LONG POND, Pa. – If Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 was the final time the NTT IndyCar Series is going to compete at Pocono Raceway, the series certainly went out with a bang.
And a bolt of lightning.
Team Penske’s Will Power won his third race at Pocono, but this one was shortened to 128 laps because of a severe lightning storm that turned into heavy rain. Power led 31 laps in the race to defeat Scott Dixon by 5.4688 seconds and celebrated in a make-shift victory lane ceremony inside the Media Center.
It was Power’s first win of the season and extended his victory total to 13-straight years with at least one win.
“I had a few issues during the race, but we just kept coming back,” Power said. “Full credit to the team. We had a great car and we just kind of hung there and saved fuel and when it was time to go, I went. I was so determined, and I really wanted to win.
“This is my 13th year in a row of winning races and I have been thinking about that. I just wanted to win a race for Verizon and these guys who have worked their butts off all year and just haven’t had the results.”
Power said he changed his mind-set a few races ago when it appeared that he was out of the championship and had to focus on race victories, instead.
“I just let go,” Power said. “I just let go and said it’s not going to happen for me this year. Just whatever. I still did my homework. We definitely had the car today, great strategy, great stops. I feel like I worked harder for it this year than any other year and it just didn’t work for me.”
At one point during the race, Power’s car was hit by debris and he fell back in the pack but was able to work his way back to the front. He took the lead for good on lap 115. Thirteen laps later, the race was red flagged and then later called official because of rain.
“I passed a lot of cars and saved a lot of fuel,” Power said. “Obviously we topped off, so we had a few laps in hand. We pushed through the sequences and that is how we jumped more cars. We caught a great yellow (flag) which moved us to second and we caught a bad one and that moved us back to seventh.
“The car was fast enough that I knew if we got to the top five, we would have a shot at the win.”
Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud was third, but led the most laps in the race with 64. Dixon’s Honda was in front for 32 laps.
Rookie Santino Ferrucci finished fourth for his best finish of the season and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden finished fifth to extend his lead over Alexander Rossi to 35 points.
Rossi was involved in a massive lap one crash that many drivers believe was triggered by Takuma Sato of Japan. Sato, however, said he has onboard video that shows Rossi moving into his racing line.
Other drivers involved in the crash included Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and rookie Felix Rosenqvist, whose car went into the catch fence near turn two. It was the second year in a row a car has gone into the fence after a crash at the start of the race in the turn two area of the track.
The race was red flagged and Rosenqvist was sent to Lehigh Valley-Cedar Crest Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania for further evaluation. He was checked, cleared and released.
“I can’t even begin to understand how after last year, how Takuma Sato thinks any sort of driving like that is acceptable,” Rossi said after he was cleared and released from the Pocono Raceway Infield Care Center. “To turn across two cars at that speed in that corner at the start of a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting and probably cost us a championship.
“It’s upsetting because this team works hard. We’ve got a couple of days to rebound and we’ll just go for wins from this point on.”
Sato was the subject of blame and tried to answer the charges from the other drivers that he was responsible.
“I’m worried about Felix and hope he is OK,” Sato said. “I feel sorry for all the guys in the championship. But Ryan and I were racing in Turn 1 Alex got a slow start and we both went right-and-left. I thought I was all clear and all of the seams grabbed the car and unfortunately, we made contact.
“I was not really overaggressive overtaking anything. People need to watch the replay before making that decision. I thought I was all clear and kept the steering wheel straight, but we all got to together.
“It was so close, three-wide and everyone together. Alex and I hit together.”
Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe were all able to repair their cars and return to the race, although each were assessed 10-lap penalties for working on their cars during the red flag. Because the race was stopped short of the 200-lap distance, none of the drivers were able to score additional points.
If the race had lasted one lap longer, Rossi would have finished 17th instead of 18th.