 91 degrees — of being the hottest 500 in history.
The conditions created a slick, 2 ½-mile track, and new cars with less downforce proved to be a handful for even the most experienced of drivers.
Castroneves’ bid to win a record-tying fourth 500 ended when he spun exiting Turn 4. The popular Brazilian has been chasing Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr. in the record books and even though Penske moved him to sports cars this year, Castroneves was given a seat for Indy.
Penske said if Castroneves won a fourth, he’d get a chance at a fifth, but Castroneves’ future in the race is in limbo. He savored his final moments Sunday and instead of taking an ambulance ride to the care center, he made the long walk down pit lane, waving to fans on the way.
“Please Roger, I’ve got to go back,” he said into a television camera.
Patrick was completing the “Danica Double” after wrecking out at the Daytona 500. She decided long ago that the race that made her famous would be her last, and while she called the outcome disappointing, she also expressed appreciation for all that Indianapolis had given her.
“Yeah, it’s an entire career,” she said, “but what really launched it was this. It’s both of them. I had a lot of good fortune here and did still have some this month. It just didn’t come today.”
Bourdais crashed a year after missing the race because of a harrowing, high-speed accident during qualifying. Bourdais had led at least one lap in every race this season, and led for the first time in his career at Indianapolis.
Honda didn’t win the race but did manage to put six of its cars in the top 10. Kanaan led at least one lap in his 14th Indy 500 to break a record he had shared with four-time race winner A.J. Foyt.