Will Power Wednesday

Posted by Iannucci | 4/22/2009 | 21 comments »
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At the end of the Grand Prix of Long Beach the IndyCar series brought several drivers to the free feeding trough that is the media center for interviews. League officials had decided beforehand that they would have the top two finishers and the "story of the day" driver offered up the the hungry scribes, so they ushered in succession winner Dario Franchitti, runner-up Will Power, and Danica Patrick after she drove from 22nd to 4th. Also, they brought in some guy named "Helio" over whom much ink has been spilled recently.

We don't know who's going to win this weekend in Kansas, but it's a safe bet the real "story of the day" driver won't be attending a post-race press conference because he won't even be participating in the race. Yes, we're talking about Will Power, who is SECOND in championship points, and but as part of his arrangement with Team Penske looks to be sitting out every other race this year not named "Indianapolis 500". Think about that - when was the last time a guy who was second, or anywhere in the Top 5 for that matter, sat out a race for anything other than an injury? Has this ever happened before? Is Donald Davidson in the house?

It's an unfortunate situation to say the least. Power was obviously hired as a contingency plan for things outside of his and Roger Penske's control, and by all accounts that agreement provided The Captain the right to have sent Will packing post-haste this weekend. But Roger kept him in a car, perhaps because with two street courses starting the season Power may have been the best available driver for those circuits - an opinion that seems accurate since, again, he's second in championship points - and Penske appears to have enough confidence in Power to field a rare third entry for him at Indianapolis.

But it's the fact that Power is still being kicked to the curb that has some Power fans spitting nails. For example, toward the end of yet another stellar race recap from Robin Miller's close, personal friend pressdog, our fellow word butcher detailed what Will had to deal with to accomplish his second-place finish at Long Beach.

OK, I gotta say right here I'm a little yanked off. I hate to bust up the Helio Love Fest, but FIRST, Will gets kicked over to the backup car after working with #3 all weekend so Helio could make his triumphant return. Fine, he knew that was coming. THEN he gets the replacement crew that goes with the car. All wonderful people, I'm sure, but not the well-oiled Penske Machine that runs the #3 crew. So what does he do? Stuffs it on the pole only to have the stories be about Helio's post-crash headache usurp his party, again. THEN his radio and telemetry on the "identical" backup car are whack yet he remains P1 then some crew dude screams "yellow-yellow-yellow" when it's green-green-green so Power gives up two spots before he knows what is what. So he has to inhale Danica and drive on fumes to STILL get P2. If his name was Andretti, there would be a statue being cast and a TV package being prepared right now.

I hope Roger gives Will a bear hug and festive fruit basket at least for everything he did over the weekend which was amazing and would have had everyone weeping tears of Power is Great Joy if not for The Return of Helio.
While not sharing the same level of fervor I do feel sympathy for Will, who said this weekend he took the deal because wants to spend the rest of his career driving for Team Penske. That seems a slim proposition since Roger already has two drivers, plus a third who might someday return. The more likely scenario is that Will finds a home with a different team, as more than one has expressed interest at the chance to add the Australian to their roster. Pending funding, of course.

Only time - and possibly the accountants at Verizon Wireless - will tell how this season turns out for Will Power, but for now here's a little My Name Is IRL love for the real "story of the day" for the next race. If he happens to win at Indianapolis - a very real possibility in a Penske car - he could end up being "story of the year".


  1. The American Mutt // April 22, 2009 8:51 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  2. The American Mutt // April 22, 2009 8:57 AM  

    I'd rather wait and see what Will Power can do on an oval, in a Penske car, for a whole race, before I decide how bad I feel about him getting sat. His record on them last year wasn't stellar, but wasn't as crashtacular as Grahams, nor was he as good as Oriol, but he place fifth at Chicago. If a certain driver wasn't allowed to block him for the first four laps of the race, he may have done better at MIL, but then again he still dropped like a stone eventually.

    The sensible thing to do would be to put him in a car at Kansas, and get him acclimated prior to Indy.

  3. pressdog // April 22, 2009 9:06 AM  

    I'm flattered by the quotage, and I obviously thought Will was a bit less-than-well treated at LB. If Danicker had done what Will did in that race, there would be books being printed about it right now and two-hour made-for-TV movies being filmed. But, Will knew what he was getting into with Penske. Bottom line is, it's really easy for you and me to spend Verizon's money and put him on the track for the rest of the season. And we all know that raw skill don't mean a ton in the Bring Your Own Funding world of professional racing, especially IndyCar. I hope Power is the top finishing Penske car at Indy and another team and sponsor will see his value post Indy.

  4. Anonymous // April 22, 2009 9:26 AM  

    Wouldn't Penske Racing be bringing a backup car to Kansas? Why can't Power practice in and qualify the 3T or 6T, and race in it (unless one of Penske's 'real' drivers crash their cars and need it)? Or is this something that only happens at Indy?

    Maybe my CCWS/CART bias is showing, but I'd much prefer to see Power in the car than Briscoe, but I guess that ain't happenin'...

