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Will Power comes up winless in 2023 but still finds positives in wife’s recovery

IndyCar: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

Sep 10, 2023; Salinas, California, USA; Team Penske driver Will Power (12) of Australia is introduced before the Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

MONTEREY, California – Will Power did not successfully defend his NTT IndyCar Series Championship from 2022. In fact, he didn’t even finish in the top five in the standings and went winless for the first time in a season since the 2006 Champ Car Series season.

But in the most important way, Power can claim the greatest victory of all in 2023.

His wife, Liz, is on the road to recovery from a mysterious health issue that nearly took her life in January. It was from a staph infection that settled in her back and caused her fever to spike at 106 degrees. She had emergency spinal surgery and doctors put so much hardware in her back that she will remain on antibiotics for the rest of her life to fend off the staph infection.

She underwent a strict regimen of 12 weeks of antibiotics, IV antibiotics and three times a day antibiotics. During that time, doctors advised her to avoid unnecessary in-person interactions while she recovered.

Will Power admitted he considered retiring from racing to tend to his wife. But once she received the necessary care from the doctors, Power was able to return to Team Penske’s IndyCar operation.

Power’s wife was able to join her husband at a few IndyCar Series races in 2023 along with their young son, Beau, and Liz’s mother, Kathy. Her first race back was the GMR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 in May.

The family was also together at last week’s season finale, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

One year ago, the family celebrated Will’s second career IndyCar Series championship (which Liz Power had predicted months earlier) when he finished third at Monterey. This year, Power finished fourth at Monterey and finished the season seventh in points.

In fact, he was never higher than seventh in the championship race all season.

Despite that, Power believes he has much to be thankful for in 2023.

“I would say yes, absolutely, the fact that my wife is alive and getting healthier is a big deal, a very big deal,” Power told NBC Sports on pit lane after the September 10 race. “It was a pretty rough start to the year, personally. Tough season.

“Tough season.”

The 2023 IndyCar season finale was one of survival on the track where the best in the series met the challenge. Six-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon won this 56th career IndyCar race, but his first at the iconic WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. He defeated Team Penske star Scott McLaughlin with two-time and 2023 IndyCar champion Alex Palou third, just ahead of Power’s No. 12 Chevrolet.

“It was a lot of mayhem,” Power explained of the race. “The drive-through put us to the back for contact. Then, many different strategies going on. It shook out pretty good.

“At the start of the race in Turn 1, I was lucky and got through on the inside and came out in P3 and though, how was good is that? I thought it would be another good day, then I had another bad restart, and the two McLarens went to the inside of me.”

The race eventually cycled back to all the drivers who had issues at the beginning of the 95-lap race. Power was part of that group.

“It was pretty nuts how that all played out at the end,” Power said. “It was pretty nuts on the restarts. It depends on what you wanted to do.

“It was such craziness. The track was so easy to come offline. It wasn’t surprising the race ended like that considering how bad the track was offline.

“It was certainly exciting for the fans.

“I think they will review all of that for next year if you are allowed to start the race in the last corner.”

Although Dixon was already an established IndyCar Series star when Power joined Champ Car in 2005 and came to the current IndyCar Series in 2008, the driver from New Zealand and Power from Toowoomba, Australia, are easily the top two drivers of their era.

Dixon is the second-winningest driver in IndyCar history with 56 wins, just 11 behind AJ Foyt’s all-time record of 67. Dixon’s six championships is also second to Foyt’s seven titles.

Dixon closed the season by winning three of the last four races. Power closed the season without a victory — ending a run of 16 consecutive winning seasons.

“They are all fuel races,” Power said of Dixon’s late season surge. “Chip Ganassi Racing won 50 percent of the races this year.”

Power’s first career victory came at Las Vegas in the 2007 Champ Car Series season opener when he won the race from the pole driving for Team Australia. He scored his second win at Toronto later that season.

The following year, he joined IndyCar at KV Racing Technology as the Champ Car Series folded and its teams joined the Indy Racing League to create today’s IndyCar Series.

Power holds the distinction of winning the Champ Car Series finale – the 2008 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – when the IndyCar teams that came from Champ Car had one last moment on the track. Earlier that day, the teams from the IRL competed at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan in a race that Danica Patrick became the only woman to win an IndyCar event.

In 2009, team owner Roger Penske needed a top driver to fill in for Helio Castroneves, who was unable to compete at the start of the season because he was involved in a federal trial in Miami for tax evasion. He chose Power with the understanding that once Castroneves was acquitted, Castroneves would return to the car.

Castroneves was cleared of all charges and free to return to the team on Friday, April 17, 2009. Power had to turn over the No. 3 car to Castroneves, but Team Penske had brought a No. 12 entry to Long Beach.

Power jumped into that car and won the pole the same day. The next day, he finished second to Dario Franchitti in the 2009 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Team Penske put together a five-race package for Power that season including a Verizon-backed effort at the Indianapolis 500 before Penske Truck Rental became Power’s sponsor for the remaining races on the limited schedule.

With longtime NASCAR and Team Penske partner John Erickson calling Power’s race strategy, the combination was spectacular at Edmonton in July 2009 as Power won the pole and led 90 of 95 laps to win the race for his first victory with Team Penske.

Unfortunately, he was unable to start the final race of the 2009 season because he was T-boned by Nelson Philippe in a massive crash on the road course at Sonoma. Power sustained one of two broken backs during his career in that crash.

Power earned a full-time ride with Team Penske for 2010 and began an incredible ride that continues to this day. He won five races in 2010 and a series-high six races in 2011. Both times, he finished second to Franchitti in the IndyCar Series standings.

In 2012, Power had three wins but lost the championship in the final race of the season when he crashed at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Team Penske was able to repair the damage and return him to the track, but Ryan Hunter-Reay was able to win the championship by finishing fourth in the race. Power finished 24th and lost the championship by just three points.

Three more wins in 2013, but a drop in the standings to fourth preceded Power’s championship season in 2014 when he won three races and an impressive seven podiums in 18 starts.

Like clockwork, IndyCar could count on seeing Dixon and Power win at least one race – often multiple races – during that span.

Dixon was able to extend his streak to 19 straight seasons and a win in 21 of 22 seasons with his victory at the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on August 12.

Though his victory streak ended at Monterey, Power ranks fifth on the all-time IndyCar victory list with 41 wins.

“It’s a disappointment, but you have those seasons,” Power said. “There were times we could have won a race, even today without one of those penalties.

“But the fact my wife is alive and getting healthier is what is important.”