With Indy 500 checked off, Power emphasizes return to championship form

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Will Power isn’t feeling the pressure heading into this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

And that could spell trouble for everyone else in the NTT IndyCar Series for 2019.

While the Australian drove his way into racing immortality by winning the 102nd edition of the Indianapolis 500, the rest of last season was far from perfect. In addition to three wins (Indianapolis GP, Indy 500 and Gateway Motorsports Park) and eight podiums, there were also a flood of errors – both mechanical and driver-induced – that led to six finishes of 18th place or worse over the 17 races.

“We definitely had a bad run when I think about pace performance and qualifying performance,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. “It should have been a fantastic year championship-wise, so it was disappointing to turn up to the last race not a legitimate contender.”

While he was mathematically eligible for the 2018 title by the most minimal of margins heading into the season finale, Power wound up third in the championship – 96 points behind Scott Dixon.

“It all goes in cycles. You have good and bad runs, so now I’m looking for a good solid championship year,” Power said, looking ahead to 2019. “I don’t mean a top-three finish. I mean, we need to be a legitimate contender by the end – we need to win the championship, and the (Indy) 500 win in the same year would be phenomenal.

"It’s not a point where you say, ‘Oh the top three would be great.’ It’s a point where you need to win another championship and you need to be a multiple 500 winner.”

If the mistakes can be limited moving forward, the 38-year-old feels good about his chances.

“I feel like I have not slowed down,” said Power, the 2014 NTT IndyCar Series champion. “I’ve only got quicker, and now I have a world of experience.

“I feel like I’m in the best form of my life. So for me, there’s no reason, no excuse to not be a legitimate contender.”

That was clearly the case during the INDYCAR Spring Training last month at Circuit of The Americas. Power ran 112 total laps through the two days of testing, posting the third-best time overall at 1 minute, 47.1044 seconds (114.617 mph) around the 3.41-mile circuit in Austin, Texas.

The motto ‘Pace is Power’ is no exaggeration when talking about the man who continues to soar up the Indy car record books. He has captured 54 pole positions over the course of his career, which ranks second all-time behind Mario Andretti (67).

There is a good chance that number could grow this weekend, too. A two-time race winner at St. Petersburg, Power has stormed to the pole position in seven the last nine years at the tricky 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.

There is also his mark of 35 Indy car victories, tying Power with Bobby Unser for seventh on the all-time list.

While all of that is significant to Power, winning “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” last year put at ease the frustrations and helped complete an already well-accomplished career. He anticipates a different wave of emotions when he returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.

“I actually feel like you’ll just be a more confident and happy person,” Power said. “That’s really no question. That’s how I’ve been because I achieved something that I set out to achieve a long time ago. There were a lot of frustrations and disappointments along the way trying to achieve that.

“It’s just a great feeling to turn up there without that massive pressure on your shoulders.”

The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season officially kicks off Friday with a pair of practices starting at 10:45 a.m. and 2:20 p.m. ET. Both stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold (click here for subscription information). A third practice at 10:25 a.m. Saturday also streams on INDYCAR Pass, ahead of NTT P1 Award qualifying at 2:30 p.m. that airs live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Coverage of the 110-lap race on Sunday begins at 12:30 p.m. on NBCSN and 1 p.m. on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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