FONTANA, Calif. — FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Sometime during the offseason, Will Power read a quote from fellow driver Ed Carpenter that he tucked away in the back of his mind and used as an incentive to prove all of his doubters wrong.
Power had gone into last year's season finale at Auto Club Speedway as the IndyCar points leader, his third chance in three years to win his first series title. Instead, he crashed early in the race and came up empty yet again.
Carpenter went on to win the race, and apparently said something after that bothered Power immensely.
"The incentive was Ed Carpenter said 'Will Power did exactly what everyone expected him to do at the last race last year,' " Power recalled. "I thought that was just such motivation for me to beat him and win at this track and just be good at ovals. I went about it. I thought 'I'm going to beat Ed.'
"I don't dislike him, but I told him, 'Man, your comment last year gave me a lot of motivation.' That comment definitely got to me in a good way."
Power went out and did just that Saturday night, winning at the track that cost him the title last year when he drove onto one of the many seams, lost control of his car and wrecked. There were no mistakes this time, though, as Power succeeded Saturday night with a victory at Auto Club Speedway, where he came full oval from last year's devastating collapse. It was just his second career victory on an oval.
Of his 21 open-wheel wins, 19 are on road and street courses.
But in what's been one of the worst statistical seasons of his career, Power made a tremendous gain this year on ovals. He was running at the end of all six oval races, started on the pole in three of them and led laps everywhere but Iowa.
He finished third at Milwaukee, fourth at Pocono and grabbed a win Saturday night he called "the most satisfying thing I have ever done.
"I just went about the business very methodically. My aim this year for the ovals was to finish every one and just build confidence," Power said. "That's been the problem in the past, I haven't finished. Getting hit in the pits, this or that. You don't get experience. This year I got maximum experience, finished every single lap. Got what I needed to get."
It's been an interesting season for Power, who hasn't dominated the way everyone expected. But after three years of losing the title — twice to Dario Franchitti, last year to Ryan Hunter-Reay — Power did a ton of soul searching.
So laser focused that his intensity can sometimes be alarming, not being part of the title race this year may have actually been a good thing for Power's psyche. As he struggled to get back to the winner's circle, he was able to enjoy the levity that AJ Allmendinger brought to Penske Racing this season. Power also settled into a supporting role of trying to help Castroneves win the championship.
"It's actually been a good year for finding my weaknesses," Power said. "I really have enjoyed the racing because I haven't had to think about points or anything. I just raced hard. It made me realize you can race hard all the time, whether you're in the points or not. I'm glad I had a bad year, I really am.
"I said it, I wish I finished sixth or something. I don't want to finish second again."
Power was as low as 18th in the standings at one point this season, and he didn't get his first win until the 15th race, at Sonoma, after an incident with Scott Dixon. There was another incident the next week at Baltimore with Dixon, but Power's resolve remained steady.
He led 40 laps in the first race at Houston before an ill-timed caution cost him the shot at the win, and bounced back the next day for his second victory of the season. Then he rolled into Fontana with Carpenter's words burning a fire inside of him.
He had one goal, and one goal only. And if nothing else, he just didn't want another disastrous season finale.
"I just want to win this race. I want to finally have a good car and win the thing. That's what happened," he said. "God, why one year late? Two years late? That's life, man. You keep learning. It's made me a much stronger driver, much stronger, honestly."
The win pushed him three spots in the final standings to fourth — his lowest finish since he ran a partial season in 2009 with Penske Racing. But as he left the track in the early hours of Sunday morning, he was already thinking about his 2014 goals.
"To win the championship. That's going to be the goal," he said.