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LONG BEACH, Calif. — It doesn’t seem to make a difference where Will Power starts an IndyCar race anymore.
No matter how far back in the field he goes, he’s managing to find his way to the front.
Power earned his second consecutive victory Sunday — keeping Penske Racing perfect on the season — by picking his way through the field to drive from 12th to first in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Even though he drove from ninth to the victory at Barber two weeks ago, Power didn’t think he could do it again.
“I go into every season thinking that there’s no way I can win another race,” the Australian said. “I don’t know why I feel like that, but I do. I guess I have an insecurity or something or I don’t believe in myself enough.”
That seems sort of silly, though, considering Sunday’s win was the 17th of Power’s career and moved him into the points lead. He pulled it off by working his way through traffic on a street circuit where passing is difficult, conserving gas over the final 31 laps — three laps past his fuel window — and holding off hard-charging rookie Simon Pagenuad at the end.
So just where does Power have to start to guarantee he won’t win?
“Pole. If you get on pole you won’t win,” he said. “We’ve experienced that a number of times here and many other tracks.”
Sure enough, Power had started on the pole the last three years and failed to win at Long Beach. Not this time, as he gave Penske its first win at Long Beach since 2001 and kept the team perfect in three races this season. Helio Castroneves won the opener at St. Pete, Power won the last two races, and they’ve combined with teammate Ryan Briscoe to win all three poles.
But their starting positions were scrambled Sunday because all 11 Chevrolet teams were penalized by IndyCar after the manufacturer decided to yank all its engines as a precautionary measure. The punishment is the loss of 10 spots on the starting grid, so Chevy officials did not make the engine change lightly because they knew it would put rival manufacturer Honda in strong position to win its first race of the year.
Instead, Chevrolet drivers claimed 10 of the first 14 positions and had six of the top seven spots.
Chevrolet IndyCar program manager Chris Berube called it a showcase of “determination, talent, and spirit of cooperation of Team Chevy.”
“Each one of our Chevrolet teams and drivers put forth their best effort to overcome the adversity of their starting positions,” Berube said. “It was an amazing race to watch and a great show for the fans.”
Pagenaud, probably the fastest at the end of the race, settled for second and the Honda driver passed on criticizing lapped traffic. An encounter with E.J. Viso created a hold-your-breath moment, but Viso’s team instructed him to move over for the leaders and both got by.
But asked if he’d have had a shot at catching Power if Viso had moved over faster, Pagenaud wouldn’t speculate.
“With a lot of ifs, you could change the world,” he said. “I’m really happy with second. If I had an opportunity, I would have definitely tried. You can trust me on that. The day I have the opportunity, I will try. But I didn’t have the opportunity.”
James Hinchcliffe finished a career-best third, but had his teammate to thank for his first IndyCar podium.
Hinchcliffe was actually running fifth behind Ryan Hunter-Reay when his teammate spun Takuma Sato on the last lap. The third-place finish had been Sato’s to claim, but he wound up eighth. Hunter-Reay was penalized 30 seconds for avoidable contact, dropping him to sixth, and moving Hinchcliffe to third.
Sato, who has been fast all season but has yet to finish a race, was not pleased.
“On the very last lap Ryan Hunter-Reay basically took me out,” Sato said. “There was not enough depth on his overtaking maneuver. He had a chance for the last few corners, so it’s very disappointing to finish the race this way.”
Hunter-Reay seemed apologetic.
“I feel bad Sato ended up in the tires, but I knew he was saving fuel, and I came up on him really fast,” Hunter-Reay said.
It was a messy race from the start as rookie Josef Newgarden’s aggressive move on leader Dario Franchitti backfired.
Newgarden was moved to the front row after the Chevrolet’s were penalized, and the 21-year-old joked after Saturday’s qualifying that he might try to pass Franchitti immediately because the four-time champion wouldn’t be expecting such a bold move. Newgarden backed up his words and tried to get past Franchitti on the outside as they headed into the first turn.
There seemed to be some contact between the two, and Newgarden’s car sailed into the tire barrier, ending his race without a single completed lap.
“I just got touched on the exit, went right to the wall. Maybe it wasn’t the right move,” Newgarden said. “I thought I had a good run on him and got a good jump on him. Maybe I probably should have just — it’s a tough call.”