WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — With traffic ahead and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya closing in from behind, Will Power stepped on the accelerator.
The IndyCar points leader maneuvered through the high-speed gridlock to claim a crucial victory Sunday at the Milwaukee Mile.
Power added a little breathing room in the standings over second-place Helio Castroneves and boosted Team Penske’s hopes for a season title with two races to go.
“We’re a well-oiled machine right now with all three cars,” Power said about the team that also includes Castroneves. “If we have a couple more days like this, of course, it’s going to be a great finish.”
A Penske driver has finished second each of the previous four seasons and five of the last six.
Power raced to his third victory this season, and his first on an oval. Montoya finished second, while Tony Kanaan was third.
After coming into Milwaukee with a four-point lead, Power heads to the road course at Sonoma next week with 602 points, 39 more than Castroneves.
Plus, Power proved doubters wrong who said he couldn’t win on ovals. It was Power’s third career oval victory, following Texas in 2011 and Fontana last year.
“Yes! I love winning on ovals! I love winning on ovals!” he yelled on his radio after taking the checkered flag. The season could be decided on an oval with the final in two weeks at Fontana.
Now brimming with confidence, Power said he especially wanted to win at Milwaukee.
“This is the first year that I can say to myself that I am ... a better all-around driver,” the 33-year-old Australian said. “I guess, it just comes with age, you know.”
Power’s victory ended Ryan Hunter-Reay’s two-year winning streak at the Mile. Hunter-Reay won the Indianapolis 500, but his championship hopes took a hit after exiting following 168 laps with mechanical problems.
Hunter-Reay was third in the standings entering the race. His day had started on a high note after signing a three-year extension with Andretti Autosport to stay in the No. 28 car.
The day belonged to Power, who led for 229 laps. He is in familiar territory in contention late in the season after also having led the standings with three races to go in 2012 and 2010.
Power crashed in the finale both years. Once again, he’s in control going into this season’s final two races in California.
“I’ve been in this situation before — the difference is, I don’t have a weakness anymore,” Power said. “It’s just a matter of executing on a weekend.”
Power led by 2 seconds late Sunday before Montoya was able to shave about a half-second from the lead around lap 238.
Soon, Power and Montoya were the only two cars on the lead lap, with traffic ahead. It could have provided Montoya with a prime opportunity to get by.
Instead, Power started pulling away and won by 2.7 seconds.
While each praising Power, Montoya and Kanaan also groused about the traffic late with less room to pass at Milwaukee. Power said he got by from saving gas, then flooring it after hearing on the radio that Montoya was closing.
“We asked him today to drive on an oval like he would on a road course,” team president Tim Cindric said about the fuel strategy Power used.
Montoya’s momentum slowed just as he was gaining.
“I really killed my tires, trying to pass traffic,” Montoya said.
“If you asked me at the beginning of the year if I would be mad (finishing second), I would have said you were crazy,” he added. “But here I am.”
Castroneves finished 11th in the race. Simon Pagenaud, finished seventh, allowing him to move up to third in the driver standings, 92 behind Power.
Hunter-Reay fell to fourth place, while Montoya is fifth. Sixth-place Scott Dixon is the only other driver who remains eligible for the season title.
The odds look good for Team Penske with three drivers still in contention, led by Power and Castroneves at the top.
“We’ve been good everywhere we’ve been. We’ve always been there,” Montoya said.
Montoya and Kanaan did finally catch up to Power on championship podium, pummeling him with celebratory cream puffs on each side of his head. They had direct hits on Power’s ears, so bad that the winner had to get medical personnel to clean them out.