    Until we see Power in a Penske car on an oval, speculating about his abilities on the ovals is pointless. Methinks he'll be alright with the Penske might behind him.

    C'mon, Roger! It's the respectable thing to do, and imagine the good press you'd get, not to mention how happy you'd make all the fans. (Does 'caring about fans' fit into the Penske business model?)


  5. will-isitmayyet.com // April 22, 2009 9:47 AM  

    when was the last time a guy who was second, or anywhere in the Top 5 for that matter, sat out a race for anything other than an injury?The late, great Michele Alboreto, 96-97, was second in the championship going into the third race.

    I don't remember why he wasn't at WDW, though.

  6. Ryan // April 22, 2009 10:22 AM  

    "I don't remember why he wasn't at WDW, though."

    Because his contract was for the races in the year 1996, not the 1996-97 season.

    Richie Hearn also had to be pretty high, he won the last race in 1996 at Las Vegas, but him and his team Della Penna went to the CART series the next year.

    As far as Will Power, if he has the willpower (hardy har), he'll be in another car I'm willing to bet. The #23 Dreyer & Reinbold car so far is without a driver for Kansas. Sarah Fisher has been looking for someone to drive road courses for her, although Will Power is probably going to have to take a pay cut, although he may not considering he's getting paid for the full year by Penske, and none of the teams that have a position to give to Power can come anywhere near matching what Penske pays.

    His oval form left much to be desired last year, and the next 6 races on the schedule are ovals. As far as Verizon, that's more a "thank you" than an actual sponsorship. Verizon is supposed to be on the #12 Cup car of David Stremme, but Sprint put the ixnay on that being title sponsor. So in order to see that Verizon gets their worth as a sponsor, they're sponsoring the Nationwide car and I suppose Roger thought "we'll throw in Long Beach and Indianapolis if Helio's found innocent".

  7. Sean // April 22, 2009 10:46 AM  

    Mike Groff I believe was actually leading the IRL points in 1996-97 and sat out races in that position, giving Davey Hamilton, then ultimately Tony Stewart the points lead. But the early IRL was less stable than it is today...

  8. Robert // April 22, 2009 10:53 AM  

    This is what happens in F1! Sorry Will, but you are like a "test" driver that only gets the seat if someone is unable to race. In F1 it is their place in the team and they are okay with it- yea they would rather drive- but you sign a contract and have to live with it

  9. The SpeedGeek // April 22, 2009 11:05 AM  

    The big bugaboo with this weekend is Penske's crew. The guys that crewed Will's car last weekend were the guys who usually crew for Rog's GrandAm car. Unfortunately for Will and all of us, GrandAm failed to go bankrupt since Daytona three months ago, and they're actually racing this weekend (Round 2!). Roger is talented, for sure, but I think even his talents run out at conjuring a dozen souls out of thin air on a one-week notice to wrench on a third IndyCar.

    I think the far, far more interesting set of questions about the whole situation will be if A) somebody else wants to let Will drive for the balance of the post-Indy season and B) if Roger wants to let him do that in the first place. After all, any time Will finishes ahead of Helio or Briscoe, it's be taking points away from the guys who are driving cars that actually say "Team Penske" on the side. Will's theoretically still got a contract for the rest of the year, and I'd imagine he'd want to avoid embarrassing Roger in any way...

  10. Iannucci // April 22, 2009 11:27 AM  

    I'm not buying that Roger couldn't get a third crew together. At the very least he could borrow the Conquest guys who are sitting around twiddling their thumbs (figuratively speaking) for the weekend. It would be awkward, but stranger things have happened.

    The other argument - about possibly besting the cars that say "Team Penske" on the sidepod - makes far more sense than any logistical excuse.

    Also, with Helio's uncertain fate I'm sure Penske didn't hire Will JUST for street courses. As a "transition" driver he adjusted to the big ovals as the '08 season progressed. Maybe no one else noticed but Will Power finished 5th at Chicagoland last year.

  11. Mike // April 22, 2009 11:45 AM  

    Bottom line is dollars. Roger's not in the habit of shelling money out of HIS pocket for any of this. There are a load of drivers, as we all know, who are more than capable and better than many who have the seats filled in some of these cars. Example: Conquest with Tags...they entered a car but haven't assigned a shoe yet, and that's simply a matter of economics. It isn't just a matter of having the equipment to use, it's a matter of the costs of using it.

    Will is certainly capable of driving an oval well. With the year of experience and the strength/knowledge base of Penske Racing, there's no doubt he'll do well at the Speedway. But as P'dog said, WE would all spend Verizon's money without hesitation to put him in a car at Kansas...problem is, it ain't our decision.

  12. Ryan // April 22, 2009 2:35 PM  

    "I'm not buying that Roger couldn't get a third crew together."

    Well I'm not buying that Roger couldn't field a Porsche LMP program in the ALMS after DHL withdrew support, but the fact of the matter is he chose not to.

  13. The American Mutt // April 22, 2009 5:59 PM  


    "Maybe no one else noticed but Will Power finished 5th at Chicagoland last year."

    So what, you don't even read my posts anymore? I kid I kid.

