Will Power ended Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a stout third-place finish, but left upset by the continuing problem of lapped traffic.
The 41-year-old Aussie was in heavy pursuit of Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou, who were in their own respective intense late-race battle for the win, gaining up to 0.3 of a second per lap on pair.
However, backmarkers came into play for both the leaders and Power over the final sprint to the finish.
McLaughlin saw his lead cut down from 1.1 seconds to 0.6 of a second when he went to put Jimmie Johnson, Palou’s teammate, a lap down. Then, when Power closed on Johnson, it stalled out his methodical pace to potentially make it a three-car battle for the win.
Additionally, McLaughlin caught Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport rookie Devlin DeFrancesco with two laps to go. Even though DeFrancesco was in no threat of losing position, he remained out front of the leaders in an attempt to stay on the lead lap.
In the end, McLaughlin managed to win by 0.5095 seconds over Palou, with Power finishing 2.4671 seconds behind.
What a way to start your second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) February 27, 2022
“I didn’t really like that they were, especially the last three laps, that they didn’t let us pass,” said Palou, the reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion. “Yeah, you never want a race to be dictated by the slow cars.”
Power followed up with a quick but sarcastic response.
“We keep telling IndyCar, and they just keep making changes. Oh, no, they don’t. Sorry, I forgot,” said Power, during the post-race press conference with Palou.
Power later added, “I’ve been on this for 10 years. When every driver in the driver meeting says we need a blue flag rule, why isn’t there one?”
There were revised rule changes for the 2022 season, among them IndyCar having the ability to disable push-to-pass for drivers that are a lap down or more. Rule 126.96.36.199 states that at road and street course events, “when displayed from the starter’s stand and ordered directly by IndyCar (command blue), directs a lapped car to immediately give way to the overtaking car. IndyCar may disable push-to-pass for lapped cars (defined as a Car that is at least one lap behind all Cars that are on the Race leader’s lap).
There is something to be said, though, about backmarkers impeding the leaders by using push-to-pass to remain out front, and equally, not giving way when there is a late battle for the win.
During the Brickyard weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last August, Power was enjoying a sizeable lead over Colton Herta until he came up to put James Hinchcliffe, Herta’s teammate at Andretti Autosport at the time, a lap down. A caution kept Hinchcliffe a chance to return to the tail end of the lead lap, and gave Power the clean air needed to stay out front and go on to the win. On Sunday, McLaughlin lost time putting Johnson, Palou’s teammate, a lap down, before coming up on DeFrancesco, who, like Palou, drives for Honda.
“I’m happy with my result,” Power said of his 86th career podium in St. Petersburg, “but I’m unhappy with the lack of things that get done.”
He went on to also say that he would “just like to point out the problems that could be fixed so easily within the series with just a little change. .. You try to tell them I’ve got a great idea, it’s called blue flags when someone is a lap down and they’re racing the leader that’s battling for a win.”
Palou then asked Power, “Did you scream on the radio or no?”
To which Power replied, “No, I never say much on the radio. I said, ‘Oh, Jimmie looks like he’s trying to get a bit of coverage here.’ I had a bit of fun with it. It’s a good battle between him and I, I hope the TV is getting that sponsor for him.”
When Palou was asked about the performance by all four drivers at CGR, with mention of Johnson’s alternate (red sidewall) tires falling off the pace drastically, Power interjected once more.
“Jimmie was P3,” Power quipped. “Oh, hang on, no, he was racing me. Oh, he was a lap down, sorry. I thought he was… the way he was racing I thought it was for the podium.”
At the end of the press conference, Power provided one last thought before signing off.
“But they really should do something about the blue flags,” Power said. “We’re going to start paying like Chevy drivers to play the same game.”
Palou added, “Oh, again? I thought that was over.”
To which Power replied, “Did it happen? Oh, yes, I feel better now. I thought it was just the Honda guys.”