Wilson wins Firestone 550 when Rahal scrapes wall
Justin Wilson won his third IndyCar race, passing Graham Rahal when Rahal brushed the wall with 2 laps to go but he hung on to finish 2nd giving Honda a 1-2 finish.
Ryan Briscoe finished third.
James Hinchcliffe was fourth and JR Hildebrand rounded out the top-5 with Chevy powered cars finishing 3-4-5.
"It's just fantastic," said Wilson, driver of the No. 18 Sonny's BBQ whose previous best IZOD IndyCar Series oval finish was seventh. "(Team owner) Dale (Coyne) has put so much into making us competitive, so this one is for him and the team. I just can't believe we managed to pull this off. The car was fantastic, and on the long runs, it just got better and better."
Rahal appeared to be on his way to his first oval victory, but the No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing car brushed the Turn 4 wall as he was fighting understeer.
Being honest, there were a lot in the IndyCar paddock who have been dreading this race, certainly since last October. So much so that the drivers met last week and made recommendations to break up the packs. Well, it worked -- It looks like, at long last, IndyCar has it right. Tonight, the high banks of Texas looked more like the flat track of Milwaukee, with the best road racers leading the way.
The racers recommended -- and IndyCar agreed -- that the key was to have less down force. Gosh, I wonder who has been advocating lower down force to make the cars more difficult to drive? (AutoRacing1's President, chief cook and bottle washer, Mark Cipolloni, has lobbied for that since, at least, the merger. Davey Hamilton commented to me that he asked for less down force his entire driving career as well) The goal was to make the tires wear out, and the cars more difficult to handle, and the driver more important. That all worked tonight, and judging by the race, IndyCar may now be the best show on a NASCAR track.
By lap 10, it was clear that the tires were wearing out quickly, and that the top groove had yet to come in. Firestone built the tires for twice the down force that was run tonight, but other than the rapid wear, they performed well. By lap 15, Alex Tagliani was still in the lead, followed by Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal.
On lap 16, Dario had, as they say, "a big moment". The car started out bad and quickly got evil, and stayed that way most of the race. Dario pitted on lap 20, went almost 2 laps down, and never recovered. He finished 14th.
The first caution flew on lap 31 when Charlie Kimball spun on lap 4, hitting the turn 4 wall. Kimball claimed he got off line trying to avoid EJ Viso, who possibly was starting to experience the engine woes that put him a bit later. Kimball finished 23rd, and EJ finished 19th when his car went completely dead on lap 130.
The ensuing pit stops were a clinic in how to make mistakes on pit road. Will Power had a long stop when the right rear tire didn't want to thread correctly. Simeon Pagenaud hit his tires pulling in, knocking Justin Wilson off of his line getting into his pit. Pagenaud finished 6th, the last car on the lead lap. Wilson recovered, and did much better.
The green flew again on lap 40, with Scott Dixon leading the pack. And in fact, Dixon would lead most of the rest of the race, and before too long, he had a 1.6 second lead. However, the speed numbers were telling -- the speeds were slowing, and the drivers starting to struggle. And on lap 65, the falling grip finally bit Takuma Sato, whose car snapped out from under him and hit the back stretch wall. Sato finished 22nd. On the same lap, Ryan Hunter-Reay's car went off song, and he called it a day on lap 66.
The green flag waved on lap 71, Scott Dixon was again in the lead. And for a while, it looked like Dixon would put on another driving exhibition. In fact, for a looooong while Dixon put a hurtin' on the field, pulling away to a 6 second lead before the green fag flew on lap 130 for EJ's dead car.
At that point, some drivers who had previously pitted under green flag conditions stayed out. James Hinchcliffe, for instance, stayed out, and he took over the lead, followed by Ed Carpenter, who also had stayed out. This meant that they had roughly 16 laps on their tires more than those who did pit, which included Scott Dixon. Also pitting were Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden, who came into contact when Newgarden overshot his pit stall. Newgarden finished 13th, 2 laps down due to a drive-through penalty. Helio finished 7th, the first car 1 lap down.
On the green flag, it didn't take those on fresh tires long to blow past those with some time on their tires. In fact, it took less than 3 laps for Scott Dixon to take the lead back, followed by Will Power, Ryan Briscoe, and Tony Kanaan. The lesson was clear -- new tires at every opportunity were essential. The problem was that most teams were running out of new tires.
Soon, the crowd was wondering if we were simply watching the coronation march of Scott Dixon, building another large lead. However, on lap 171, Dixon slowed noticeably, and was passed by Will Power. A couple of laps later, Dixon had to fight a sudden twitch, touched the apron, and looped the car into the turn 4 wall. Dixon had lead some 133 laps on the evening, but other than severe disappointment he was not injured in the incident.