  14. EnsErmac // April 22, 2009 6:16 PM  

    Ugh, the versus hockey announced just told us all to follow Dan "wheel-don" for his third straight Kansas victory…

  15. SS Minnow // April 22, 2009 9:16 PM  

    First, my thought- whether it happens or not, personally I would like to see Will in a car at Kansas. I'm sure there are countless reasons for and against it, but hey.... the more the merrier!

    Going off topic! I have to ask Anonymous 1 (Speedy RB) a question. Were you a CART/CCWS follower and began watching/following IRL after the "blendification"? While I'm curious to find out your specific situation, I just ponder what effect the old CCWS fanbase had on Long Beach viewership. Jeff posted earlier about almost double the viewership from SP to LB (.28 to .52) Was that the dynamic in play? Was it a tune in to see their former "crown jewel"? I'm really tired and can't expand my question further, but just curious.

  16. Anonymous // April 22, 2009 9:31 PM  


    It's okay. At least they're talking about us...it...Indy.

    A shout-out is good even if mispronounced.

  17. Mike // April 22, 2009 10:08 PM  

    SS Minnow:

    As a very long time Indy Car fan (the first Indy Car, aka 'Champ Car' event I attended was Riverside in 1968 at 13) and a former USAC and CART participant (mechanic) LB was, for me, the first opportunity to see the merged series' in person. It did in fact go a long way toward getting me 'over the hump' of resentment I've felt about the IRL since it was hatched. (Edmonton last year may have had a somewhat similar effect on those who attended - check with Meesh on that one).

    TG initiated the IRL and led American open wheel "big cars" into the mess it became for the 12 ensuing years. For that I found it hard to accept anything that he promoted. I paid no attention to IRL, and very little to Indy itself after 1995. When some CART teams started to go back and whip the IRL regulars at Indy I applauded it, and thought that would show the racing world just how much of a disparity there was in quality of competition. The better series was CART/CCWS. I generally still felt that way through 2007 BUT...

    There's no way to know if CART/CCWS would have imploded like it did had the split never occured, but it did. As CART/CCWS came apart at the seams, it was good that there was something else going on to provide SOME sense of continuity. For that reason alone, I'm glad that the IRL survived the bad years (thanks to the 500).

    So did LB increase viewership because it was the old 'crown jewel'? Perhaps. I can only speak for myself when I say that it brought me to a pretty complete acceptance and welcoming of what is now called "Indy Car" racing, which is better than I've felt since 1995. To finally see most (not all) the best shoes in the same series in my hometown race again, went a long way to give a sense that it's one great series, and it eventually will (again) supplant the N-word series as that which everyone recognizes as the best in North America.

  18. Anonymous // April 23, 2009 6:41 AM  

    "Ugh, the versus hockey announced just told us all to follow Dan "wheel-don" for his third straight Kansas victory…"

    I was watching the game last night and didn't even notice the mispronunciation.

  19. Anonymous // April 23, 2009 8:39 AM  

    Hey SS Minnow

    I became a racing fan in 1999 when my friend dragged me against my will to the Long Beach Grand Prix. Seeing the cars in person - how fast! how loud! - totally blew me away and made me a fan for life. Because my first experience was with CART, I learned to dislike the IRL.

    As the years progressed, I would only catch the occasional IRL race on TV - the Indy 500, and maybe Texas. But yes, with "mergification", I now support the single, unified IndyCar series, which is not hard to do, since it looks a lot like CART did in 1999, and will look even more like it when they get turbo-charged engines. I actually didn't like how ChampCar bailed on the ovals - I like the mix of all kinds of circuits.

    This year I attended Long Beach in person, but I also DVR'd it (and am saving it and all races this year on DVD).

    Does that answer your question?

  20. SS Minnow // April 23, 2009 9:02 PM  

    Mike, Speedy-
    Thanks for your insight. I grew up watching/attending Indy and followed USAC open wheel sprints, midgets and "champ" cars, so I understand the following what you came up with aspect. I followed IRL because of the love of the 500 and the proposed "grass roots" idea TG had with promoting from the ranks. Unfortunatley, we all know how that turned out. I never really liked the all oval schedule, so I kept a distant eye on CART/CCWS and F1 for my "twisty" fix but INDY was, and still is, IT for me. (I could just insert a Little Al quote here) What's the perfect mix? Who knows? We all could debate the merits of Michigan, Cleveland and on and on and on, right? I'm with you guys and just glad these guys are all together...finally.

    Anyway, it just caught my eye about the CART/CCWS bias comment and was just curious if LB was the only event some followed since "merge...blend...reunification"

    Side note-
    It's been hard to type tonight because I keep looking at the "word verification" word and continue to chuckle. Tonight's word....
    No kidding.

  21. AZZO45 // April 23, 2009 10:18 PM  

    Well I'm not buying that Roger couldn't field a Porsche LMP program in the ALMS after DHL withdrew support, but the fact of the matter is he chose not to. -Ryan

    Ryan... Porsche is PAYING Penske to race in Grand Am while they design a P1 entry... possibly a P1 Hybrid. Running P2 cars is pricy