Krupa: Inner drive helps Will Power find his groove
Detroit — Earlier in his outstanding racing career, Will Power seemed perhaps too tightly-wound.
The penetrating eyes and calculated competitiveness, even in casual conversation, revealed a singular focus on winning in the IndyCar Series, and preparing to do it.
The quiet, thoughtful speaking style became the public face of passion burning within.
His teammates, in Roger Penske’s stable of world-class drivers, like to joke about the stern Australian and his edge.
As they stood in the sunshine and gathering heat, in front of the Detroit Yacht Club on Thursday, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves broke into sardonic laughter and sharpened their comments, when asked to describe Power and his personality.
After speaking paragraphs of praise for Power’s progression, from a road racer to arguably the greatest road racer in the history of IndyCar racing and a dominant racer on the big ovals, and now — finally, and with great exultation — a winner of the Indianapolis 500, Pagenaud made it plain.
“And, he’s the most awkward human being I’ve ever met,” he said, smiling conspiratorially.
With that, Castroneves stopped laughing long enough only to take a hard swing and the ball Pagenaud had just teed-up.
“Literally!” said Castroneves, a favorite driver in Detroit since he scaled the fence after winning his first CART race on Belle Isle, June 18, 2000.
“He’s awkward. It’s like, is he really serious when he is doing that, or not?”
They stood joking at their super-sober friend’s expense, like buddies joke about their nerdy pal who just got a full ride to Harvard.
Power wins. He is, without argument, among the great IndyCar drivers in history.
And that is why when he, at age 37, and in his 163rd IndyCar race, broke through in Indianapolis 500 Sunday, the emotions screamed out of him.
Power staked yet another claim to greatness, the transcendent marker of winning his first 500. As his car slowed, after crossing the finish line, through the microphone in his helmet, he demanded the respect of his peers.
In truth, he already had it, many seasons ago.
But winning the Indy 500 seals it, for IndyCar drivers. Even big-time drivers, like Will Power.
“As people saw in victory lane, it meant everything to me and my family,” he said.
In the shade of some trees in a garden along the driveway to the 150-year-old club, Power reflected on the whirlwind that has swept him up.
“The texts,” he said. “I got so many texts.
“I’ve got to get some time, to get to them. There hasn’t been the time.”
If you have sent Power a text, you might want to stay patient, however.
After sweeping Indianapolis this month, winning both the grand prix and the 500, Power is in first place in the series six races in, leading Alexander Rossi by just two points and Penske teammate, the defending champion, Josef Newgarden, by 10.
Two weeks ago, he could taste his first Indy 500 win.
Now, Power can taste his second championship.
Going for 2
When he leaves Detroit on Sunday night, after two races, the 16-event season will have reached the halfway point.
Can Power extend his streak, and win Saturday at the raceway on Belle Isle?
Can he possibly do what Graham Rahal did in 2017, when the car they pulled off the Rahal Letterman Lanigan hauler proved so hot no one could finish in front of him all weekend, and he took both checkered flags?
“Yeah, that would be amazing,” Power said, his tone never changing from matter-of-fact and betraying little in the way of anticipation, let alone excitement.
Let alone, the desire coursing like lava through his being.
“It’s Roger’s home track,” he said, beginning a staccato recitation of the facts at hand. “It’s Chevy’s home track. So, we are going to be pushing hard for that to happen.”
Clearheaded, temperate, just-the-facts-ma’am.
But, hardly awkward.
What does his boss, “The Captain,” and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Roger Penske make of the deceptively spirited thoroughbred in his stable?
Penske said his abiding respect for Power is pegged to his inner drive, which may strike some as worn on his sleeve.
“It’s his complete commitment,” Penske said. “I mean, people have even said he’s awkward because he is so much: Working!
“It’s even when he eats.
“His timing on everything is so key, and his continuing communication, calling in at night to check on engines, and so forth.
“He’s a real detail guy.”
For Pagenaud, it is a matter of observing Power’s great effort and saluting the success.
“He drove a brilliant race,” Pagenaud said. “He’s been developing himself as an oval-meister.
“And it’s cool to see the result, because he deserves it. He’s worked really hard to get to this point.”
And then, Pagenaud and Castroneves, who will drive in the IMSA SportsCar Championship race for Team Penske this weekend, began having fun at Power’s expense.
They might as well get their shots in, now.
Unless someone unloads a hotter car from the haulers Friday, as they gather on Belle Isle, after the drive up from Indiana, the sober details guy might rack up another win, or two, in Detroit.
Power has found a groove.
DETROIT GRAND PRIX
Where: Belle Isle
IndyCar: Dual IndyCar races on Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m.; each day, 70 laps each
Saturday — TransAm Challenge Race, 8:45 a.m.; Super Truck Series Race 1, 10:05 a.m.; IMSA SportsCar Championship, 12:30 p.m.
Sunday — TransAm Dash Race, 11:45 a.m.; Super Truck Series Race 2, 2:05 p.m.