Will Power has gone from Team Penske's Plan B to pre-eminent

Power captures Indy 500 (2:54)

After the two cars ahead pit in the final laps, Will Power cruises to the checkered flag to win the Indianapolis 500. (2:54)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Will Power didn't know whether he would get more than a test in a Penske car when he committed to the team following the 2008 season.

He turned that commitment into an IndyCar career that now includes an Indianapolis 500 victory.

How Roger Penske and Power came together is a story of right place, right time.

Helio Castroneves, indicted in October 2008 on tax evasion charges, was out of the car until the trial. Roger Penske needed a driver for the start of the 2009 season -- but he didn't know for how long. Power, released from KV Racing because of a lack of sponsorship, needed a ride.

The Australian, 27 at the time, wasn't really on the list of drivers Penske had initially planned to replace Castroneves. Known for his ability on road courses (he had won at Long Beach the previous year), Power had been inconsistent enough for owners to have doubts.

"It was obvious Helio wasn't going to be there for the first race in St. Pete," Team Penske president Tim Cindric said Sunday. "Roger and I, we made a short list of kind of who might be the right one for that situation. But with Helio, we weren't sure how that was all going to turn out. I don't know anybody was.

"When we met with [Power], the one thing that stood out for us, at that point we couldn't commit to a full season, we couldn't commit to more than one race. We couldn't make a lot of commitments because we were loyal to Helio's situation. We didn't really want to add another car."

And Power really didn't want to go into another car. He had talked with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Penske.

"It was really just only testing was guaranteed when I signed with Penske, maybe one race at the time," Power said. "But I didn't care. I just wanted to get a foot in the door. I just wanted to have a chance with a good team."

Power knows he wasn't first on the list.

"That's actually why they picked me -- they had other drivers saying, 'Look, I'll come if you give me a full season. I don't want to do a part-time [schedule],'" Power said.

"They thought with me, [I] seemed just so willing, not demand to have more races, to give me a shot."

Power started sixth and finished sixth in his Penske debut. On the first day of practice with Power in the car for the event at Long Beach, Castroneves was acquitted.

Cindric, in recalling the story, was in Power's pit box and said, "Do you want the good news or the bad news?"

Castroneves was flying to Long Beach to race. Cindric told Power: "You're getting out of this car after this session. We have another car for you."

Power won the pole and finished second.

"At that point, Roger told him that night, 'Hey, no matter what happens, you have a ride at the Indy 500,'" Cindric recalled. "Verizon stood behind him. They were really a big part of his career, going to another level when he signed with us, and he took it from there with his talent."

Driving select races the remainder of the year, Power won at Edmonton and was third in Toronto. Despite a crash where Power broke a vertebra in practice at Sonoma, Penske offered him a full-time ride in 2010. Power responded by winning five races and eight poles in his first full season at Penske.

"He came in early on when Helio had an issue and he said, 'I'll drive one minute, one race, or two races,' and he committed," Penske said. "We were [eventually] able to get him a full-time ride. From day one, he was a winner with us. Pole positions. Winning races."

The win Sunday was the 31st for Power in a Penske car. Penske expects there to be even more.

"You look at his record, the only chapter he didn't have in his book was winning the Indy 500," Penske said. "I think you're going to see ... he's got a lot more in him.

"This, from a personality standpoint and getting this behind him, is going to make him a better guy."