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INDYCAR Grand Prix Pole Could Propel Confident Power Out of Early-Season Rut

Aside from an all-too-familiar celebration on pit road at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there was a flip side to Friday’s deja vu, which reminds Will Power has been down this road more times than he cares to remember.

While it’s understandable to accentuate the positive of a pole-winning run for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday, Team Penske driver Power needs a third triumph in this race on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course at IMS to bounce back from another slow start to his Verizon IndyCar Series season.

2014 series champion Power sits a distant 10th in the points after four races, already 77 points behind teammate and defending series champion Josef Newgarden. That’s an eyebrow-raising position when considering Power has finished fifth or better in the points in every year since 2010, including runner-up four times.

On a jubilant day, Power still couldn’t help but start off with a rather telling opening statement in the media center, saying, “We just obviously had a rough start to the season.”

The problem hasn’t been qualifying – Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet has started second three times and third in the other race. But too often something has gone wrong to ruin his race results, which include finishing 22nd in the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix and 21st in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

He’s encouraged by being quick everywhere he runs and that both of his previous INDYCAR Grand Prix wins were from the pole. His 32 career wins rank ninth on the all-time list, and he’s won at least one race each year since 2007. Power also just passed teammate Helio Castroneves for third in all-time poles with 51, just two shy of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.

Power, a 37-year-old Australian, doesn’t sound like he’s lost any confidence.

“Absolutely not. I’m fast,” he said while on pit road. “I’ve got the speed. It’s just little mistakes that could have gone either way. No, not at all. I’m not changing a thing.”

Before winning last year’s INDYCAR Grand Prix, Power had only one top-10 result in the previous four starts. In 2016, he missed the season opener with a serious inner ear infection and finished 19th in this race. His other win in this race came in 2015, which was also the last time he started a season strong, as he finished fourth or better in five of the first seven races.

“I don’t worry much about anything with him,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said of Power. “It’s not worth it. He’s been through the gamut of it all, and he’s still fast.”

Teammate Simon Pagenaud, who won this race the other two years, is also off to a slow start as he sits 15th in the points. But the optimistic Pagenaud, the 2016 series champion, sounded predictably upbeat after qualifying seventh in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

“We still got tomorrow,” the Frenchman said, smiling.

So, too, does Power, who amid the excitement couldn’t help but look past this weekend.

“I don’t only want to pick it up for this race, it’s the next one that I really, really want to pick it up for,” he said, referring to the double-points Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 27. “I’ve wanted that one for a long time. But focus for (Saturday) and see what we can do.”

No driver has ever won both the Indy 500 and INDYCAR Grand Prix. But for now, momentum begins with an 85-lap, 207.315-mile test on a technically challenging, 14-turn course that Power considers among his favorites.

“It would get his confidence back in the right place,” Cindric said of a Saturday triumph, “but obviously a win at the big show, aside from all the things that come with that, is a lot of points.”

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