INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Will Power hated racing on ovals. He wasn’t a fan of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and figured he would never win the Indianapolis 500.
That kind of attitude doesn’t fly when you drive for Roger Penske.
Power had to change his thinking and his performance on oval tracks. He learned to respect the speedway. And the 37-year-old Power is now a winner of one of the biggest races in the world.
“I’ve slowly changed to be a more positive person. It’s hard when you’re very negative,” said Power, who pulled away in the final moments to win the 102nd running of the Indy 500. “You’ve got to have determination. That’s what I had. You work hard at something, it comes to you. It eventually comes to you. (Indy) was the last box to tick, to be considered as a very successful driver.”
The different approach landed Power in the most storied winner’s circle in history Sunday when he gave Penske a 17th victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Power actually swept the month of May at Indy after winning on the road course two weeks ago and his 34 wins tied him with Al Unser Jr. for eighth on IndyCar’s all-time list.
Power is also the winningest IndyCar driver in Penske history (31). He is the first Australian victor in 102 editions of the race, and joined countryman Daniel Ricciardo as winners on the biggest day of the year in motorsports. Ricciardo won Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix earlier Sunday.
Power celebrated the checkered flag by screaming into his radio: “Show me respect, (expletive)!” When he got to the winner’s circle, he screamed some more. Some two hours after the race, he was exhausted.
“I just screamed like I’ve never screamed before. It was just amazing. The last two laps, the last lap, seeing the white flag, the checkered, I mean, you can’t explain it,” Power said. “It’s what I needed so badly, what I wanted so badly, and it came true. Anyone here knows how that would feel. You want something so much, it comes through to you through hard work and determination.”
Penske arrived in Indy with four fast Chevrolets, and the engine builder was 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 equal 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. 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.
“To be able to race on Memorial Day in the biggest sporting event in the world, have America the way it is, that’s what I’m going to take away from this race,” Penske said. “I’m just so thrilled, 17 wins. Now I have to worry about 18. I’m not going to look back, I’ll look forward. We have to be back next year.”
Penske also credited his strong lineup of 2014 series champion Power, 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud, reigning champion Josef Newgarden and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.
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 started screaming again.
Splashing the princess was the only wrong move Power made all day during an event that saw many top drivers make costly mistakes. James Hinchcliffe, a championship contender, failed to make the race at all. 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.
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.