But his resume has some glaring holes: He’s never won an Indianapolis 500, and he’s never won a championship.
“I’d just love to win something, just one time win something of significance,” he said Thursday. “I’m so sick of it.”
The most dominant driver in IndyCar the last three seasons isn’t content with his results. And make no mistake, they are quite impressive.
In 44 career starts since joining Penske Racing, Power has 15 wins, 20 poles, 24 podiums and has led at least one lap in 34 races.
“You think about his record with Penske Racing over the last three years, and he’s won almost one out of every three races he’s been in, and he’s been on the podium almost two-thirds of the time,” Penske said. “It really establishes him, from the road racing perspective at least, as the top driver out there right now.”
But Power wants more — a lot more — and his chance to cross the Indy 500 off his list comes Sunday, when he’ll start fifth. He goes into the race as IndyCar’s points leader, and has won the last three races of the season. Penske, meanwhile, is a perfect 4-0 in races and 5-0 in qualifying.
So this might just be the year for Power to finally breakthrough. Maybe it will be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the race his team owner cherishes above all over. Or, maybe it will be in the title race, which he’s lost the last two years to four-time champion Dario Franchitti.
Even if Power never wins another race — something the uber-intense Australian often frets about — he’s still accomplished far more than he ever expected. He’d come close to quitting racing at the end of every season he spent in Europe, where he scraped together rides and racked up enormous debt in his quest to become a Formula One driver.
He thought for sure at the end of the 2004 season he was headed home to Australia for good and join the family canvas business, and once again, something came along that kept him in it another year. Then came the call from America, from Derrick Walker, who needed an Aussie driver for his Champ Car Series team.
Power was reluctant to consider the offer, and he knew moving to the U.S. would probably put an end to F1 forever. But the ledger showed a deficit near $500,000, and the job Walker had available would have paid him a salary for the first time in his driving career.
So he took it, and he’s never looked back.
F1 driver Mark Webber believes Power did the best thing for his career. A fellow Aussie, Webber had helped Power financially over the years and the two were even roommates for a time in Europe.
“He was in a similar position to me, coming through the junior ranks, with very, very, very little finances and I was in a position to help a little bit, mainly because I could see the hunger and I could see how much he wanted it,” Webber said. “He’s good enough to be at the top level in Europe, and that’s something he will live with for a long time. But he did cut his losses, the options did run out for him Europe.
“That’s how it goes. But ultimately, he’s done the right thing and he’s controlled his own destiny.”
Webber credits the support team at Penske, where Power was hired in 2009, for helping the driver reach a new level. He was hired by the team as an emergency driver in case Helio Castroneves’ trial on tax evasion charges left him unable to compete, and Penske kept Power on even after Castroneves’ legal issues were resolved.
“He’s absolutely the benchmark in American racing, and on street circuits he’s virtually untouchable,” Webber said. “Mentally, he’s in a completely different league to what he was two or three years ago. The last two years, because he’s worked with quality people at Penske, it’s given him confidence and helped him achieve incredible things.”
There are still knocks on Power, unrelated to his failure so far to knock down a big win or a title. His weakness is clearly on ovals, and his 2006 race at Milwaukee while in Champ Car was his first event on anything besides a street or road course. So when he won last summer at Texas, it was proof that Power can succeed outside of his comfort zone.
“I think he’s close, but he needs to get more time,” Penske said. “Maybe some people take him for granted on the road course. But the fact there is less ovals now and our not being able to test on ovals makes a huge difference. In the old days, we had weeks and weeks and weeks of testing on ovals, and he’s never had that luxury.
“He’s having to learn everything on race day.”
And, Power can also be his own worst enemy. His intensity at the race track is at an unbelievable level, and on Thursday he said, “I find it very hard to relax. I’m always anxious. I’m always intense. Even just sitting here right now, I’m anxious.”
It’s cost him at times, and everyone around him is aware of that vulnerability.
“He does four things in life: he sleeps, he eats, he drives race cars and he worries. Those are the four things he spends the most time doing in life,” said Penske president Tim Cindric. “But, his success comes down to his dedication to what he does. I think you could say he certainly can be his own worst enemy, and he would be the first to admit he wants to turn that around.”
Part of that came after Dan Wheldon’s fatal accident in last October’s season finale. Power was also in that 15-car accident, and like Wheldon his car sailed into the catchfence and he broke his back for the second time in three years.
As the cars came to a stop on the track, Wheldon’s car was in front of Power’s, and Power could tell from his cockpit that Wheldon’s injuries were serious. He got out, walked away from the accident and never looked back.
“I think you have a pretty good think about life after something like that,” he said. “So, I try to enjoy it more now, because you just don’t know. I’ve been too intense about the whole racing thing, probably caring too much about it. So now I want to try to just enjoy each race, and you know, just have fun with it rather than be so intense about it.”
Whether he can actually pull it off, and learn how to chill out a bit, remains to be seen. If he can do it, chances are he may finally push through and pad his resume with big stuff.
“I think he’s probably tougher on himself than he needs to be,” Penske said. “His physical regiment and workout is as tough as I’ve ever seen from any driver in the business. He is fully committed. But he’s also got a real fun personality when you get him off the race track and get him away from business. You’d never know he’s the best road racer in the league right now, he’s just one of the guys.”