Will Power may have finished second on the road in Long Beach, and climbed to second place in the IndyCar Series standings as a result, but, as things stand, he won't even be in the field this coming weekend - and maybe not after the Indianapolis 500 either.
The Australian knew the score when, having lost his Team Australia ride at KVRT, he accepted the offer to fill-in for the court-tied Helio Castroneves at Penske, but the Brazilian's return to action - alongside Power and team-mate Ryan Briscoe - in California at the weekend, could not have come at a much worse time for the reigning Long Beach racewinner.
Having finished sixth on debut with Penske in St Petersburg a fortnight earlier, Power added bonus points for pole position in Long Beach and then proceeded to lead the early part of the race before finishing as runner-up to the luck-and-strategy-aided Dario Franchitti. His haul enabled to Australian to slot in behind Franchitti in the overall standings too, but his team has been unable to say whether he'll appear anywhere other than Indianapolis for the rest of the year.
"As far as Will's future, I think that everyone's asked that question," team owner Roger Penske commented, "As [Penske president] Tim [Cindric] laid out a plan for him early in the year, we were trying to determine what our options were. It was interesting that he wanted to drive the car - it's a little bit like Rick Mears when Mario Andretti was in Formula One. I talked to Rick about maybe being able to run a few races and he said "look, I'll run one race, I'll run two, I'll run three" - and he ended up winning Indy for us four times.
"I think Will has proven that he's fast, and he's certainly been a great team player, working with Helio and with his crew. Our plan, because [Castroneves' return] came on so fast, is that we're able to put him in a car this weekend and, while we will not run three cars at Kansas, he will be in our car, the Verizon Wireless car, at Indianapolis.
"I think, at this point, it's only speculation on what we'll do in the future. We certainly would expect to give him a real chance to run at Indy for what he's done for us. And I think that was based on the different scenarios that we laid out for him when he signed up. I think he's proven he's a great driver and we're looking forward to having him in the #12 Verizon Wireless car at Indianapolis."
Power's attempt to repeat as Long Beach race winner was hampered by a problem with the radio in the #12 Team Verizon Wireless Dallara that left him unable to hear team communications except when he was on a short section of the front straight. On lap 17, the Australia thought he heard a call for a full-course caution and slowed appropriately, allowing two cars the opportunity to pass him.
Although he fought his way back to second, having to conserve fuel in the waning laps meant that he could never put as much pressure on Franchitti as he felt the car was capable of.
"I was saving fuel like you would not believe," Power confirmed, "I was driving as hard as I could through the corners to make up for it. I was full lean, but that's the hardest I've ever driven. The car was there and, if we had been able to go full-rich, we would have been on it."
Cindric admitted in an earlier weekend press conference that talks with Verizon had extended only as far as confirming Power in the #12 car for the blue riband Indy 500 next month, suggesting that both sides may be open to considering further outings for the likeable Australian. Should running three cars prove to be a headache for Penske - particularly if either Briscoe or Castroneves find themselves in title contention - could the Luczo Dragon team, which came into being thanks to a family link through co-owner Jay Penske and leased Team Penske equipment for its first few outings, provide a feasible alternative? Now contesting its first full campaign, the team currently runs a single entry for rookie Rafa Matos.....