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Power Pushing Hard toward Unique May Double with Penske

Race Day is still a long way away, but as the practice grind intensified Tuesday, Will Power was reminded of the big picture.

Not that Team Penske driver Power needed to be reminded, near the end of a six-hour session with 32 cars turning a combined 2,404 laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, because he’s very much aware of the unique position he is in entering the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Can Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix winner become the first driver to sweep both May races at IMS?

“That’s the plan,” Power said in a pit-road interview during the “Happy Hour” final hour of practice. “We’ll do everything we can to make it happen.”

Power came as close as anyone so far in 2015, when he won the Grand Prix and finished second in the Indy 500 to teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. Ryan Hunter-Reay won the “500” and finished second in the Grand Prix in 2014.

Since winning the Verizon IndyCar Series championship in 2014, Australian driver Power has placed a greater emphasis on winning the Indy 500 to cement a racing resume with 30 career wins, which ranks 11th all-time.

Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet turned the No. 1 speed in Tuesday practice, at 224.656 mph. Perhaps more impressively, Power ranked fourth on the no-tow list at 220.902 mph, which means his car was among the fastest without the benefit of an aerodynamic tow.

“It was pretty good all day, actually,” Power said. “I have to say we made some improvements overnight. Yeah, the no-tow speed is better, for sure. Yeah, I feel comfortable in traffic.”

Then came the voice of experience as Power, 36, provided perspective on how so much can happen between now and Race Day, May 28.

“It’s a long week,” he said. “We’ve got to keep working at it. Things change. The car goes in and out of being good and bad, this and that. You’ve got to try not to get lost and just keep it simple.”

Teams will receive an engine boost for Fast Friday practice and both days of weekend qualifying, so it’s difficult to gauge how much practice speeds indicate those in strongest contention for the pole.

Owner/driver Ed Carpenter topped the no-tow list Tuesday at 222.842 mph, ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball at 221.208 mph. Carpenter’s teammate, JR Hildebrand, was third at 221.015 mph.

Power’s top no-tow lap was just ahead of four-time series champion Scott Dixon of Ganassi Racing at 220.872 mph. Dixon won the 2008 Indy 500.

Power’s Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves ranked second on the overall speed chart at 224.287 mph, but his No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet was 17th on the no-tow list at 219.098 mph. Castroneves, on a 48-race winless drought that began in 2014, is trying to become just the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history.

“This is the big one, and we are working as a team trying to get the best out of it,” Castroneves said.

As much as Hall of Fame team owner Roger Penske always wants to win the Indianapolis 500 — which he’s done a record 16 times — it sounds like he’s made it even more of a priority this year, if that’s possible.

“Roger definitely just puts everything into this race,” Power said. “As a team, I think we did a lot of homework in the offseason for this race, and we tested here twice, so you know we’re getting the most out of our package. I know Chevy is working really hard, and obviously you can see that our speeds are pretty good right now.

“Yeah, Roger, he would love to get No. 17, and I would absolutely love to do it for him.”

Castroneves was impressed that Penske, his race strategist, put aside other business dealings to come to Indianapolis to work with his Brazilian driver in practice this week.

“He’s going to continue collecting victories,” Castroneves said, “and we want to continue hopefully getting him that kind of result.”

Penske re-hired Montoya, a two-time Indy 500 winner, to form a powerhouse five-car team this month that also includes defending series champion Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden, both of whom have won races this season and rank first and third in series points, respectively.

“It’s more information,” Power said of Montoya. “He’s got a lot of experience. He’s won here a couple times. It’s just better having more people. It’s an experienced team when you look at it with all the drivers, so Juan definitely brings a lot to the table.”

Visit IMS.com to purchase tickets for the 101st Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, May 28, and for more information on the complete Month or May schedule at IMS.

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