MONTERREY, Calif. — Will Power entered Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterrey starting on pole, passing Mario Andretti for the most pole position starts in IndyCar history with 68. Power would exit Laguna Seca as the IndyCar Series champion as well.
Despite a prolific and memorable charge from fellow Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, who started 25 and finished second, when all was said and done all Power had to do was finish 5th or better and he would win the championship.
“I couldn’t really enjoy the pole yesterday because I was so focused on the race,” Power said after the race. “A lot of stress. A lot of stress this weekend. Not really any other — I was pretty calm all year. Once I got in the car and we started rolling, it was fine. A bit sketchy in the middle of the race.”
Power would finish third behind Newgarden and race winner Alex Palou.
The season finale set up a battle for the title among three blue-blood drivers in Power, Newgarden, and Scott Dixon. Dixon and Newgarden entered the race tied for second 21-points back from Power.
Newgarden had to start 25th due to a mishap in qualifying. This forced him to start on an alternate tire strategy on black tires from the beginning. This would play perfectly into his hands later on.
Power led the race’s first 16-lap starting on the faster, but less durable, red tires. On Laguna Seca’s worn down, old surface, the red tires were not lasting long at all. At least, not for every driver but Palou.
Alex Palou started on blacks as well but committed to the aggressive three-stop strategy. After the first round of stops, Palou found himself in the lead after a caution on Lap 40 for Callum Ilott who stopped on course with mechanical issues.
Palou pitted for new tires and with that jumped to the lead as IndyCar delayed throwing the caution to allow everyone a chance to pit. Newgarden did not pit as he had made his second pit stop after staying quick on red tires. Back on blacks, he pushed hard in the laps before the caution flag flew.
Newgarden restarted fifth and slashed his way to second behind Palou, who inherited the lead. Palou would open up a substantial lead in a long stint on black tires. Newgarden stayed steady in second.
But, even with his astounding push through the field, Newgarden would need help. With Palou taking over as the driver to lead the most laps, securing the bonus points that come with it, with 30 laps to go all Power had to do was finish 5th or better to win the championship, regardless of where Newgarden finished.
Palou stayed committed to the three-stop strategy to win the race by more than 30-seconds over Newgarden. The win for Palou is his first of the season, and could very well be his last with Chip Ganassi Racing as he continues to muddle through legal issues over his contract switch the team and McLaren Racing.
Power, held his spot in third to cruise home to the NTT IndyCar Series championship.
“We just seemed to execute in every way (this year),” Power said. “Not necessarily faster — well, we were faster in some respects, some races, but just getting it right, pit lane and on track. You think about it this weekend, winning the championship and surpassing
Mario Andretti in poles, very satisfying. Very satisfying.”
Power joins several other drivers to win two championships, such as Tom Sneva, Tony Bettenhausen, Gil de Ferren, Joe Leonard, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Rodger Ward, and Alex Zanardi.
As for the rookies, Christian Lundgaard was the top-scoring rookie driver for the season and secured rookie of the year honors.
With the season concluded, drivers, teams, and everyone in between will have several months off before returning for the start of the 2023 IndyCar season at St. Petersburg in late February next year.