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Will Power wins for first time in 2 years to give Team Penske sweep of top 3 spots at Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Will Power pondered retirement last year as his wife battled a near deadly staph infection that had the Australian wondering if he needed to focus on his family's future.

“She almost died,” Power said. “You start thinking, ‘Yeah, I’m going to have to stop now, take care of my son.’ ”

His wife has recovered and Power is back in victory lane.

Power was joined by wife Liz and son Beau in victory circle Sunday after he earned his first win in two years. He ended a 34-race winless streak and moved to the top of the IndyCar points standings.

The 43-year-old pulled ahead for good on the 49th of 55 laps and beat teammate Josef Newgarden by 3.2609 seconds on the 14-turn, 4.014-mile course to win for the first time since the Detroit Grand Prix on June 5, 2022. Power has a five-point lead over reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou as he seeks his second championship in three years.

Power won the 2022 title but was distracted by his wife's health issues during last year's winless season.

"I have to say I’m a better driver again this year than I was in ’22 when I won the championship," Power said. “Last year was sort of a stall-out here. Not much I could do. Spending a lot of time at home, looking after Liz, making sure everything was going well for her. (Now I'm) back to Liz helping me. She is a big part of my preparation. She does a lot for me. We’re back as a team again.”

Power won for the 42nd time in the series to tie Michael Andretti for fourth on the all-time wins list. They trail A.J. Foyt (67), Scott Dixon (58) and Mario Andretti (52).

Newgarden was second and Scott McLaughlin third to give Team Penske a sweep of the podium — its first since 2017.

Newgarden finished second in a backup car one day after spinning off the track and crashing his Chevrolet hard into a barrier during the final stages of qualifying Saturday.

“It was a real team effort to put a new car together,” Newgarden said. “Everybody pitched in... really rewarding, I think, for the entire crew when you have to go through something like that, put it all together, we finish 1-2-3, it’s as good as it can get.”

After a rainy Saturday caused a wet track for much of the qualifying rounds, conditions were ideal for Sunday’s race.

The sweep continued Team Penske's successful run since getting rocked by a cheating scandal in April. Newgarden was stripped of his season-opening win at St. Petersburg nearly six weeks later when IndyCar discovered Penske’s three cars had an illegal version of the push-to-pass software installed that allowed their drivers to use the horsepower boost when no one else in the field had access to the advantage.

Roger Penske, who owns the race team, IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar, suspended four employees for two races. Among the suspensions was team president Tim Cindric, considered the best strategist in IndyCar, and he was forced to miss Newgarden's second Indy 500 victory.

Since then, McLaughlin won at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, for the second straight time, Newgarden won his second consecutive Indy 500 title and now Team Penske has taken the top three spots at Road America.

“If you’re a team like Penske, people like to pound you if something like that happens, ‘Ha, ha, we knew that’s how you guys are fast,’ “ Power said. ”I know how much work goes into it. I know they don’t even venture into the gray. It frustrates me at time because I know other teams do. But they will not do that just because of that brand.

"Roger won’t allow that brand to be tarnished with cheating allegations. We don’t do that. There’s a lot of talk around the paddock. I know we don’t do that. I know other teams do because people push the rules. If I was a small team, I’d be doing it. That’s how you get a slight advantage.”

Power overtook Dixon for the points lead. Dixon had taken over the points lead after winning the Detroit Grand Prix but was just 21st on Sunday, the first time he’s finished out of the top 15 this season. Dixon fell to third in the points race.

The day didn't start well for Dixon's entire Chip Ganassi Racing, either

The race had barely started when a crash between teammates resulted in a caution. On the opening lap, the nose of Marcus Armstrong’s Honda hit the back of pole sitter Linus Lundqvist’s car, causing both cars to spin. Lundqvist ended up finishing 11th.

Five laps later, Kyffin Simpson of Ganassi spun off course and hit a tire barrier after getting hit by Christian Rasmussen of Ed Carpenter Racing.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing