Fantastic Finish to the IZOD IndyCar Firestone550 at Texas Motor Speedway


Fort Worth, TX – The 22nd running of the IZOD IndyCar Racing Series(IRL) at Texas Motor Speedway capped an exciting weekend of racing in Fort Worth.  The story heading into the Firestone550 was the domination in recent races and qualifying of cars with Honda engines (the top four qualifiers on Friday were powered by them) and the new aero package recently agreed upon by the IRL and drivers.  But after the checkered flag waved, stories had to be quickly rewritten as a fantastic finish produced a first time champion of the longest running IRL race.

The rules changes mainly dealt with the rear spoiler and the amount of downforce that was produced.  The variations in angle and size were very different from what was used at the Indianapolis 500 and were designed to reduce downforce and increase the amount of control drivers would have over their cars.  IndyCar officials hoped that this would decrease the chances of the pack driving that has been common at previous races in Texas and would instead produce a more wide-open race where drivers would be less at the mercy of mistakes made by others.

Pole sitter Alex Tagliani (Team Barracuda – Honda) held onto the top spot for all of 20 laps before he ceded the frontrunner position to Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing – Honda).  Dixon took a liking to the lead position and held onto it for more laps than any other racer on the night and clinched the two bonus points for most laps led after lap 130 of 228, his fourth lap bonus of the season.

The first caution came on lap 31 after Charlie Kimball (NovoLog FlexPen – Honda) spun out his car when it got loose going into turn four.  Kimball then slammed into the wall after his tires lost their grip on the track and the yellow flag was waived.  The pits were initially closed, but then on lap 36 the entire field save two cars pitted.  Dixon continued to lead when the second caution was given on lap 65 after Takume Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – Honda) lost control and hit the wall well after turn two on the backstretch.

By the halfway point, there was little to discuss as Scott Dixon had what looked like a stranglehold on the lead.  He briefly surrendered the lead when he pitted on laps 117 and 132, but by laps 126 and 141, respectively, he had muscled his way back in front of the field.

Then, the story was quite suddenly rewritten.  Dixon led 133 of the first 173 laps, but he drifted too low coming through turn four and made contact with the apron.  He lost control and spun into the safety barriers, ending his night with 54 laps remaining.  Dixon later said, “We just got loose.  We had been getting loose at the end of stints.  For the last ten laps of that last stint I was really fighting just to hold on. I turned in and the rear just started to slide and I kind of dipped down onto the apron and shot around again.  I feel bad for the guys.  We had a really good car and I think we had a very good chance to win here tonight.”   This was Scott Dixon’s first DNF (did not finish) due to an accident since 2010 in Toronto.

With the most dominant race car out, it was a free-for-all to to the finish.  The last quarter of the race saw the lead change hands multiple times, but the last change was the most surprising of all.

After Dixon’s wreck, Will Power (Verizon Team Penske – Chevrolet) took over the lead, but ceded it on lap 194 when he had to serve a pit penalty for blocking Tony Kanaan (Mouser Electronics/Geico – Chevrolet).  He fell an entire lap behind the leaders and was effectively out of the race with only 32 circuits around the track remaining.  Ryan Briscoe (Hitachi Team Penske – Chevrolet) briefly took over the lead when Power served his penalty, but was passed six laps later in turn three by Graham Rahal (Service Central – Honda).

Rahal ran strong from the front, building a lead of up to 2.6 seconds, and he looked like he had his first IRL victory since 2008 (and second overall) locked up going into lap 226 of 228.  The television cameras began focusing on the emotions of his father and team owner, former Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who was watching from pit row.  But inexplicably, he slid into the wall after turn four with a car that was gripping the track well at the time.  Graham Rahal after the race:

“I just made a mistake. I just went through (Turns) 3 and 4, and I’d been chasing a little bit the whole last stint, and I did that kind of on purpose, which I don’t know who was watching probably saw that I ran so much of a higher line, like really high compared to what I did at the start of the race. At the start of the race I was always trying to be on the bottom, and I found that being up top for me really helped save the tires and just trying to put a ton of understeer in it.  I just went through (turns) 3 and 4, the car pushed, and normally it would kind of grip up towards the exit, and I just didn’t leave enough margin for error, and unfortunately we brushed. We should be in winner’s circle right now, there’s no doubt. Something I’ll learn from and move on.”

Rahal’s blunder turned out to be Justin Wilson’s (Sonny’s BBQ – Honda) very fortuitous gain.  He grabbed the lead with less than two laps to go and made sure not to make any mistakes on his way to the checkered flag.   Wilson later admitted that he thought Rahal had the race won, “I thought at that stage he’d gone. There was nothing I could do. But then we caught some traffic and I got past Ryan (Briscoe) into second place, and then I just set on trying to do the best laps I could, trying to not slide the car too much but get as tight as possible just to try and catch Graham thinking maybe something will happen. (I’m) just really happy to get this first win on oval…there have been times earlier this year when we felt we should have at least been on the podium if not better. But we keep saying, OK, it’s racing, it’s going to come good, and sure enough, it did.”

Wilson earned his first victory since Watkins Glen in 2009 having led only eleven laps in the race.  The Honda engines continue to be the big story of the 2012 IndyCar Racing League season as the circuit heads to Milwaukee.

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