This Saturday at Portland International Raceway, Team Penske’s Will Power can accomplish something that seemed out of the question just a few years back: He can surpass the legendary Mario Andretti as the most accomplished qualifier in INDYCAR SERIES history.
First, some perspective. Andretti eclipsed A.J. Foyt’s mark of 53 during the 1985 season. At the time, only three drivers -- Foyt, Andretti and Bobby Unser, with 49 – had more than 30 poles. Andretti finished his career with 67, with his last pole coming in July 1993 at Michigan International Speedway.
Power has always been a good qualifier, winning his first pole in Champ Car in 2006 with Derrick Walker’s Team Australia. He won five more the next season.
Power joined Team Penske in a part-time role in 2009, replacing Helio Castroneves for the first race of the season. When Castroneves returned to his car for the season’s second race, Power was given six more races that year, at Long Beach, and he won the pole. He also won the pole later in the year in Edmonton.
When Power was elevated to full-time status with Roger Penske’s organization for the 2010 season, he was 29 years old with eight series poles. He was known to be fast, sure, but there was nothing to suggest the historic qualifying fury he would produce in the years to come.
Only nine drivers in series history have won at least eight poles in a single season, and Power, like Foyt and Andretti, has done it more than once. He won eight poles in 2010 and eight more in 2011 to get him rolling. He had 24 entering the 2012 season, already good for 11th place all-time and only two behind Dario Franchitti’s total at the time (he finished with 33).
Entering this season, Power had eight years with at least four poles, and he had three other seasons where he won three. But even as recently as 2020, he didn’t think he could catch Andretti.
“I think when I got to 60 (in 2020 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course), I was like, ‘This could be possible,’” he said.
Power added poles in the final two races of the 2020 season, then grabbed another in the 13th race of the 2021 season, at World Wide Technology Raceway. With a sense the competition had increased and the fact Power was in his 40s, he began to again doubt his chance to reach Andretti’s mark. He had only one pole in the first 10 races of this season.
The came the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend doubleheader at Iowa Speedway, where in a 36-second span on July 23, he set the fastest lap for both races in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to earn a pair of NTT P1 Awards. Power’s pole count had reached 66. He was at the doorstep of history.
“When I got double pole at Iowa, that’s when it became really realistic,” he said. “The year before I had one pole. I think the year before that I had three. It was getting increasingly harder to get pole position. I was kind of thinking, ‘This is going to be pretty hard to beat.’
“But the double pole at Iowa was real key.”
Power pulled even with Andretti at the recent race at World Wide Technology Raceway, and now, with three poles in the past five races, it seems a foregone conclusion that he will break the mark – sooner rather than later.
The record-breaking 68th could come as early as Saturday at Portland International Raceway in qualifying for the Grand Prix of Portland (3:05 p.m. ET, Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network). He has a pair of front-row starts there, including an NTT P1 Award in 2018 and a race win in 2019. Another chance will be available to Power on Sept. 10 in qualifying for the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. He started third there last year.
If he fails to win another pole this season, there’s always next year. Either way, at least he shares the record with one of the most accomplished drivers in motorsports history, something that can’t be taken away.
“Yep, it’s definitely a big box to tick,” Power said.
The Grand Prix of Portland, the penultimate race of the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, airs live on NBC, Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network at 3 p.m. ET Sunday.