Will Power celebrates the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship. (Al Steinberg Photo)

Palou Closes Season With Win, Power Is Champion

MONTEREY, Calif. – Already eliminated from the NTT IndyCar Series championship, Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing blistered the field to win Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey by over 30 seconds.

Team Penske’s Will Power won his second career IndyCar Series championship with a third-place finish. The 2014 champion did exactly what he needed to do to clinch the title.

But it was two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden that provided the excitement. After an incident in the Corkscrew during Saturday’s qualifications that kept him from advancing into the next round, Newgarden started 25th.

He didn’t stay there long.

The 2017 and 2019 NTT IndyCar Series champion passed cars in the back like they were standing still. He was up to fourth place by Lap 20.

On Lap 46, he passed Power for second place in the Corkscrew.

After each car made the final pit stop, Newgarden was second, but over 30 seconds behind the leader Palou. Meantime, lurking four seconds to his rear was Power, who settled in for a third-place finish to clinch the championship, the 17th for Team Penske.

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Palou’s No. 10 NTT Data Honda finished 30.3812 seconds ahead of Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevrolet.

Alex Palou in victory lane at Laguna Seca. (Al Steinberg Photo)

Palou, who is involved in a court battle with his current team owner Chip Ganassi over the final option year of his contract, talked about the win in victory lane with Ganassi standing behind him.

“We struggled a bit some races, especially the last couple of races, and today was awesome,” Palou said. “Awesome job by all the team. Strategy was on point. It’s good to finish the season with a win.

“We had some good power and good mileage. Just an awesome day. We struggled a bit during the whole weekend, and I don’t know what happened today, but everything clicked, so super happy to win a race this year.”

Palou signed a contract with McLaren for 2023. Ganassi picked up Palou’s option year in 2023 and is involved in a legal battle including mediation to determine Palou’s future in either IndyCar, or another racing series that McLaren participates in, potentially as a Formula One test driver.

“Yeah, things are moving good, so we’ll see what we can tell, but yeah, we’re going to enjoy the moment now and we’ll see what happens,” Palou said.

When Power won the IndyCar championship in 2014, it ended a near-obsession that he had trying to win a series championship for the first time in his career. Eight years later, his second championship goes to a much more mature, relaxed Power.

“In the off-season, my wife said to me “you’re going to beat Mario’s record and win the championship’ – and that gave me confidence,” Power said after getting out of the car. “I knew I had to absolutely get the most out of those stints and not lose any more positions. 

“I really had to drive that thing today, it was so loose. I can’t thank Verizon enough; they’ve been with me for more than 12 years. This whole team, Roger Penske, Chevrolet. From the beginning, it was playing the long game.” 

Liz Power handed young son Beau, over to the champion at the end of the interview to help celebrate the momentous occasion.

“It’s special every time I see the little guy,” Power said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a championship or just getting up in the morning.

“Just, yeah, God, it’s the best.”

Just one week ago, Power was clinging to a 3-point lead over Newgarden entering the September 4 Grand Prix of Portland. Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin would win that race with Power finishing second, but Newgarden’s third-place finish expanded Power’s lead to 20 points entering the season-finale at Monterey.

Power’s goal was to score maximum points in the last race of the season. Even without scoring the maximum 54 points for the weekend, Power could clinch the championship with a third-place or higher finish at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

Power’s fortunes improved dramatically on Saturday when he won the pole and both Newgarden and Scott Dixon did not advance out of their first group in qualifications. Newgarden hit a curb in the “Corkscrew” portion of the course and his car was stuck with the rear wheels on the ground, but the nose of the car planted on the asphalt.

He needed the safety crew to get the car back on course, but by bringing out the Red Flag, Newgarden could not advance. He would start the race 25th out of 26 cars.

Meantime, Power broke Mario Andretti’s all-time pole record with the 68th pole of his career. More importantly, he gained one more point toward the championship.

Power got a clean start and drove away to a 3.472-second lead in the early portion of the race. But further back in the field, Newgarden was passing cars as if they were sitting still.

Palou, who qualified fifth on Saturday, but had to start 11th on Sunday because of the six grid-spot penalty, was able to easily race his way to the front. After an exchange of pit stops, Palou passed Power for the lead on lap 27 in Turn 5 and quickly began to drive away.

The first 39 laps of the race were run under green before rookie driver Callum Ilott stopped on course in Turn 2 to bring out the yellow flag. IndyCar race control let all cars complete green flag pit stops before waving the caution flag.

After racing resumed on the green flag, Newgarden was on a tear. He passed Power for second place in the “Corkscrew,” but Power did not lose his cool. He knew at that point, a fifth-place finish or higher would earn him the championship.

“That was the nerves coming in because Josef and I were on the same tires and he pulled a 12-second gap which just blew my mind,” Power said. “Then the next set of tires, suddenly I was actually quicker than him. It was a bit confusing to me because I just figured he was on Reds, but he wasn’t.

“Yeah, the car came alive in the last stint and no problem.”

Palou pulled away, building an insurmountable lead over Newgarden and Power played the “long game” and settled in for third.

It was the right strategy to win the championship.

“What a great weekend all around,” Power said. “I couldn’t really enjoy the pole yesterday because I was so focused on the race.

“There was a lot of stress. A lot of stress this weekend. Not really any other — I was pretty calm all year. Once I got in the car and we started rolling, it was fine. A bit sketchy in the middle of the race. I was digging.

“I’ve got to give everything I can. I can’t lose any position here, and the car was — the tires, yeah, it was interesting. Some sets of tires were really good, and some were not quite so good. A bit of a difference there.

“But yep, mentally drained. Couldn’t show the sort of emotion that I showed when I won the 500.

“But it’s been like a long journey over the year. I think it’s pretty fitting that we just did another solid day, just a sort of long-game day like today. That’s just been the story of our year.”

While Power could celebrate the championship, last year’s champion, Palou, finished the season with a much-needed victory to help ease the drama and tension that exists between himself, Chip Ganassi Racing and his possible future with McLaren.

“There was a bit more drama than we wanted, but happy to finish here, and hopefully we can start the same way next year,” Palou said.

Newgarden, who won the NTT IndyCar Series championship in 2017 and 2019, once against finished the season strong, but finished second in the championship. The final margin between himself and Power is just 16 points.

“Well, we tried today for sure,” a worn-out and reflective Newgarden said. “We gave our best, as we always do. Alex was tough to catch today. I think he just was incredible, particularly on the last couple stints. He did a really amazing job. It was going to be hard to get to him.

“I really wanted to — we got all the way to second, and I’m like, we just need one more spot, but he seemed a little out of reach today. So tremendous job by them.

‘Happy we were able to fight back to where we did. It was a tough day, and we knew we had to fight. Ultimately, we’ve come up short in this championship. We’ve got to be in a different position next year and fight a lot harder so that we can hopefully be in a much more favorable position coming into this weekend, and I believe we can do that.

“It’s been a really tough year. It’s been good in a lot of ways, but it’s also been really negative in a lot of others.

“I’m excited for a reset, excited to come back next year, and I know we’ve got the team to do the job.”

Power’s championship was the second of his career and the 17th NTT IndyCar Series Championship for Team Penske. It was the 42nd total series championship in Team Penske history.

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