Some things are worth waiting 11-weeks for.
The Verizon IndyCar Series made the march back to Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, to finish the Firestone 500 that was started on June 11. On display was an action-packed, edge of your seat, thrilling duel that resulted in the fifth-closest finish in series history, and the closest finish (0.0080 seconds) in the track’s history. When the photo finish was revealed, it was Graham Rahal snatching the win from James Hinchcliffe in dramatic fashion.
Rahal led the only lap that mattered – the final one. It is the first win of the season for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and the fourth career victory for Graham. Hinchcliffe dominated the race on Saturday night, leading 188 laps, but had to settle for a heartbreaking second place finish. Tony Kanaan joined them on the podium as he put on quite a show during the final eight laps of the race. He finished 3rd tonight, and is now in 3rd in the championship. Team Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves rounded out the top five, and were the final cars to finish on the lead lap.
Firestone 600 Box Score
It was the final oval race of the season, and it finished with quite a bang. Rahal was in 12th place on the final restart, and joined Hinchcliffe, Kanaan, and Pagenaud to go four-wide on multiple occasions. Redemption may have been on Rahal’s mind, when he let the victory slip out of his hands in the 2011 race at Texas, when he brushed the wall. Justin Wilson went on to win that race, and Graham said he was thinking of his late friend during those final hectic laps. Much like Ryan Hunter-Reay was the class of the field last weekend and Pocono, Hinchcliffe was tonight. Both ended up with a podium finish, but it probably felt like a punch in the stomach.
Will Power came into the night trailing Pagenaud in the championship by 20 points after a furious rally, finishing first or second in each of the last six races. When the green flag was displayed tonight, Power was only behind by 3 points, as Simon was running in the back of the field. The tables were turned though, with Pagenaud finishing ahead of Power, who came home in 8th place. Simon extended his lead to 28 points heading into the final two events of the season.
It was another tough pill to swallow for Scott Dixon, who made contact with Ed Carpenter on Lap 213, which resulted in a hard impact into the outside of Turn 1. Dixon was furious with Ed, giving him the “double birds” upon exiting his car. From the replay though, it appeared that Dixon was at fault. Still, he finished 19th on Saturday and dropped to 6th in the championship standings.
Things would only get worse for Carpenter, who has already had a dreadful season. The contact with Dixon likely caused a cut on his left-rear tire, which caused him to slide up and get collected by Castroneves coming out of Turn 4. Ed’s night and 2016 season were finished. It’s been an incredibly trying year for the veteran driver, with his best result of the year being a pair of 18th place finishes. It is the worst average finish (21.8) in a season in Carpenter’s 14-year IndyCar career.
Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth also had contact during the race, when they met on Lap 232. It was a hard impact for both drivers, with Hawksworth needing assistance getting out of his car, after banging his right knee. Aleshin, who has turned a lot of heads this year with his strong performances, was not too pleased with Gabby Chaves, whom he blamed for the incident.
The series now heads east, making the much-anticipated return to Watkins Glen. It is the first time IndyCar will race on the famous road course since 2010, when Power took the checkered flag from pole position. The race will air on NBC Sports Network at 2 PM ET on Sunday, September 4.
Race Photos via IndyCar
Juan Montoya: “It was just OK. We struggled most of the night in the long run pace. The short run pace was good. I restarted last there, and drove up to fourth. It is little too late like every race has been. Just mistakes again that we really have to work on that.”
Helio Castroneves: “That was an eventful night. The AAA Insurance Chevrolet was really good from the very start. We ran up front and led some laps. Then, all kinds of things happened. We caught a break with a yellow which allowed us to come in and change both the front and rear wings. To dodge as many accidents as we did and finish fifth is very good. There were some crazy moves up there at the end that could have ruined just about everybody’s day. But we’re ready to head to Watkins Glen.”
James Hinchcliffe: “It was a tough finish, for sure. It was a great race. The Arrow Electronics car was just a rocket ship. We built the thing to be good over a tire stint, which is always the name of the game here in Texas. Tire degradation is key. We haven’t had a late-finish, three-wide battle here in Texas since 2011. It was tough. We kept a lot of guys at bay. Like I said, we really built the car for long runs and on those restarts we kept them at bay a couple times but ultimately, Graham (Rahal) and TK (Tony Kanaan) stopped for tires and I think that was kind of the difference maker. It’s a tough call but huge credit to the Arrow Electronics boys because the car really was a rocket and congrats to Graham. It’s a lot of fun racing up there with those guys and I think we put on a much better show for the fans than we would’ve if we were leading by half a straight. We’d have liked it better but we’re here to put on a good show.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “Unfortunately, that incident is what happens when a lapped car keeps pushing you out onto the marbles. We had a really great car tonight and it was definitely capable of finishing in the top three or four. The SMP Racing crew did an amazing job and we’ll be able to show how fast we are soon.”
