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Top Moments of 2018 - #1: Power Finally Breaks Through with Indy 500 Win

Editor’s Note: This is the last 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.

The images in Victory Circle on Sunday afternoon, May 27, 2018 were as startling as they were appealing.

Who was that guy who let out an almost maniacal scream when climbing from his car in victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Who was that guy whose ice-blue eyes pierced even more than usual, with equal amounts of vindication and relief? Who was that guy who stared at and hugged his wife so tightly one would think they hadn’t seen each other in a year?

Was that really Will Power? Was it really the guy known to most IndyCar Series fans as the laid-back, laconic Australian who parlayed his blinding speed on road and street circuits to a series championship in 2014?

Yep, it really was Willy P. And to understand his uncharacteristic eruption of emotion was to understand just how much he wanted to earn a victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for himself and his team owner, the legendary Roger Penske.

Power already had earned his spot in the IndyCar pantheon for the ages before the Month of May in 2018. He won the series championship in 2014. He already had 32 career IndyCar victories, including 29 with Team Penske.

But something was missing – an Indianapolis 500 victory. Power knew that getting his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy was the only true way to secure legendary status within Penske and IndyCar circles. He came to IndyCar in 2008 disliking ovals but eventually learned to love them after mastering the subtle art of finding speed in circles.

So the lack of a “500” victory gnawed at Power more than almost anyone knew. He had the speed. He had the team. But at age 37, time was running shorter, and he tossed and turned many a night thinking about how – or even if – he could win the Big One.

A third victory in five years in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course on May 12 only intensified Power’s desire to win on the oval at IMS. It was all or nothing once action moved to the oval. Second place would be first loser.

Power put himself in excellent position for victory on Pole Day, qualifying on the outside of the front row in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

On Race Day, Power led 59 laps and took the lead for good on Lap 196 to earn his first career Indianapolis 500 victory in his 11th career start in the race. He beat pole sitter Ed Carpenter to the finish by 3.1589 seconds.

Power’s victory in 91-degree temperatures – tied for the second hottest Race Day in history – extended Team Penske’s record for “500” wins to 17. It also was the first time any driver completed the May Double of winning the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course and Indianapolis 500 in the same year.

“Look at his line, 223 miles an hour the last couple laps,” team owner Penske said. “He drove everything he could.”

A fascinating mad dash to the checkered and a spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy ensued over the last 10 laps after 2013 “500” winner Tony Kanaan spun exiting Turn 2 in his No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet and hit the inside retaining wall on Lap 189, triggering the last of seven caution periods.

The top five under the last caution were Oriol Servia, Stefan Wilson, Jack Harvey, Power and 2008 “500” winner Scott Dixon. Servia, Wilson and Harvey were gambling, hoping for one more caution period to stretch their final fuel run to more than 40 laps and an unlikely shot at victory. Dixon last pitted on Lap 160, with Power’s final stop on Lap 171, so they could charge hard toward the finish.

Wilson roared past Servia for the lead on the front straightaway on the final restart, on Lap 193. He led the next three laps as Servia faded and Harvey rose to second. But Wilson and Harvey were forced to dive into the pits for a splash of fuel, handing the lead to Power on Lap 196.

Carpenter had climbed to second behind Power when Wilson and Harvey made their late pit stops. But he didn’t have enough speed or time in his No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet to chase down Power, who turned the fastest lead lap of the race – 223.306 mph – on Lap 199 to seal the victory.

“Man, I just can’t believe it,” Power said. “I can’t describe it. I feel like collapsing. I want to cry. I couldn’t stop screaming. I can’t believe it.

“I was wondering if I was ever going to win it, and thoughts went through my mind during the month like that. In my career, I’ve had so many wins, so many poles. But everyone always talks about the ‘500.’ And I won it. I just couldn’t imagine winning a race in front of crowd like this, this many people. It’s just amazing. What an event. I love it.”

So did we, Will.

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