8 years after only IndyCar title, Will Power at ease with a 20-point lead entering finale

Nathan Brown
Indianapolis Star

SALINAS, Calif. – A younger version of Will Power might've come into this weekend — leading the IndyCar championship by 20 points with winners of five of the last seven titles hot on his tail — a nervous ball of energy waiting for something to go wrong.

For three consecutive years, it did. But that Will Power has been replaced. His 2014 breakthrough championship, combined with several years just out of the hunt, older, fatherhood and a stark offseason perception change have Power coming into this weekend at Laguna Seca sounding relaxed but aware, confident but not pompous.

Earlier this week, the Team Penske veteran spoke with IndyStar motorsports insider Nathan Brown about the weight and pressure of this weekend and how it can go different from the many close calls of a decade ago. Below is that conversation, edited and condensed with added clarity when it's necessary.

Team Penske driver Will Power (12) stands by his pit box Sunday, May 22, 2022, during the second day of qualifying for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Nathan Brown: Scott Dixon (20 points back) has said he feels like there's more pressure when you're ahead and something could go wrong. Do you agree?

Will Power: I feel the pressure is definitely more when you have to win to win it. To me, that’s more pressure. I’ve been in that situation a few times. I’m definitely in the best position in the field mathematically, and I understand that. I also understand that 20 points is not a very big lead at all. There’s no sense at all in my mind that I can take things lightly or be relaxed. I absolutely have to get everything right this weekend. You know how difficult this series is, and to have to finish 3rd and know that these other guys are going to be right there, you have to do a very good job.

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NB: When did you start feeling like another championship, eight years after your only one, might be possible this year?

WP: You react off your position. I was really happy to have that solid start to a season and just built on that. You try and execute every race as best you can, but not until pretty late in the game are you necessarily just focused on points. I’d say starting Indy road course, Nashville, those start to really count. That’s to me where you start thinking about what are the risks and how fast can you go.

NB: Your 2014 championship came largely via a battle with then-teammate Helio Castroneves in that final race. How do you go about competing directly with a teammate like Josef Newgarden (20 points back) this weekend?

WP: Nothing’s changed. From my perspective it’s been quite a relaxed atmosphere getting to this point. Back when I was trying to get that first championship, there’s a lot more pressure and urgency, but now it’s been quite enjoyable. I’ve really enjoyed the racing and competition and really grateful to be in the hunt. I’ve been so focused on the job that I almost haven’t really thought of the championship. Just another weekend, taking it session by session, lap by lap. That’s what it feels like this year, and Sunday I arrived at this point and have a good shot at winning.

Team Penske driver Will Power (12), Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing driver Takuma Sato (51) and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon (9) talk Saturday, July 30, 2022, before a doubleheader race day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NB: Does having a title fight where there are only two drivers in the fight versus this weekend with three with legitimate shots change how you go about the race?

WP: You’ve got to be aware of Dixon and Newgarden, and from a team perspective we have to be cognizant that we can’t give it away fighting each other either because you’ve got Dixon lurking right there. That’s all going to play into how the race is run. It’s easier when it’s one guy and you have the lead because then you just shadow that one guy, and when there’s two guys, it makes things more complicated.

NB: How much pressure did you feel as those close calls started to build up early in your career and you got to 2014?

WP: I must say in ’14 when I won that championship, I didn’t even look at the points until two to go. I think Milwaukee was the first time I really didn’t sleep well with three to go. I’d had four years where I finished 2nd-place or was in the hunt, and I just at the beginning of the year said, ‘I don’t care, maybe I’m not ever going to win a championship’ and then it came.

Now, I love the craft, love the sport, enjoy extracting the most out of it. I owe it to the guys that have been on my car more than a decade. I’m going to give them my absolute best cause I’ve felt bad for them over the years for a couple that got away. I feel like they’ve put a lot of work in over the years. If there’s anyone that deserves this championship, it’s those guys. It’s easy to forget as a driver how much work they put in and the passion and the emotion they have connected to this championship. It’s easily as much as mine.

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NB: What would a second championship mean to you compared to the first?

WP: It would be tremendously satisfying, because it came through really hard work and a really good group of guys. Just tremendously satisfying. It’s a whole season of working hard and doing everything right or doing it more right than everyone else.

Team Penske driver Will Power (12) celebrates with his son after driving the fastest lap for pole position for the GMR Grand Prix on Friday, May 13, 2022, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis.

NB: You'd be the first driver since Tony Stewart during the early IRL days of 1996-97 to win a title with just a single victory over a season. What do you feel that would say about the consistency and level of performance of your crew this year?

WP: The execution in the pits and preparation of the car, it all plays a huge part in it, and those are the things the last couple years that have really cost us big points and a chance at a championship. We’ve had some things where it’s not even been the preparation of the car, but just tons of unfortunate situations. It’s been a great year from that aspect.

NB: The last two years since IndyCar's returned to Laguna Seca in 2019, you've always rolled up with a solid car in practice and qualifying, but we've seen in your results (2nd-place in 2019 and 26th in 2021, two laps down with a spark plug issue after qualifying on Row 2) that things can go very different ways. Do those two results kinda tell the story of the breadth of how fortunes could go this weekend?

WP: It’s always a possibility that something like that happens. You see it happen in every championship, every year. That’s always a possibility, but you can’t let it affect your performance this weekend. You can’t even think about it. It might happen, and if something happens and you’re still in the game you’ve just got to keep your head down. It’s heartbreaking, but it happens all the time. This sport owes me nothing, and that’s just the sport we’re in, and I’m bloody fortunate to be able to do this and that I have done it this long with a great team.

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NB: You've said all year your motto is that you're not forcing things when you don't have to, and that's how you've gotten here with just one win but a 20-point championship lead. How does that work or change this weekend?

WP: The reason I’m in this position is because we’ve had a very solid year. I’ve maybe been conservative in some situations where I had a chance to win but I didn’t got for it and took the points. I’m racing accordingly on Sunday and in qualifying. Just racing accordingly. That will totally depend on my situation and how I race. If I’m in a place where I have to make up multiple positions, you’ll see me quite aggressive. You just have to race accordingly – like I did at Portland.