Max Chilton: “It was just an absolutely crazy race. It was two, three and sometimes four wide out there. I was struggling with the balance of the Gallagher car all night. We took three and a half turns of front wing out and it still didn’t feel right. I was struggling to get the car to feel right especially when we ran in a pack – it was just so neutral. There were times in clear air when we were quick, but on a whole it was a bit of a poor day. On the other side of things, we finished and ran all the laps and got good experience under our belts.”
Scott Dixon: “I like Ed (Carpenter) and he’s a good friend, but I don’t know what the hell he was doing out there. Three laps before that he nearly crashed me doing the same thing going into Turn 3. And then going into Turn 1, he just turned left into me. I don’t know if his radio wasn’t working or he didn’t have a spotter, but how you don’t get a penalty for that I have no idea.”
Tony Kanaan: “Oh, that was so much fun. I’ve got to thank the fans that came back. I didn’t think there was going to be a lot of people but whoever didn’t come missed a hell of a race. That was some old school Texas right there. It was a good night. We started way in the back, but we made up positions right away. I think with INDYCAR not changing the rules and the earlier race being a day race, we had a ton of downforce that we had to run during tonight’s race, so the cars felt a lot closer as you could see. I had to dig into my hard drive and remember pack racing again. It worked out pretty well. Big props to the guys in front who gave each other room, that’s why we finished the way we did. It’s always a pleasure to race like that. I feel bad for the people that didn’t come back tonight from the first race to watch because it really was a hell of a show.” (On how exciting the end was) “When you have good cars going with each other, it’s quicker. I gave them hell!” (On where he wanted to be for the last lap) “On the inside. But if Graham (Rahal) wasn’t pushing Hinch (James Hinchcliffe), I was going to have it. So, I was hoping for Graham to get greedy and go three wide. That was going to slow everybody down, but that didn’t happen. He was smart enough.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “It was a tough night for the Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing team. We knew we were going to be on the shy side with the downforce level because that was the way it was when we were here in June. At that time, we didn’t anticipate that everyone else would stack up on downforce and we didn’t have some of the parts we needed. So, of course, we had to restart that way, which was quite frustrating honestly. I knew it was going to be tough in the beginning and it sure was in traffic. I was basically just trying to stay out of trouble and manage my tires. Then during the second stint when it stretched out, I went for it and after 15 laps the tires disintegrated and the car got very loose on my own. I was out of adjustments, so we had to make an earlier pit stop, which destroyed our race. After that we corrected. We were still not good in traffic, but could hold some decent speeds, 204 (mph), 205 even toward the end of our stint. Unfortunately, the leaders were running 207, 208 and there was nothing we could do about it, so I went a couple of laps down. We fought our way through the race, but it is definitely not fun when you have to be that passive, just hanging on and trying to bring it home. The good news is we finished in the top 10 on all the ovals this year so we have made progress.”
Will Power: (On Texas being the race that changes the points battle) “Yeah, I would say that. Obviously there are still plenty of points on the table. Simon (Pagenaud) did a good job to get up there and get his lap back and get tires to make it up there. But that was an intense race there at the end. I kind of just stayed out of it.” (On not finishing second or third for the first time since Detroit and what made the difference) “I think it was definitely the pit stop sequences. We kept going long. That yellow had us there at the end. And I think if we didn’t get that yellow, I would have finished around Simon; maybe ahead, maybe behind, however the stint played out, but much closer to him. But that was going to be a crazy restart at the end there. It was something to watch. Intense racing there at the end, especially with the last restart and with new tires and cool air being a factor. The cautions in the midst of some of the pit stop sequences made it more difficult to get back up into the top two or three, but the Verizon Chevy was still strong today. We are still up there in points and Watkins Glen is right around the corner for us. We’ll look ahead to next week.”
Takuma Sato: “Tough night. We had a component failure in practice and just got one lap. The ABC Supply boys did a great job to put it back together in such a short time. We had a few too many issues in the race. We just weren’t sure what was wrong. We didn’t want to risk it so we are just going to get ready for the next one.”
Graham Rahal: “It was just a really good battle with Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) and TK (Tony Kanaan). I’ve got to tip my hat off to Hinch. He did a great job tonight. He led that thing pretty well from start to finish other than a couple hundred yards. Great job by him and TK. I have to apologize to TK for rubbing him there. I think Helio just flew up the track and hit me and I hit TK. We’re lucky we made it all through. That was a great show. We appreciate all the fans that came out tonight. I hope you guys all go home and talk about how great INDYCAR racing is because that’s as good of a show as you’re going to get. My Firestones (tires) were great and I knew mine were very consistent over the whole stint. We started to lose them maybe with five or 10 (laps) to go but I knew I was going to be better than everybody else. I was just only concerned about TK on the fresh rubber. I didn’t realize after he had pitted he’d be allowed to get all the way back up to us. I thought he’d be stuck behind the lapped cars and I thought it would come down to a duel between Hinch and I, but we fended him off. My car, my god, what a machine tonight. This PennGrade machine was just flawless. We had United Rentals, Steak ‘n’ Shake, Mi-Jack and Hyatt and everybody that supports us and gets us here. This means a lot.”
