General

Power’s winning attitude started to change before the title season

Power's winning attitude started to change before the title season

Much was made during the recently completed NTT INDYCAR SERIES season about the change in Will Power, how he had learned a different way – even accepted – to approach his career with Hall of Fame status.

But two men who have worked most closely with Power in recent years said that while the sightings were on track, they were a year late.

“People saw (another Power) because what he was doing was finally showing and we were getting results,” said Ron Ruzewski, Team Penske’s general manager and Power’s race weekend strategist. “(In 2021) Will was frustrated because he knew the cars had speed and he had as much speed as the other drivers, but it didn’t really show (in results). But people didn’t exactly see that he (personally) already was on the right track.”

So, what was the key to the professional makeover? Power has avoided revealing the answer, but it probably revolves around a complete change in his approach to life. Note that in addition to being 41, Power is five years into fatherhood, which often adds perspective. In other words, he spent much of 2022 talking about playing “the long game” of the season, which meant keeping an eye on the overall prize, a series championship.

Power admitted there were times in his career when he was too fixated on winning races – he has won 41 times in this series, fifth in history – but titles thrive on consistency. Drivers learn that through experience, he said, and this was his 18th season in the series.

“You can’t beat experience, you just have to can not beat experience,” said Power. “That’s all I’ll say.

“Every scenario that can happen to you for a race to go wrong has happened to me (and chief engineer Dave Faustino), and it happens to everyone. It is precisely at this stage of your career that you just know the game so well and you play on that experience.”

Experience is what Ruzewski has leaned on over the past few seasons to mentally prepare Power and Faustino for their best shot at a title in the series since winning one in 2014. Ruzewski said he regularly emphasized the advantage of an average fifth-place finish. In the series’ top-heavy points allocation structure, that adds momentum and lessens the need for a go-for-broke mentality that Power seemed to ride earlier in his career.

“I’ve always been a preacher of fortitude,” Ruzewski said. “If we ride in the top three or in the top five all year, we’re going to win. This year we’ve only won once, but if you look at winning championships historically, if you’re fifth or lower (on average), you’re probably going to win or even walk away with (the title) in dominant fashion. ”

Power’s average finish this season was 5.9, easily the best in the series. Scott Dixon was the only driver to come close to Power in that category at 6.7. All other drivers who finished in the top six of the standings had an average finish of over 8.0.

With that mindset, Power achieved a series-high 12 top-five finishes, three more than Dixon and four more than Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin and Pato O’Ward. He won the championship with 16 points.

“So it’s true, it works,” Ruzewski said.

Power’s consistency was also evident in many other statistical categories. He and Dixon were the only drivers to complete all 2,268 laps of the season, and Power led Newgarden in the most races (10 each). Power and his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet were also strong when it mattered most, leading the race in six of the final seven events of the season.

Faustino has been Power’s chief engineer for all but one of his 41 series wins, and has witnessed Power’s best and worst emotions. Faustino said it’s one thing to aim for a season of top five finishes, it’s another to commit to it, which Power has been doing for the past two years.

It’s important to remember, Faustino said, that Power is fighting from a unique position in this sport. As the most successful qualifier in the history of the sport — breaking Mario Andretti’s record of 67 career poles in the end-of-season Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca — he often has nowhere to go in a race, but he is disappointed considering that success is usually determined by progress. In racing that is better to finish than to start.

“If you start on pole and finish third, as Will often does, you are disappointed,” said Faustino. “The shift in him was when actual acceptance and positivity and happiness came from a (race) result that was not a win.

“You can have a mindset and a mantra to win a championship, but if you don’t… to feel in a way you don’t really accept a result with the positivity that could bring you a championship. You can say things, but you really have to do it to feel stuff. I saw more of that personal satisfaction with top five (finishes) and podiums – Will (got) satisfied with it instead of going for wins all the time. ”

Faustino paused to consider another element of Power’s approach.

“Now, I wouldn’t say that about going for poles,” he said. “He got out of the car after finishing second or third and was very upset. Maybe that was so close to the record where he still put a lot of emphasis on getting poles. So maybe having the record will take the pressure off him.”

Ruzewski said: “Will was so excited in qualifying, so rushed, and when he didn’t get it right it was such a big drama, as everyone always saw. We didn’t even talk about (the possibility) of getting the pole (at Laguna Seca). All week we’ve been talking about running qualifying, what we need to do to advance to the next round and our strategy.

“To see him take pole was really cool because he would have been fine if he hadn’t gotten it. He just wanted a good starting place. Getting (the record) was a big relief, and I think now he will be even more of a weapon in qualifying because he won’t have that over his head. Everything is a bonus now.”

Power said he has also learned not to be too hard on himself and to accept what a moment has brought him.

“From a championship perspective, that’s not the day you look back on every time you take a podium,” he said. “You look back on the day you finished 19th at Road America. Those are the days when championships are lost, the top three (finish) are not. So every time I got a top four I was pretty happy but in the past I would have been (furious)… seething.

“When your teammates win, it was (hard for me). Now it’s like, I don’t care, I’m going to weather their storm while they have a good run and just (accept it). That in itself was a mental change.”

Ruzewski said that’s a major reason Power was showered with championship confetti at Laguna Seca.

“I think he’s really grateful for everything now (he’s accomplished), and that mindset has allowed him to enjoy (his situation), which means he’s not so concerned about having to get this or that,” he said. “I think he just enjoys it, and it works.

“He’s not as ‘Will’ as he used to be.”

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