WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan finally caught up with Milwaukee Mile winner Will Power at the post-race celebration, lathering his head with cream puffs.
Power pulled away when it counted on the track.
The IndyCar points leader maneuvered through high-speed gridlock to claim a crucial victory Sunday that gave him a little breathing room in the standings with two races left. After coming into Milwaukee with a four-point lead, Power heads to the road course at Sonoma next week with 602 points, 39 more than fellow Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves.
Before he could slip away to California, Power had to clean himself up at the Mile. Cream puffs are a specialty at the recently-completed Wisconsin State Fair, and the track sits in the middle of the fairgrounds.
Second-place finisher Montoya and third-place finisher Kanaan struck direct hits on Power’s ears that were so bad that he needed a little attention from medical personnel.
“That’s good, my ears are clean and dry right now,” Power joked.
Here are five developments from Sunday’s race heading into the season’s frantic final two weeks:
PENSKE POWER: All three Penske drivers remain in contention, comprising half of the eligible field. The third Penske driver is fifth-place Montoya, though it will be tough for him to leapfrog Power and Castroneves at the top.
A Penske driver has finished second each of the previous four seasons and five of the last six. This could finally be Penske’s year at the top.
“We’re a well-oiled machine right now with all three cars,” Power said. “If we have a couple more days like this, of course, it’s going to be a great finish.”
Castroneves finished 11th in the race. Simon Pagenaud, finished seventh, allowing him to move up to third in the driver standings, 92 behind Power.
DOWNHILL DAY: Ryan Hunter-Reay began Sunday by signing a three-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport. DHL also signed on for another three years as the lead sponsor of his No. 28 car.
Hunter-Reay, who started 19th, wound his way all the way up into fifth at one point. The Indianapolis 500 champion seemed poised for a third consecutive victory at the Mile – until a suspension problem in lap 168 ended his day prematurely.
He dropped one spot in the standings to fourth, but now trails Power by 108 points.
“I love this place. It wasn’t exactly the balance we wanted and this is probably our championship hopes going up in smoke right now,” Hunter-Reay said.
Scott Dixon, sixth in the standings, is the only other driver who remains eligible for the season title.
OVER THE OVALS: Power proved wrong doubters who speculated that he couldn’t win at ovals. It was Power’s third career oval victory, following Texas in 2011 and Fontana last year.
The season could be decided on an oval with the final in two weeks at Fontana. Now brimming with confidence, Power said he especially wanted to win at Milwaukee.
“This is the first year that I can say to myself that I am … a better all-around driver,” the 33-year-old Australian said. “I guess, it just comes with age, you know.”
GOOD WILL: Power, who led for 229 laps, is in familiar territory at the top of the standings this late in the season. He also led with three races to go in 2012 and 2010.
Power crashed in the finale both years. Once again, he’s in control going into this season’s final two races in California.
“We’re going to keep our head down, don’t think of points, and execute,” Power said.
HELD UP: Late in the race, Power led by 2 seconds before Montoya was able to shave about a half-second from the lead around lap 238.
Soon, Power and Montoya were the only two cars on the lead lap, with traffic ahead. It could have provided Montoya with a prime opportunity to get by.
Instead, Power started pulling away and won by 2.7 seconds.
While each praising Power, Montoya and Kanaan also groused about the traffic late with less room to pass at Milwaukee. Power said he got by from saving gas, then flooring it after hearing on the radio that Montoya was closing.
Montoya’s momentum slowed just as he was gaining.
“I really killed my tires, trying to pass traffic,” Montoya said.