Gabby Chaves: “It was an entertaining race. We were not optimal for the conditions tonight. We had really put everything in the car set up for the day race we had over two months ago, and with the cooler temperatures here at night it didn’t suit us and it kind of went more towards the other cars on the grid. We knew that. We knew that on restarts we’d be sitting ducks and we just had to hang on as hard as we could. We tried to for a while. I thought we had a pretty decent race car, hanging in the top six in the first stint. But then the balance was a little off, a little loose, and we just kind of fought that all night. Obviously not ideal, especially in such a close and tough race like we have here in Texas.”
Ed Carpenter: “The car was awesome. On long runs, I think we were for sure the best car out there. I’d cut into James (Hinchcliffe)’s lead every stint. He was a little quicker. We didn’t have the fastest car, but it was good on the long runs. I’m just bummed. It’s been such a rough year. We’ve had such better cars that what we had last year and really just can’t catch a break. Whatever happened with Scott (Dixon) and I there, when my left rear touched his front wing, it must have cut a tire and that led to the accident. I’m just really bummed. I thought tonight was a night that we could have gotten a good result. It’s going to be a long off season before I can get back in the car, but we’ll come back strong next year.”
Simon Pagenaud: “My spotter said, ‘four-wide’, and I’m like ‘Uh oh, that’s no good’. And then (Graham) Rahal touched me and I touched (James) Hinchcliffe, so I was actually loose going into the corner and had to back out of it. It’s unfortunate. I really wanted to get that first oval win. But, I think no matter what, that was a great performance. The HP car was amazing all night. Thanks to Chevy, obviously; this aero kit is really amazing. It really shows what the Indy cars can do. I think tonight we had a great show. Did you guys enjoy it? I did. Wow. That was exciting. I don’t think I have any breath left. I thought we were going to get it, but when it went four wide I got touched and pushed me into (James Hinchcliffe) and I had to back out of it or there was going to be a big wreck. The Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevy just got better and better all night. I really thought it was going to come together right at the end when we got back on the lead lap. We were able to come in for tires. Everything nearly came together.”
Carlos Munoz: “I was a little disappointed, if I am honest. The positive side, I think, is we got better position than what our speed showed. The balance wasn’t there in the car. After the first stint it wasn’t the balance we expected to have. But, you know, it’s just racing. Still (finished) seventh, it’s all right with points. Honda did a great job – I’m really happy Honda went P1 and P2. We will have to keep working hard.”
Marco Andretti: “I guess we can’t be too unhappy, coming from 18th, but we were really just lacking overall grip. I’m not sure where to start with the car; we’re just a step down on grip than my competitors. There was one stint when I was actually running flat out, and three cars passed me. It’s frustrating. We need more speed and are hoping to find it at The Glen next weekend.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “I’m happy to get the car back in one piece tonight. I found out after the race that we had oil leaking over the right rear (tire) every stint but the first. I was just wicked loose the whole day and did everything I could to just keep (the car) off the wall. Really glad we came out OK, but it seems our luck continues. I’m really looking forward to returning to The Glen next week and hoping to get the DHL car up front where it belongs.”
Jack Hawksworth: “We had a pretty decent car which was good but started two laps down because of all that happened here last time. Disappointing. On another day where we started on the lead lap we would have had a strong result. (On the accident) The car spun in directly in front of me and I had nowhere to go and got collected.”
Charlie Kimball: “It was kind of a crazy night out there. I’m really proud of the No. 83 Novo Nordisk guys here at Texas. I don’t think we were particularly strong here in June when the race started, but we learned some things from our teammates. The guys were solid all night in pit lane, the strategy calls were right on and we were knocking on the door of the top five which was good. It got crazy there at the end and we just couldn’t get our lap back which was unfortunate. It was a good day in the points for us which I’m happy about.”
Alexander Rossi: “That was a night of trying to stay out of trouble – and we did that. From the first stint I knew our tire life wasn’t where it needed to be. It’s a bit of a mystery. No matter what we did in the pit stops or what I adjusted in the car or any different scenario, we were losing the tires way too early and around here that is a lot of lap time and it cost us. But it was good we kept the Castrol Edge car out of trouble, drove a clean race and got the points that we did.”