WILL POWER: The race car driver left a late dinner and headed out on foot through the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., where nearly every stranger he passed congratulated him on his win.

It was the same way at the restaurant, as diner after diner stopped by his table. Even the manager, who moved things around on a crowded Sunday night to accommodate the winner of the season-opening IndyCar Series race.

Power was a bit embarrassed. But attention is the price of winning, and Power had not done much of that over the last 23 months.

After opening the 2012 season with three consecutive wins, Power fell into an unusual slump. He didn’t win again that season, but used consistency to remain in the title hunt, only to cough away his chance at the title by crashing early in the finale.

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It was a heartbreaking defeat for Power, who lost the championship in the final race of the season for the third consecutive year.

Yet as he slumped through most of 2013 — he was winless the first 14 races and the one-year anniversary of his last victory came and went — Power found that he’d never been happier. He learned to accept defeat.

It required him learning how to let it go, to stop obsessing over the smallest of details, and to go into every race weekend determined to have fun and not stress about the title.

“I’ve just got to keep reminding myself, ‘It doesn’t matter if you lose,’” Power said after Sunday’s win. “You’ve just got to keep reminding yourself that it’s a race, and you race hard to win a race. I just race now, race hard. That’s the only way to think of it, not think of points.”

The Associated Press