Before I get any further into this blog post, I’m going to make an admission.
Prior to this year, I’ve never been a huge fan of Will Power.
I really don’t know why. Probably — or more likely — it was the result of being a part of Team Penske. Power is such a seamless fit at Penske, and I, for a long time, kind of thought of him as a “system quarterback”. You know, one of those people who is a product of their environment just as much as the amount of talent they bring to the table. He’s a good driver, he’s plugged into the best ride in the series, and he became great.
It’s weird. It don’t look at Josef Newgarden that way, because he won races for underfunded teams before he signed on with Penske. Same with Simon Pagenaud, who had won four times with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and had three Top 5 finishes in points before he even came to the dark side.
Yes, it’s a bit crazy, I know. About as crazy as people who think Tom Brady is a system quarterback.
A couple of things changed my mind this year. First was the constant voice in my ear from a certain Power social media person (you know who you are), and second was his victory at Pocono, which gave him a win in 12 consecutive seasons. With my work with Pit Lane Parley, I’ve spent a lot of time around the Power pit, and because curiosity always gets the best of me, has led me to do a little bit of a dive into Power’s career.
What I’ve discovered is that Power is in the midst one of the most incredible stretches any IndyCar driver has had in the last 50 years. What makes it even more impressive is that it comes in one of the most competitive eras in IndyCar history.
Much has been made about the career of Scott Dixon, who is in the middle of a career that will conclude with his being considered as one of the best open wheel drivers who ever lived. Here’s my argument: Will Power should be in that discussion too.
After all, Power’s tied with Sebastien Bourdais for sixth all-time in wins with 37, he’s second to Mario Andretti in poles and has both a championship and an Indy 500 win to his credit.
There are a lot of Power-positive stats that I could refer to, but let’s just go tale-of-the-tape, Power vs. Dixon, head-to-head, over the last 10 years.
Wins 35 24
Podiums 59 60
Poles 49 11
Indy 500 wins 1 0
Championships 1 3
Laps led 3,717 2,531
Points 5,371 5,521
These two guys are in a stratosphere of their own. Very few drivers in the history of this sport have put together a 10-year run like these guys have, and certainly never in an era where virtually every driver in the race takes a green flag with the potential to win or finish on the podium.
Editor’s note: I’m not forgetting or discounting the accomplishments of Sebastien Bourdais, who between 2003-07 won 31 of his 73 races and four championships, but you know what I’m getting at, right? Seb is also an all-time great, but accomplished what he did in the CART/Champ Car series. That changes things. Sorry, Seb.
So why don’t we hold Power in the same regards as Dixon? Because in the end it’s all about the championships. Dixon has five of them, Power has just one.
When it comes to championships, Power can be considered as a “what if?” guy. Four times he has entered the final race of the season as the points leader, and on a fifth occasion he was in a position to win a championship heading to the finale, and on only one of those has he come out as a champion.
2010. Power leads Dario Franchitti by 12 points heading into the season finale at Homestead. Power crashes on Lap 144 of the race, and Franchitti wins the title.
2011. Power enters the season’s penultimate race at Kentucky as the points leader. He makes contact with Ana Beatriz during a Lap 49 pitstop and finished 19th, which allowed Franchitti to leave Kentucky with the points lead. When the Las Vegas race was abandoned, Franchitti was named the champion.
2012. Power is again the points leader heading into the season finale, this time at Fontana. He finds a seam on the track and crashes a quarter of the way through the race and finishes 24th. Ryan Hunter-Reay finishes fourth and claims his first IndyCar title.
2014. Power wins at Milwaukee with two races remaining and has such a comfortable lead in points that at P10 at Watkins Glen and a P9 at Fontana was all he needed to clinch a title.
2016. Between the second race at Detroit and Pocono, Power wins four races and finishes as the runner-up in the other two to get himself into championship contention. But a P20 at both Watkins Glen and Sonoma leaves him second in the points standings behind champion Simon Pagenaud.
That’s Power’s legacy, and it’s kind of unfortunate that his championship performances overshadow the brilliance he has show over the last 10 years. That and it’s unfortunate that his peak has come during one of the careers of one of the greatest drivers and closers this sport has ever seen.
Dixon is 39 years old, and Power is 38. Both have locked in lifetime contracts with their teams, so what they accomplish between now and the end of their careers will only add to that legacy. But while we sit in awe and recognize with Scott Dixon has accomplished in his career, hopefully we do the same with Will Power.
Hopefully history is good to Power because over the last 10 years he’s shown he certainly deserves it.
Pit Lane Parley
Lots to discuss on this week’s episode, including the wild ride that was Portland, the 2020 schedule, and Conor Daly’s future after an impressive qualifying effort subbing for Marcus Ericcson. It’s all there on your favorite listening platform, including here on iTunes.
Photo credit: Stephen King/IndyCar Media