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Top Moments of 2018 - #7: Power Sets Table for May Sweep

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2018 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Will Power won the INDYCAR Grand Prix from the pole May 12 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Looking at history, that’s a news flash with shock value equivalent to “Sun sets in west.” Power has dominated this event, winning twice in its first four years before adding another victory this May. He truly is the king of the IMS road.

Power was full of momentum entering the oval portion of the Month of May after winning the INDYCAR Grand Prix in 2015 and 2017, yet he couldn’t convert that same victorious mojo into his first Indianapolis 500 victory 15 days later.

Power came close in 2015, finishing a heartbreaking .1046 of a second behind Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, who earned his second Indy 500 win. In 2017, Power finished a disappointing 23rd after being eliminated in a five-car incident in Turn 2 on a restart with 17 laps remaining.

But this year was different.

It didn’t take long after Power’s INDYCAR Grand Prix celebration ended in Victory Lane for the whispers to start. “Yeah, another road course win for Willy P. But will he ever close the deal in the ‘500?’”

No one heard those whispers louder than Power. He had won the 2014 IndyCar Series championship and more than 30 races for Team Penske, the greatest team in the history of North American open-wheel racing. But the lack of his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy as a winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” tormented him like nothing else.

Power, 37, knew the sands in the hourglass of his illustrious career were less than half-full, and his chances to win the race he wanted more than any other were slipping away. So Power delivered his drive for the ages May 27 to earn his first Indianapolis 500 victory.

He also became the first driver to sweep both IndyCar Series races in the Month of May.

A dominant performance in the INDYCAR Grand Prix paved the way for Power’s incredible May.

He earned the pole for the third time for the event on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit, the spot from which he also earned his first two victories in the race.
 
In the race, Power was pushed to the maximum before winning. He triumphed in a thrilling race that featured multiple passes for the lead, a race record-tying seven different leaders and plenty of strategy.
 
“Man, I’ve never driven so hard for an entire race,” Power said. “I was 100 percent the whole time. Yeah, I’m exhausted.”
 
Scott Dixon challenged Power for the lead toward the end of the race but ended up 2.2443 seconds behind the winner.
 
Power took the lead for good on Lap 51 of the 85-lap race, passing rookie Robert Wickens with an outside-inside move that started in Turn 1 and finished in Turn 2. That decisive pass came with Power on Firestone alternate tires with more grip, while Wickens was racing on Firestone primary tires. It was the final act of a strategic duel of tire strategies by Team Penske and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
 
Both drivers started from the front row, Power from the pole and Wickens second, on alternate tires. But Power took primary “black” tires while Wickens stayed on alternate “red” tires. The extra grip helped Wickens stretch to a 5.375-second lead over Power just 15 laps after their first stops.
 
On Lap 41, Wickens pitted and switched to primary tires, as every driver must run at least two laps per race on both tire compounds. Meanwhile, Power switched to alternate tires during his second pit stop of the race, on Lap 42.
 
A quick pit stop by Team Penske and the faster alternate tires helped Power erase Wickens’ lead quickly. Power pulled to within .6222 of a second by Lap 48, and the gap was more than halved to .3084 of a second by Lap 50.
 
Power then made the winning pass on Lap 51 and pulled out to a 2.2855-second lead after Lap 52.
 
It appeared Power would canter to a third victory. But a full-course caution on Lap 55 when Josef Newgarden spun in Turn 12 while battling Sebastien Bourdais for third place.
 
All 22 cars on the lead lap pitted on Lap 58, planning to stretch fuel mileage all the way to the finish. Power won the race off pit road and kept the lead when green-flag racing resumed on Lap 61.

While Power never trailed by less than a second after Lap 67, the show wasn’t over. Dixon showed his incomparable ability to maintain speed while saving fuel and completed a stirring drive from the 18th starting spot to second place.
 
Dixon exited the final pit stop in third, behind Power and Wickens, but he passed Wickens for second on Lap 64. Dixon then kept a steady gap to Power over the next few laps. But the tricky balancing act of managing fuel and trying to catch Power finally caught up to Dixon.

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