LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Will Power masterfully protected the inside line and blocked Josef Newgarden from ever making the decisive pass over the final 10 laps Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Power pumped his fist and celebrated another win that moved him up in the IndyCar record book. His focus soon shifted from the way he held off Newgarden to catching him: Power thrust himself into the IndyCar championship picture and stuck his aim on the series points leader, Newgarden.
“I’m going for it,” Power said.
Power and Newgarden gave Penske Racing a 1-2 podium finish at Pocono. It could serve as a preview for the final standings.
Power’s third win of the season — and second at Pocono in two years — inched him within 42 points of Newgarden for the lead with three races left.
Power won the 2014 championship and wasted his bid at a second title last year with disastrous finishes in the final two races. Newgarden has been positioned as IndyCar’s next big thing and had won two straight races, at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, to stake his claim as a legitimate championship contender.
“When one car wins, we kind of all win. That’s the way we view it,” Newgarden said.
Let’s see what he says after the finale at Sonoma.
The 26-year-old Newgarden has some of IndyCar’s top veteran drivers nipping at his No. 2 Chevrolet headed into the series’ return to the Midwest.
Newgarden has an 18-point lead over Scott Dixon and a 22-point advantage over Penske teammate Helio Castroneves. Defending series champion and Penke driver Simon Pagenaud is 26 points out of the lead.
Power believes he can be the driver who wins it all.
He looked every bit a championship driver at Pocono. The Australian rallied from a lap down, forced to pit early in the race to repair a broken wing.
Power also won on the road course at Indianapolis and the Texas Motor Speedway oval this season. He has 32 career victories to move into ninth place on IndyCar’s list. Power zipped past Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy on the list and is two wins shy from catching Al Unser Jr.
“It was a seriously dramatic day,” Power said.
Power refused to budge when Newgarden tried to dart his way toward the lead. Power knew if Newgarden could maneuver his way inside, the race was over.
“Just had to be smart, be in the game at the end, and that was the result,” Power said.
Power was familiar with big moves down the stretch at Pocono; he held Mikhail Aleshin at bay after a final restart to win at the track last year. He became the first IndyCar repeat race winner at the track.
Newgarden knew he had little room to seriously test Power.
“From a points standpoint, you don’t want to wreck your teammate and you don’t want to give up where I’m at,” Newgarden said. “It’s a Team Penske victory. I’m disappointed for not winning but I can’t be disappointed from a points standpoint. We had everything we needed.”
Newgarden’s first season driving for Roger Penske has already been a massive success. The Tennessee native has tried to promote IndyCar in every avenue and is one of the few 20-something stars the sport can bank on to lead it into the future.
Stamping himself a champion would be the ultimate reward.
“This championship is going to be very difficult to win because there’s not a lot of guys messing up,” Newgarden said. “Pagenaud is consistently in the top 5, so he doesn’t make mistakes. Will is very strong, Helio, Scott. It’s not going to be easy. I think it’ll come down to Sonoma regardless of whatever happens the next few races.
Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion, was third.
Other items of note at Pocono:
Ryan Hunter-Reay was cleared to drive following a violent accident during qualifying that sent him to the hospital. Hunter-Reay lost control of his Honda on Saturday and slammed into the wall. He hurt his hip and knees in the wreck and needed a CT scan and MRI.
Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, was treated and released from the hospital Saturday night. He was evaluated Sunday morning and cleared to drive by the IndyCar medical director.
“It’s like a relationship; you’ve got to build your trust back up with the car,” Hunter-Reay said.
His last win came at Pocono in 2015. He led the race around the halfway point and finished eighth on Sunday.
“The fact that I could race today was unreal,” he said.
There were a whopping 43 lead changes at Pocono.
IndyCar hits the St. Louis area for its return race at Gateway Motorsports Park. The open-wheel CART series ran races there from 1997-2000 and IndyCar (Indy Racing League) was there from 2001-2003. The defending winner? Helio Castroneves. Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon also competed in the Aug. 10, 2003 race.