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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010

Autos: Power goes 2-for-2, wins IRL’s Honda Grand Prix

AP Sports Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Will Power might have started this season as the afterthought in Penske Racing's loaded IndyCar stable of drivers.

Not anymore.

He's not only the one to beat so far in the Penske garage, he just might be the one to beat in the Indy Racing League this season.

Power won the rain-delayed Honda Grand Prix on Monday, his second IndyCar victory in as many races in 2010 and the third win of his career. The dominant driver all weekend, Power avoided trouble all day on a track that was still slick in some areas and held off Justin Wilson by nearly a full second.

"We're out to win the championship," Power said. "Perfect pit stop, good race, perfect weekend, pole and a win. Can't get much better than that."

Power's Penske teammates ran third and fourth, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves crossing the line in that order. No one else was within 22 seconds of Power.

And yes, the gap through the streets of Sao Paulo and St. Petersburg has seemed that big, too.

Wilson ran great at St. Pete for the third straight year, but even he could never make a serious run at the lead in the final laps.

"Really happy for Will Power. ... He's doing a great job," Briscoe said. "We're all learning from each other, and I'm learning a hell of a lot from him, too."

So is everyone else. Sure, it's early, but Power already has a 44-point lead over defending series champion Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Wilson in the 2010 standings.

Franchitti was fifth, Alex Tagliani placed sixth and Danica Patrick — who started 21st — neatly worked her way up to seventh at the end.

"I was way too conservative," Patrick said. "I just didn't want to do something dumb in the first 10 laps. We saved a bunch of fuel and luckily we were able to go through."

Power was the polesitter after qualifying Saturday, and was the fastest driver in every practice session but one all weekend.

The race was scheduled for Sunday before thunderstorms put much of the 1.8-mile street circuit under water. A total of 4.03 inches of rain fell in a span of about 19 hours, but the course was fairly dry when the green flag finally fell Monday morning.

For Wilson, it was another chance missed at St. Pete.

Wilson led 18 of the 83 laps in the 2008 race in southwest Florida — only Graham Rahal led more that day, with 19. Rahal won, with Wilson settling for ninth. And last year, Wilson led 52 of the 100 laps, losing the lead late and eventually finishing third, never able to catch up with 2009's eventual winner Briscoe.

"We've learned a lot," Wilson said. "We've improved. We can move forward."

The day had plenty of incidents, one even before the start when Milka Duno spun entering the final turn of the first pace lap. Duno got out of the car after only seven laps, citing handling issues.

She wasn't alone. Scott Dixon had a day to forget, too.

Dixon seemed to have a strong run going when he made contact with Mario Moraes in turn 1, about one-third of the way through the race. The left front of Dixon's car was damaged, then flapped up to obstruct his view as he tried to make his way around the track. He got into the pits and back out without incident, quickly working his way back toward the front.

That same area in turn 1 — a great place to pass, but a slippery spot thanks to white markings all over that section, which usually is the runway of a small airport — was the scene of a spectacular crash two laps later. Something went wrong with the rear of Dan Wheldon's car, putting his right tire in the air, and he slammed into the side of an unsuspecting Moraes. Parts of both cars went flying everywhere.

"I thought we were running very strongly," Wheldon said. "We positioned ourselves well. We had a good strategy. These things happen."

Another crash had a slew of cars quickly rethinking strategy in lap 64.

Contact between Mike Conway and Raphael Matos around turn 5 sent Conway into the tire wall, prompting a full-course caution to come out and just about everyone hitting the pits moments later. When racing resumed with 30 laps left, Vitor Meira was on the lead and E.J. Viso was second, though they were the two cars that didn't go off the track during the caution period.

Not long after that restart, Dixon's day got worse.

He clipped the inside wall of turn 9, then careened across the track, coming to a quick stop.

"The car was really good. ... Just two mistakes on my part," Dixon said.

Once again, Power didn't make any.

"We just have to stop the guy, man," Castroneves said moments after congratulating his teammate. "What's going on with Will Power?"