Penske Perfect Power ends winless drought at Road America

The opening lap of the XPEL Grand Prix of Road America was a big mess to start as three cautions were required in the first seven laps, but once the 55-lapper in Wisconsin settled into a groove, a huge reversal of fortune saw Chip Ganassi Racing — the king of Saturday’s qualifying — stumble as Team Penske used masterful driving and pit strategy to clinch a 1-2-3 finished led by Will Power.

Power was in the hunt all day, but often behind his teammates Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin who took second and third on the day to register another monumental result for the team and for Team Chevy. Power took the lead in the drivers’ championship and moved to fourth on the all-time with list with 42, a number he shares with Michael Andretti.

Going from third to first became possible on the last round of pit stops as Newgarden stayed out while in the lead as McLaughlin fired the first shot to try and leapfrog his teammates as Newgarden and Power stayed out.


Newgarden was in on the next lap as Power kept going. Power pitted on the next lap to make use of the overcut and had a cleaner track to use on cold tires on his out-lap, and this made all the difference — along with his extreme speed — to come out in front of Newgarden with a tiny lead. He’d extend it in the closing laps and crossed the finish line with a 3.2s margin of victory.


“I haven’t had a car like that in a race in a while,” Power said. “It was fast. I said I wanted to win multiple races at the beginning of the season and we’ve got the car and got the engine to do it.”

Ganassi’s Alex Palou salvaged the day to some degree for his team with a run to fourth, but he was 16.7s behind Power at the checkered flag. Andretti Global’s Kyle Kirkwood and Colton Herta took fifth and sixth, with Herta’s day being consumed by mounting multiple charges from the back of the field after being hit and spun by Newgarden at Turn 1 on the first lap.

“It was a good solid day,” Palou said. “We made up some positions, but it was just a shame we didn’t have the ultimate car speed today. Overall, a good result, and we’ve gained some points in the championship as well.”

Elsewhere, a spirited drive by Romain Grosjean saw the Juncos Hollinger Racing driver take seventh from Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward on the final lap, which lifted the spirits of his team.

In concert with Herta, Graham Rahal was hit and spun at the first turn, and once he was pulled from the gravel trap, a fightback drive from 24th to 10th was a great response to early adversity. Polesitter Linus Lundqvist, hit first in the Turn 1 melee by teammate Marcus Armstrong, recovered from last place to take 12th.

The start of the race featured the top three qualifiers sitting spun and in Turn 1 as polesitter Linus Lundqvist was hit from behind by Ganassi teammate Marcus Armstrong. Both cars were stalled. Second-place starter Colton Herta was hit from behind by Josef Newgarden and was fortunate to keep the engine alive and get rolling after falling to the back of the 27-car field. What a disaster for Armstrong. Graham Rahal also spun and sailed into the Turn 1 gravel.

Kirkwood was the main beneficiary as he inherited the lead as the first caution flew. Some of the drivers at the tail end chose to pit and take on fuel.

The restart on lap four had McLaughlin charging past Kirkwood to take the lead but the green flag didn’t last long as the race went to its second caution a few corners later as Herta’s diffuser spit strakes out of the back and onto the racing line at Turn 1. Armstrong and Luca Ghiotto were assessed drive-through penalties for avoidable contact; Ghiotto is believed to have hit Rahal at the start.

McLaughlin got a strong jump to begin the lap six restart as Newgarden motored past Alexander Rossi for third. An off by Felix Rosenqvist caused by a hit from Sting Ray Robb dropped him to 24th.

The third caution of the day was required on the seventh lap when Christian Rasmussen tagged 11th-place Kyffin Simpson from behind entering the final corner. The crash broke Simpson’s left-front suspension and ended his best run to date.

The lap 10 restart had McLaughlin, Kirkwood, Newgarden, Rossi, Scott Dixon and Power as the top six. Power took fifth from Dixon at Turn 5. Race Control sent an invitation to Rasmussen to pay a visit to pit lane for his hit on Simpson.

After 13 laps, the race found a groove as McLaughlin pushed out to a 1.8s lead over Kirkwood and 2.7s over Newgarden. McLaughlin stretched the lead to 3.0s by the end of lap 15. Theo Pourchaire, running 11th, was the first among the lead pack to pit on lap 16. McLaughlin was in at the end of the lap along with Kirkwood and many others as Newgarden stayed out.

He would pit with Power and Dixon and others on the next lap and nearly beat McLaughlin to grab the lead, but McLaughlin went around him in Turn 1. Alex Palou went one more lap and pitted on the 19th tour as Team Penske had an effective 1-2-3 on the road and resumed in fifth after teammate Scott McLaughlin took fourth from him.

Lap 21 and Palou took fourth back from Dixon who proceeded to fall back to 11th by lap 22 as his left-rear tire was severely blistered. He’d pit on lap 23 and resume in 24th. McLaughlin held 3.7s over Newgarden and 6.8s over Power.

McLaughlin pitted at the end of lap 30 and watched as Newgarden and Power went one lap more and returned to the track in the lead, but McLaughlin cleared both by Turn 5. Newgarden also managed to nearly crash on the run into Canada Corner as he ran wide on the straight and had snap oversteer in the grass, but recovered without letting Power go by. Palou went to lap 32.

Newgarden fired past McLaughlin for the lead on lap 36 as McLaughlin—preserving the blister-prone alternate tires — was powerless from stopping Newgarden on the durable primary tires.

Armstrong was parked as the race approached the 40th lap. Palou dove off his alternates while running fourth to Newgarden on lap 42 and was eight seconds behind the leader when he stopped. McLaughlin pitted the next lap as Newgarden and Power stayed out. Newgarden was in the next lap and Power stayed out. Three Penskes, three strategies.

Power was the new leader on lap 45 but had Newgarden chasing hard on hot tires. Once his tires were warm, he took a 0.3s gap and moved it out to .07s with nine laps to go. Power held on to score his 42nd victory, tying him with Michael Andretti for fourth on the all-time list.


Story originally appeared on Racer