Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Will Power's Career Year

Yep, I'm saying it.

You're probably asking, "wait a minute? Will Power? The guy with 41 wins, 66 poles, a championship and an Indy 500 win? That Will Power?".

Yep again.

As we head to the final four races of the IndyCar season, Power sits in a familiar spot -- on top of the points standings. And if he keeps doing what he's been doing, I think he will still be sitting there when the checkered flag falls at Laguna Seca in six weeks.

There's no doubt that Power is one of the best drivers of his generation, in fact, if Scott Dixon weren't around he would arguably be the best. He's been dominant since he began racing full-time with Team Penske in 2010, and in his first five years with Penske, he finished, P2, P2, P2 and P4 before finally winning his first (and only) IndyCar title in 2014. In fact, other than last year, when he finished ninth in points, he had never had a season where he finished lower than fifth.

It's some pretty consistent stuff -- at least in the points standings. But many of his most successful seasons featured some brilliant driving, and some stinkers too. 

Take 2011, when he won six times and notched a total of eight podiums. He lost the title, though, mainly because he had three finishes of P19 or worse, to go along with two P14 finishes. Dario Franchitti, on the other hand, only had four wins, and while he had a P20 finish at New Hampshire, he only finished outside of the Top 10 one other time that year. 

The next season was the same, as he won three times and had six podiums. But he lost the championship to Ryan Hunter-Reay by just three points thanks to three finishes of 23rd or worse, including crashing out of the final race at Fontana and finishing 24th. Hunter-Reay won that race, and the title as a result.

I'm not going to go season-by-season, of course, but you get the idea. He's won a race in every season since 2007, and has scored a ton of points along the way. But whether it was mistakes or just plain bad luck, he's missed the one thing that is important: consistent, race-to-race consistency.

Maybe last year's 9th-place finish in points was a motivator, but at age 41 Power is putting up the consistency that he's lacked in previous seasons.

Though he only has one win (Detroit), he has a total of seven podiums, plus three 4th-place finishes. Sure, he has two P15s at the 500 and Toronto, and a P19 at Road America, but the consistency he's shown in the other 10 races has been outstanding as he heads to Nashville with and average finish of 6.1 on the year.

For reference, in his title year of 2014 he had an average finish of 6.4.

It hasn't been easy at times, either. While he is no doubt the greatest qualifier in history, and and three poles this year to give him 66 on his career -- one short of Mario Andretti -- he's also had weekends where things didn't go so well.

At Mid-Ohio, Power started 21st and still came back to finish third. In his win at Detroit he started 16th, and at Barber he started 19th and finished fourth. In all three of those races he passed cars and methodically moved his way up the field.

And, despite only leading 188 laps, which without doing the research I'm guessing is a career low, he's completed all 1,723 laps of competition this year. Power has been smooth and he's been fast, and he's putting together the types of seasons Franchitti did when he was winning four championships in a five-year span.

With four races to go on the schedule, if Power wants to win the title, he has to keep up this kind of consistency, because there is really no room for error. He's just nine points ahead of Marcus Ericsson, and 32 in front of Josef Newgarden, with four other drivers within 81 points.

Power has talked a lot about thinking about the "big picture", and how that has helped him be more patient. If he wants to win his second championship, that and his super consistency is what is going to take him there.

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