Australian driver Will Power long ago discredited any quips about his name by winning the IndyCar series title in 2014 and being one of the sport’s best racers on curvy road courses.
But it wasn’t until Sunday that Power filled the one remaining gap on his resume: Winning the most famous race on an oval track, the Indianapolis 500.
Power prevailed in a late-race dash with two other drivers to capture the 102nd running of the iconic race in front of 250,000 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a day when the temperature hit 91 degrees, making it the second-hottest day in the race’s history.
He had come close before, in 2015, when he led the Indy 500 five times for 23 laps but lost to then-teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in the closing laps and finished second.
“I was wondering if I would ever win it,” Power, 37, said after grabbing the winner’s traditional bottle of milk and pouring it over his head in victory lane.“It’s unbelievable. I just couldn’t imagine winning a race in front of a crowd like this.”
Later, after he kissed the speedway’s yard of bricks, Power said on Twitter: “We did it!! We got to drink the milk!”
Power drives a Chevrolet-powered car for Roger Penske and the victory gave the team owner a record 17th Indy 500 victory.
“The one thing [Power] always talked about was, ‘I have to win the Indy 500,’ ” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said. “His mind never leaves the sport.”
Pole-sitter Ed Carpenter finished second and former Indy 500 winners Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi, who started next to last in the 33-car field, finished third and fourth, respectively.
Danica Patrick, who ended her racing career, finished 30th after her car spun and crashed before the midway point.
Power was running third when the field was restarted after a caution period with seven laps left, while Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey were first and second, respectively.
But Wilson and Harvey were forced to pit for fuel with only four laps left, enabling Power to take the lead.
Power saw the two cars pull off in front of him and rejoiced.
“I thought, game over,” he said. “On the [final] white-flag lap I was screaming, because I knew I was going to win.”
The caution was set up by a crash involving former Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan with 11 laps remaining in the 200-lap race at the 2.5-mile speedway.
Kanaan was among several drivers who lost control of their cars, spun and hit the wall.
The others included Patrick, Helio Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Jones and Sage Karam. None was seriously injured.
Castroneves was hoping to become only the fourth driver to win the race four times.
Power’s victory was by no means a fluke; he qualified third and led 59 laps. The win also gave him a sweep for the month because Power won the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis, held May 12 on the speedway’s road course.
But Penske acknowledged that Power’s win Sunday could have slipped away if his team’s fuel strategy had left Power behind Wilson and Harvey.
“We had the fuel,” Penske said. “They didn’t. A lap or two difference, someone else would have been the winner.”
It was Power’s 34th IndyCar victory. He has captured the pole position 51 times.
Carpenter, an Indianapolis native, again fell short of winning his most sought-after race, although the driver-team owner had his best finish in 15 attempts and led a race-high 65 laps.
“It was his day and not mine,” Carpenter said of Power. “I’m really happy for him. I know how hard he worked on how to do better on ovals, because he just flat out didn’t like them at first. He turned a weakness into a strength.”