The ensuing pit stops had every team, except for one, use their last set of sticker tires. That lone exception was Justin Wilson, who had earlier made a long run on old tires, and in so doing had given themselves some insurance. Wilson even lead a couple of laps back around lap 125 as the rest of the field pitted, giving him the lead.
The green flag waved on lap 184, and instantly it was a Penske show. On lap 188 Will Power had the lead, followed by Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. However, in taking the lead, Will had thrown a block on Tony Kanaan who himself was going for the lead from the third position on restart. Kanaan damaged the front wing, and the green flag spot forced him a lap down. Kanaan finished 11th, and in the process melted down a few radio components providing commentary to anyone listening. Will Power was given a drive-through penalty on lap 194 for the incident, and finished 8th, also one lap down. The two exchanged pleasantries after the race.
All of this put Briscoe in the lead, but a hard-charging Graham Rahal was on the move. And, on lap 200, he took the lead in turn 3, quickly moving to a half-second lead on the field. Briscoe was in second, and Justin Wilson -- who was a favorite last week on the Detroit street course, but not considered a threat to win on the ovals -- was third. By lap 216, not much had changed, except that Wilson was now a distant second (about 2 seconds), followed by Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe.
On lap 225 of 228, Rahal started to slow. Briscoe commented after the race that he thought that Rahal had a tire going down, but Rahal later commented that his tires were fully inflated, but worn out and he had a bad push in the car that caught him out. On lap 226 his brushed the wall, causing enough damage to slow him further, and Justin Wilson pounced for the lead. Wilson was never challenged for the lead in the remaining 2 laps, and in the end, was the surprising winner of the 2012 Texas race.
In the top 6 there were 3 Hondas and 3 Chevys, with 6 teams represented.
The win is the third for Wilson and the second for Dale Coyne Racing. Wilson was the driver for both Coyne wins.
-- Tim Wohlford, Reporting from TEXAS!
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 18 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Honda, winner Firestone 550): "It's just fantastic. I have to thank Bill (Pappas)and everyone who works at Dale Coyne Racing. They work so hard and some long hours trying to get ready. Dale has put so much into it. I just can't believe we managed to pull this off. The car was fantastic. And on the long runs, it just got better and better. I saw people sliding around and knew I just had to hit my marks. (About Graham's accident): I saw him sliding more and more every lap, and I didn't think there was no chance, but when I saw him hit the wall, I thought "OK, now it's time to go." It was four-wheel drifting all the way into Turn 3 and all the way out of Turn 4. You were having to hang on out there."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central Honda, finished second): "I just made a mistake, you know, I mean the car was pushing through the center of 3 and 4 pretty well the last stint, and it would kind of grip up for me late in the corner and I kind of stayed with it because they told me Justin was coming. So I was trying to pick up the pace a little bit, and honestly it just never gripped up, and I didn't give myself enough of a margin for error. You know, I own up to it, and we'll come back and we'll win one here, and I certainly feel like it should have been today. Obviously for the entire NTB/Service Central crew, this is going to bother us, but we know we can run with these guys, we know we can win and hopefully we'll do it next week in Milwaukee."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, finished third): "It was tough. Certainly you needed to work on the set up all night, the balance changed a lot from the beginning of this stint to the end, and man you just had to hang on. It was hard work. My car, the last two sets of tires just went off really badly in the back, so I was battling a loose car, which is hard work. I'm glad the race is over, you know, the guys put me in position to win tonight, I had the lead I just didn't have the car to bring it home and stay in front. It's disappointing, but I had a huge moment out there at one point tonight and I'll take third."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): (About the penalty for blocking Kanaan): "I had (Ryan) Briscoe on the outside and Tony (Kanaan) took me by surprise. I feel bad for him. I ruined his day because he had to come in and change the front wing, and we ruined our own day by getting the penalty. I do have to say, that's the best racing I've ever had on an oval. The car was moving around. And that's the sort of racing we need at places like this. Feel bad for the Verizon guys. Feel like we could have won the race."
