BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Will Power wasted no time disproving his own theory.
Power started ninth, took the lead on a late caution and pulled back in front of Scott Dixon on the double-file restart with 16 laps left Sunday to the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama for the second straight year.
So much for his stance two days earlier that it would be tough for anybody opening outside the top four to win on a course that typically features infrequent passing. Power showed it could be done by making up ground with the help of tire strategy and swift work on pit road.
He started on the faster alternate red-striped tires instead of the more durable black.
“We started on black tires when everybody started on red, and then went to red when everyone was on black,” Power said. “That got us a couple of spots. And then just good stops and good strategy calls put me out in clean air so we could use our speed to make some passes.
“It was a very good team effort, an absolute team effort to put ourselves in position to win, which I did not think was possible this morning.”
It was the second straight win for Chevrolet and Team Penske, which also is 3 for 3 at Barber Motorsports Park.
Power and Dixon pulled away from the field for a 1-2 finish, just like a year ago. St. Petersburg winner and pole-sitter Helio Castroneves of Penske edged Graham Rahal for third.
“The way the car finished at the end of the day, I have to be very happy with third,” Castroneves said. “That’s the best we could do.”
Power had his fast qualifying time in the second session negated because a caution came down during his run, forcing the Australian out of his more familiar front-runner status at Barber, where he had held the pole the past two years. He still managed to work his way toward the front, moving into the top five by passing Tony Kanaan on the hairpin fifth turn — where he managed several passes — a third of the way through.
This time, the restart provided the last real drama up front after a caution when Katherine Legge went into a gravel pit.
Power consistently had the fastest car in practice and qualifying here before the poor timing of a day earlier. It was a nice rebound also from a St. Petersburg performance he called “the worst race of my life.”
It was another tantalizingly close call for Dixon, second in the season’s first two races and all three years at the tree-lined 2.38-mile road course in suburban Birmingham. Dixon couldn’t muster much of a challenge in the final laps, finishing 3.37 seconds behind.
“I think we had the car to beat,” Dixon said. “We had the speed and for the most part the right strategy, but it just wasn’t our day. The restart, I got a good jump on them.
“But obviously being on the inside, all he had to do was drive in deeper. I tried for a few laps there, burned the rear tires off with about five or 10 to go. That was all said and done.”
Rahal couldn’t find a way past Castroneves, the 2010 winner.
The focus returned to racing after the emotional weekend in St. Petersburg, the adopted hometown of Dan Wheldon and the first race since Wheldon’s fatal crash in October’s season finale. Power matched Wheldon’s 16 career wins in Indy cars, 14 of them coming on road or street courses.
The race provided significantly more maneuvering after Power led wire-to-wire in 2011.
Dixon beat Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe out of pit road on the first stop to move up front but lost precious time and the lead on the second.
Rookie Simon Pagenaud was fifth.
Formula One veteran Rubens Barrichello had a strong performance in his second IndyCar race, finishing eighth. Defending series champion Dario Franchitti moved up eight spots after a rough qualifying session and was 10th, still a slow start by the standards of Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi teammate.
“Dario is a true professional,” Dixon said. “He’s not letting it get on top of him. I think qualifying wasn’t his fault. They had a problem with the car.
“He hasn’t had the starts he wanted to, but he’ll be strong here real quick.”
The new cars’ safety measures still haven’t been put to the test by the first two races. This time there were only two cautions.
There was some attrition starting moments after the race began.
Alex Tagliani’s Lotus car didn’t make it through the first lap before mechanical failure ended his day. Charlie Kimball went into the gravel midway through. Takuma Sato had to pull off the track on the 54th lap, climbing out and walking down the grass back to pit road.