Saturday's motor sports: Power puts Penske back on track with another Indy victory
Indianapolis — Will Power spent this week seeking redemption.
He found it in a familiar spot — on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.
Just six days after enduring one of the most frustrating races of his career, Power took an early lead, pulled away from the field and held on for his first IndyCar win of the season, beating Romain Grosjean to the yard of bricks by 1.1142 seconds.
“Big relief, big relief, especially for my guys on the team,” Power said. “I just told myself, ‘I’m getting this bloody restart, there’s no way I’m giving this race away.’ “
It was a milestone trip to victory lane, too.
His 40th career win broke a tie with Al Unser for fifth on the series’ all-time list, and Power tied Kyle Busch’s speedway record with his sixth win at the Brickyard. Power has won five times on the road course and also was the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner.
And the Australian, who started second, desperately needed this one.
Last weekend at Nashville, Power finished 14th, squeezing one teammate, Simon Pagenaud, into a wall early in the race and later colliding with another teammate, Scott McLaughlin.
“Certainly, the incident with McLaughlin was not good,” Power said. “I didn’t see Roger (Penske) after the race. I thought, ‘I need to win a race before I speak to him again.’ Fortunately, I did that.”
It came with some consternation.
After building a 9.5-second lead midway through the race, Power got hung up in traffic as Grosjean and Colton Herta chased him. Both closed to fewer than four seconds when the first of two late cautions came out because points leader Alex Palou of Spain appeared to blow an engine.
That bunched up the lead pack and gave both cars a chance to pass. Herta never got close on the restart on Lap 71.
“I don’t really think we had anything for Power or Grosjean, so we’re happy with third,” Herta said.
Instead, Power started pulling away again only to see another yellow come out.
This time, Power got a huge jump, and with Grosjean out of the extra push-to-pass boost, nobody got close to the 2014 series champ.
“I thought it was a good fight,” said Grosjean, who finished second for the second straight time on Indy’s road course. “He went early and we just couldn’t quite keep up with him.”
American Alexander Rossi was fourth and Mexico’s Pato O’Ward, the pole-winner, finished fifth – well behind Power, who led 56 of 85 laps and finally got to celebrate.
“Roger loves when you win, let me tell you,” he said. “He loves it.”
Austin Cindric took the lead early in the third stage at Indianapolis and held on Saturday for his NASCAR Xfinity Series-leading sixth victory of the season.
He beat pole-winner AJ Allmendinger by 2.108 seconds. Justin Haley was third.
It’s Cindric’s first victory at the Brickyard – and the second straight in 31/2 hours for Team Penske. Will Power won the IndyCar race earlier Saturday on the track’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.
“I can’t even begin to put into words what it means to win at Indianapolis,” Cindric said.
Cindric, the son of Tim Cindric, Penske’s president, will try to make it three in a row when the Brickyard 200 is held on the same course Sunday.
It sure didn’t come easily for Cindric.
By qualifying second, like Power, he avoided getting involved in the chaotic first-lap start that sent multiple cars spinning and colliding through the turn. One car’s tires actually left the track before safely coming down.
It was that kind of day on the road course – again.
Drivers aggressively tapped and banged their way through the field as they attempted to pass, leaving cars discolored and damage. Two cars even slid into the infield tire barrier though neither driver was seriously injured.
But after watching Haley beat Riley Herbst to win the first stage and Allmendinger take the second stage under caution, finishing ahead of Haley and Noah Gragson, Cindric took advantage of his opportunity to move to the front of the pack and pulled away for the victory.
Cindric, the points leader and defending series champ, has 13 Xfinity wins – all since 2019.
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick made their opinions perfectly clear Saturday. They’d rather be racing on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s historic oval.
Other drivers didn’t seem to mind the switch.
Now, after one short practice session, Cup drivers will spend Saturday night plotting their strategical twists and turns for Sunday’s reconfigured and renamed Brickyard 200.
“I really enjoyed it,” Kyle Larson said after posting the third-fastest lap in practice at 97.445 mph. “I thought it was flowing and there were some hard-braking zones. I seemed to adapt to it pretty quickly, so I was definitely pleased.”
That’s not good news for the rest of the field.
Larson is this season’s points leader after adding his series-high fifth victory last week on the road course at Watkins Glen. The only drivers who went faster Saturday were Martin Truex Jr. at 98.021 and William Byron at 97.487.
Many wonder if the series’ best drivers should even be competing on the road course. Declining attendance and complaints about passing on the 2.5-mile oval have had race organizers searching for ways to inject excitement into Brickyard weekend for years. They seemed to inadvertently find a solution last year when the Indianapolis Grand Prix was postponed because of last year’s COVID-19 pandemic. IndyCar officials rescheduled it as part of a rare crossover weekend with the top two NASCAR series.
And when Chase Briscoe outdueled AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric in the final laps to win the Xfinity race, organizers thought it might be a preview of how it would work with the Cup cars.
This year, they brought back the three-series, three-race weekend – putting all three on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course for the first time while cutting the Brickyard distance in half.
The reviews have been mixed.
“It’s definitely not the same Indianapolis,” said Harvick, the defending Brickyard winner. “This place is built on the history of its oval. For me growing up, as a kid this is where I wanted to race, and to come here and race on the road course is a little degrading, I guess you could say.”
It’s not just the venue that’s been disappointing.
After Busch’s car rolled off the truck and into a sub-par practice session, the two-time series champ and two-time Brickyard winner called the course a “parking lot.”
All they can do now is wait until Sunday’s race to determine if NASCAR made the right call.
“It’s different, but it’s not the end of the world to me,” Chase Elliott said. “I mean, we’re still at Indy and we’re still racing here, so I guess at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter too much.”