DARIO FRANCHITI (No. 10 Energizer Honda): "That was a long, long night for the Energizer team. My car was really bad to start with after thinking the car was really good last night. From about lap 15 on I crashed about three times and the guys brought me in to disconnect the rear bar. We lost some laps from that and them struggled without grip all night. We just fought as hard as we could for every single point after that."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "Really long night. Thought we'd have a good car after yesterday, but it was a real handful from the start. A lot of under steer and we put more front wing into it. Then the circuit changed. We had a problem with the weightjacker, and it got really loose. Had some big moments and so I had to come in and took out front wing. It got better but the track kept picking up front grip even we were taking wing out. Just trying to hang on and count down the laps. Really wanted a good result here but it just wasn't to be."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com Chevrolet): "We obviously had a good car, we ran fast early behind Graham and Scott and then just behind Scott. The guys were awesome in the pits man, I mean we've had our problems, my mistakes and other things over the year, but every stop today was on it. We stayed out one time when Dixon was in, and we tried to play it a bit different. We had a tire situation that we weren't sure if it was going to go our way, and ultimately that might not have been the best call, but you know, happy for the Go Daddy car. Thanks to all the fans that came out and congrats to Justin, that's an awesome drive from him."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet): Starting from 23rd or 24th or wherever we started, I'm definitely happy to come home with a top five. This is place that Panther's always done well at, so there's always a little bit of expectation for me coming here that we can work our way up to the front and the boys will give us a good car. The last few stints it was super loose, but we're able to keep the speed up enough to not lose a lot of laps or positions, and when the car was good we could just hammer on it and catch it all back up. We would have liked for the car to be a little more competitive at the end of the runs, but shoot man, we'll take it.
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda): "Man, I enjoyed it actually. I didn't think I would that much. But once I got the hang of it, I had a really, really good race car. It was blindingly fast. I kept adjusting all race long. Unfortunately, I made a big mistake in the pits early, which cost us a lot. Otherwise, maybe, we could fight for the win. The car was that good. But, I'm catching on. I learned a lot tonight. I made some good passes. Hats off to the guys. We didn't start the weekend off that good, and they gave me a really, really, really fast car which allowed me to race well." (About passing on the outside in Turn 1 twice): "I love the high side when it works. It's cool. I was very comfortable in Turn 1. But, we had to tune the car to do it because I didn't have the grip to run high early in the race."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Mouser Electronics/GEICO - KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "I have to thank my sponsor Mouser, this was their home race and I feel bad that I couldn't bring home a good result. I also want to thank my crew guys, we had a problem on the first pit stop and they managed to get it sorted and send me back out. Will Power then did the biggest block on me ever. We have been talking about safety and that wasn't cool. I did go and talk to him after the race and we talked it out. I had a busy night, it was unfortunate that happened because I think we had a pretty good car and hopefully we put on a good race for the fans."
E.J. VISO (No. 5 CITGO-PDVSA KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "We had a strong performance today. We started with a car that was not in the best shape, however stint by stint we made it better. By the third stop we had a pretty good car that gave me the tools to fight my way into the top-six. At that point we had a problem that cut all the power on the car which ended my race. I am very proud of the work my crew had been doing week after week. Unfortunately, our results don't reflect how strong our performance has been in every race. We all know this a tough sport, so we have to just keep fighting and good times will come very soon."
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 22 Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet): "We started to have a fuel pressure alarm on the wheel and every lap was just all of a sudden getting worse. I was running full throttle and it just wouldn't carry any speed. We think we have an injector problem or something, which is rare, but it happened today."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "It's disappointing because we made our way to the front. We had a vibration during a couple of stints that cost us a lot of time. It was just a weird race. I know we are all worried about pack racing but I prefer the way we raced at Texas before. And I may be on an island in that sentiment. Hopefully the fans enjoyed the race never the less. We worked our way to the front and that we had a good chance to stay there. Obviously, we were hoping better than 12th tonight. We had a little tough luck on our green flag pit stop because, about two or three laps later, the yellow came out when Scott Dixon crashed. But that is racing. We'll regroup and get ready for Milwaukee next week."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Chevrolet): "Injector problem, I don't know just lost power. We slowly but surely were losing power. It's unfortunate, it's really unfortunate. We had a really good start to the season going, really good in points. Now with three straight mechanical issues it's so unfortunate. These guys work so hard and I think we had a good race car going tonight. I think it might be time for me to cut off the facial hair. I don't know what to do."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "We didn't quite get our set-up right tonight but I think the fact that we were able to finish the race shows how hard SFHR worked as a team. We're going to continue to work hard and our time will come eventually." (About racing at TMS): "I think this was a very difficult track for all of us to race on tonight. The track was very sensitive to how people went about things and certain set-ups. It was difficult for us to get a grasp on things tonight but we finished the race, which was great. We were trying to run as fast as we could without hitting the wall and I'm just really happy to finish."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet): "What a race, the AAA machine was great. We passed a lot of cars and were able to drive through the field. Unfortunately we had a lot of vibration and lost a lot of rear wheel grip towards the end, we just couldn't hold the top three and finished seventh. It's upsetting because when you have a set up like that because it really gives you a great opportunity. But I will take seventh with a big smile on my face because I've crashed many times out there and so I'm happy we were able to finish in the top 10."
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