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Power opens IndyCar season with win in St. Pete

Monday - 3/31/2014, 12:46pm  ET

Takuma Sato, (14), of Japan, leads the field into the first turn at the start of the IndyCar Series auto race, Sunday, March 30, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- For the fourth time in six races dating to last season, Will Power jumped from the top of his car to celebrate a win in Victory Lane.

It was a strong opening salvo Sunday in St. Petersburg for Power, who struggled through most of last season until finally breaking out of his slump during the homestretch. He won three of the final five races, including the last two of the season.

Now he has opened 2014 with a win.

"Obviously, the perfect way to start," the Australian said.

Power passed pole-sitter Takuma Sato for the lead with an outside move headed into the second turn on Lap 31, and was never really challenged again. He had to beat Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves off pit lane during stops under caution, and the only hiccup was on the first restart of the race.

He was the leader and was slow to restart the field with 28 laps remaining. It caused traffic to stack up behind him and led to a crash involving rookie Jack Hawksworth and Marco Andretti.

Andretti got out of his car with a limp and was favoring his wrist following the accident.

"It's hard to see because I was pretty far back, but Will just stopped. Once you go, you gotta go," he said. "It looked like an accordion effect. I had a good restart going, but we were junk all day, so what are you going to do?"

Hawksworth blamed the accident on the leaders stopping at the front of the field.

"We went when they said green, and all of a sudden the leaders stopped. I don't know what was going on at the front," the rookie said.

Power said he never braked and was confused because the field went green earlier than it should.

"They actually threw the green before I was even in the (restart) zone, so it was confusing to me," Power said.

Castroneves didn't buy Power's version and said he was fooled by his teammate.

"Will and I know each other for a long time. He knows my tricks," Castroneves said. "I didn't quite know that trick from him, and he got me."

IndyCar said the restart in question was acceptable, but race control did review Power's second restart and issued him a warning for going too early. He was not penalized, but IndyCar said he will be if he does it again.

Five other developments from Sunday's season-opening race:

STRONG START: Ryan Hunter-Reay won two races last season, but considered it a failure because he didn't defend his 2012 series championship. His season began to unravel over a three-race stretch in July, when he tumbled from second to third in the standings and never recovered.

So it was important to the Andretti Autosport driver to start this year strong, which he did with a second-place finish at St. Pete.

"Unless you're winning, it's not good enough," said Hunter-Reay, who finished seventh in last year's season standings. "There's a big push to get back to where we were in 2012, to be in contention to win races all the time."

NO REPEAT WINNER: James Hinchcliffe was the breakout winner a year ago, but failed to find much success in his return to the site of his first IndyCar victory.

He ran in the back most of Sunday because of an electrical issue and finished 19th. Qualifying was also tough for the Canadian, who spun and hit the wall and failed to advance out of the first round. He started 19th in the 22-car field.

"We have another street race in two weeks, so all of this stuff still applies in Long Beach, and that is what we have to look at as a positive to come from this," he said.

JPM'S DEBUT: Juan Pablo Montoya finished 15th in his return to IndyCar for the first time since he left for Formula One following his Indianapolis 500 win in 2000. He spent almost five seasons in F1 and seven in NASCAR before returning to open-wheel with Roger Penske.

Although expectations are for Montoya to win immediately, he believes he needs several races to get fully up to speed.

"I think it went pretty good," he said. "We will learn and pass some people and some people passed us. There are a few things we have to do better, but I didn't feel my pace was too bad there at the end. It's going to be a lot of work, but I am very excited."

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