COUNTERPOINT: Can Power mount a comeback?

Counterpoint, IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on April 2, 2013 10:00 am
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In Counterpoint, More Front Wing co-editors Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft take sides on an issue relating to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Neither views the other’s argument until the article is compiled for posting. It’s up to you to decide who’s made the better case!

This week: Can Will Power recover from a disastrous start to the year to put together a serious run for the title in 2013?

PAUL says YES:

Will Power?  Out of contention for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship after one race?  You can’t be serious!

I’ll see your bet and double it.  If there is anyone that you wouldn’t count out after one race, it’s Will Power.

Just looking at the results of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Power’s 16th place finish is really rather unimpressive. But if you think for a moment that it is indicative of the type of weekend he had, you are gravely mistaken.

If Power had had been disgruntled all weekend because the team just couldn’t get the car working right or, you know, driven straight out of the pits and into the wall trying to overdrive an underpowered car, then perhaps there would be cause for concern.

However, right until Power was essentially taken from competition by JR Hildebrand on lap 78, he was having a very Power-esque weekend.  Power was third fastest in the first practice session, fastest in the second, second fastest in the third, and put his car on pole in Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session.  That’s hardly the weekend of a struggling driver.

Sure, he was only 19th fastest in the final warmup, but nobody really pays attention to those speeds anyway.

During the race, Power built a gigantic lead throughout the first 26 laps, establishing an 11-second cushion over Helio Castroneves before a caution period wiped away his early advantage.  Once he got snookered on the restart, Power was stuck in second and third place for the next several laps, unable to get back to the point (though that isn’t necessarily unusual, as I have pointed out several times in the past).

Had Power been able to avoid Hildebrand driving over his car under caution and finished third, nobody would have thought his weekend was circumspect, and we would not be discussing such a crazy topic in Counterpoint.

It is a very long season, and Power is still the best road and street course driver IndyCar has ever seen.  With the abundance of twisties on the schedule this season, there is no reason to suspect that Power won’t be the dominant player at nearly all of those events throughout the balance of the calendar.

If history is to repeat itself, it’s likely that Power will be right back on top of his game — and the standings — starting this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.  Just last season, we had a very similar discussion when Power finished an uncharacteristic seventh at the season opening event.  Lo and behold, Power arrived at Barber for the next event and won.  And then he won at Long Beach.  And then he won in Brazil.  And then he continued to be a contender throughout the rest of the season, eventually building a lead that almost seemed impossible to lose.  (Almost…)

See what I’m getting at here?  Anyone that thinks Power is going to be rattled and knocked from his perch because of a completely freak accident that was no responsibility of his whatsoever is just not playing with a full deck of cards.  Power is too good, too focused, and too determined to let something like this take him out of contention for the 2013 championship this early in the season.

Power will be back, and soon.

*

STEPH says NO:

Well, “no” might be a strong word. But he’s certainly going to be fighting an uphill battle, much more so than he’s become accustomed to this early on — which is why it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Will Power’s championship hopes for 2013 could already be dashed with the season barely begun.

Power’s been a serious contender for the title ever since he began driving full-time for Roger Penske three years ago. Here’s how he’s fared in those three seasons in the run-up to Indianapolis:

2010: 1st (Sao Paulo); 1st (St. Pete); 4th (Barber); 3rd (Long Beach); 12th (Kansas)
2011: 2nd (St. Pete); 1st (Barber); 10th (Long Beach); 1st (Sao Paulo)
2012: 7th (St. Pete); 1st (Barber); 1st (Long Beach); 1st (Sao Paulo)

Now, here he is at the start of 2013 with a big, fat 16th at the beginning of that list.

Certainly, no one questions whether that result was in any way his fault. But Power is now in the position of having to work his way up from a deficit.

And if there’s one thing that can be said about Will Power, it’s that he’s easily taken hostage by the state of his own momentum.

When Power is winning, he’s winning big. He stomps his competition and takes names. Historically, those times flow most easily when he’s already on top.

But when the pressure is on and Power has to come through in the clutch — or even just turn his luck around and make things go his way again — he struggles. He starts to doubt himself and falls victim to head games that are entirely of his own making.

Then, he ends up in the wall at a late-season oval and it’s game over.

Of course, the other major influence on Power’s head space is his comfort level with what’s happening around him, and there are some aspects of his current situation that could work in his favor in that regard. For example, his wife Liz has left her position at Panther DRR and his now by his side on race weekends. Plus, with the exception of Scott Dixon, the other title contenders fared just as poorly at St. Pete, so he’s technically still on more or less even ground with them going into race two. And AJ Allmendinger will make his debut for Team Penske at Barber this weekend, which may shake things up within the team just enough to offer Power some distraction and allow him to turn his attention forward.

If he can use these factors to defeat his greatest weakness — the demons that hold him back when he’s down — it could make that much-needed difference in turning 2013 into Power’s year.

However, history and experience suggest that’s a very big “if” — and it will require Power to have come out of Fontana a changed man.

Is that the case? Only time will tell.

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