Gateway Race Review: Sour Grapes Power Edition

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Despite early domination by Scott Dixon, Team Penske’s oval-hating specialist Will “Sour Grapes” Power prevailed by 1.3 seconds over Alex Rossi before promptly calling out the competition in truly classless manner. Instead of celebrating in victory lane, Power pointedly tore into Dixon’s driving, gratuitously and repeatedly ripping his highly-regarded rival.

The best news in months arrived shortly before the green flag flew, as an update on Robert Wickens’ health status was released by his team. SPM’s bulletin revealed Wickens is now off the ventilator and breathing on his own for the first time since the accident at Pocono. The welcome news instantly lifted the spirits of the nice-sized crowd outside East St. Louis, as well as those of the drivers.

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Dixon and Rossi led the field to the green and immediately Rossi dropped back as cars went three wide into turn one. Power and Josef Newgarden simultaneously moved around him in a Penske sandwich as they chased down Dixie. Back in the pack Sebastien Bourdais’ car got loose in between two other cars, hitting the wall and bringing out yet another caution before the first lap was complete.

The restart came on lap 8 as drivers held their positions throughout the field. Regaining a handle on his car, Rossi quickly began challenging Newgarden for third. Ryan Hunter-Reay moved up to fifth by lap 10 but would be overshadowed by his impressive rookie teammate Zach Veach, who’d already gained six spots climbing to 10th. Son of Dracula was quick yet again all weekend, enjoying the nighttime racing immensely.

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Dixon continued to lead as the field settled into rhythm and fuel strategy, and would go on to lead the most laps of the race. Rossi finally got around Newkid on lap 49, going low for the position despite some clear cases of blocking in a move with championship implications.

Pit stops began around lap 60 and by lap 72 everyone had cycled through with Dixon still leading Power, Newkid and the third Penske car driven by Simon Pagenaud. Although the dreaded fuel mileage talk soon crept into the commentary, the racing was entertaining with near constant action throughout the evening.

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By lap 120 the tone was being set for the rest of the race, as Power fought off challenger after challenger all evening, steadfastly refusing to be passed. Newkid tried him on the outside but was forced high and slowed, feeling the full effects of the marbles. After the second round of stops Power challenged Dixie for the lead, but couldn’t get him and like his teammate went high losing the spot to Rossi, who then pitted.

Dixon cycled back to the front ahead of Rossi, Pags, Power and RHR. Pags then tangled with Power and also went high in the marbles before dropping back. Rossi challenged him next and very nearly lost it, the on-board camera showing his hands counter-locked to save it, coming within mere inches of the wall. Despite the remarkable save, it became manifestly clear not to try Power on the high side at Gateway.

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Power closed on Dixon, taking the lead on lap 150 by going high around him in a gutsy move into turn one. With less than a hundred to go three wide action broke out as fuel mileage racing thankfully began going out the window. Power led Dixon, RHR, Rossi and Newkid when suddenly Hunter-Reay’s car slowed on track, barely making it into the pits. It was a fuel pressure problem according to the former 500 winner, who was still clearly affected by Sunday’s crash with Wickens. Nearly overwrought with emotion, a dejected RHR said “I got away with a big one last weekend. . . . Thinking about Robbie.”

The second and final caution of the race brought out by RHR was an extended one, with sweepers on track as the leaders pitted. Power beat Dixon, Rossi, Newkid and Veach out for the restart around lap 160. In backhanded manner, Paul Tracy praised “Little Zach Veach” for an impressive run. Side by side racing again broke out though no position changes resulted, with Newkid chasing Veach in fourth, by then up twelve positions, the most of anyone on the night.

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Veach then went high and slowed, eventually getting back around Pags although ultimately unable to hold on to the spot. The diminutive rookie’s fifth place finish was his fourth straight top ten and second top five of the season. Remarkably, Veach hasn’t suffered a DNF all year, one of only five drivers to finish every race.

Then Pags and Rossi almost touched before Pags dropped back, unable to gain the spot. Exciting racing reappeared on lap 207 as lapped traffic began to play a large role. Following the final round of pit stops Power trailed a fuel saving Rossi, but only briefly as the unlikable Aussie soon flew by him on full rich for the lead. Unable to catch up, Dixon followed them in what turned out to be the podium order. Rossi’s second place showing lessened his championship points deficit to Dixie, but only by three.

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In victory lane “Sour Grapes” Power said he was “Kinda mad at Dixon, he pushed me into the marbles.” As if that weren’t enough, he then proceeded to repeat his accusation against one of the most well respected drivers in the paddock. It still remains unclear precisely what he was talking about. Rossi was smiling and magnanimous afterward, while Dixon typically took the high road, admitting he was “disappointed in myself,” a classy response that stood in stark contrast to Power’s bashing of his fellow drivers.

 

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Gateway Race Review: Sour Grapes Power Edition

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