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Briscoe's win brings excitement to IRL

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After weather plagued much of their weekend at Kentucky Speedway, the IndyCar Series drivers and teams went into Saturday's Meijer Indy 300 with only 75 minutes of practice — precioius little time to figure out the new aerodynamic package and "push-to-pass" overtake system. Apparently, that was all they needed. The ensuing 300-miler featured the side-by-side action that had been sorely missed on the ovals this season. At the checkered flag, Ryan Briscoe and Ed Carpenter were side-by-side. But on the high line, Briscoe took the win by .0162 of a second — a quarter of a car's length — and once again denied Vision Racing their first IRL victory after besting Ryan Hunter-Reay in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida. But while the underdog Carpenter couldn't stun the Penske juggernaut, he and everybody else were thrilled about the improved superspeedway racing. As for which part of the package was the key, most drivers seemed to focus on the IRL's mandatory tweak of removing the half-inch end plate wicker on the rear wings of the cars. "To me, it made it better," Carpenter said. "I think the wickers they took off the rear wing, that really reduced the amount of turbulence off the car in front of you and made it a lot easier to use the draft of the car in front of you and get a run. I think, personally, that's probably the most important change they made. I had a good car. But that's the most comfortable that I've felt in traffic in quite some time." "One good thing about the package was before...you kind of go into the corner behind somebody, and if you kind of had a little bit of understeer, once you clear that car, we had a huge moment of oversteer," Kanaan said after finishing third. "The back would turn on you. "I think Ed is right. Taking those wickers out of the rear wing definitely helped. We had better racing because we could race a lot more and a lot closer together." Not that things were easier in the cockpit thanks to the new package. Briscoe said that he still got plenty of turbulent air to deal with when he got close to another car. And there was still the matter of playing strategy with the overtake system by saving as many of the 20 boosts as possible for the final laps. When Briscoe took second place with 19 laps to go, he said he had used only three of those boosts. By the white flag, Briscoe had used them all up. "Basically, you're using it once a lap," the Australian said. "I found where I thought it was going to help me most as far as leading laps. [Team owner] Roger [Penske] just told me, 'Keep doing what you're doing. You're better off of [turn] four.' That's where we need to be good. It was just close. I was thinking, 'I don't need to touch wheels with Ed Carpenter here.'" Carpenter was also pushing the button and used the last of his boosts on the last lap. But despite that and his attempts to try and push Briscoe up the track, he still noticed that he wasn't ahead of Briscoe when they hit the line in the final circuits. "[Briscoe] was beating me to the line just about every time off [turn] four," he said. "I think I may have beat him just one time. I knew I was fighting an uphill battle at that point. When I saw him get around [Kanaan], I knew it was going to be very hard to win." Sure enough, Briscoe nipped him on Lap 200 by about five feet to claim his first win since St. Petersburg. But after the finish, some of Briscoe's team members went to Carpenter's pit box to congratulate the Vision Racing crew on a fine performance. It was just one example of the good post-race vibes that seemed prevalent throughout Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night. "The league did their job," said Kanaan. "We did our job. You know, that's it. The people, they were probably expecting us to fail. They're probably not very happy right now, and we're all happy."

Kanaan nails podium finish

It has not been a great year for the 2004 IndyCar Series champion. He's suffered bruised ribs, leg contusions, and burns to his hands and face in various accidents and had some less-than-solid finishes on the track. But on Saturday night, Kanaan broke through and finished third to potentially set up a solid finish to the season in the final five races. All in all, he found the fun that he was looking for this weekend. "We came up here, and it's hard to keep everybody up when you have four weekends in a row, the guys are working back-to-back," he said. "We're demolishing cars, burning cars, burning people. Everybody gets kind of down. I tried to keep my spirits up and help my guys. You know, today I just went there and drove. "I think the last two months I realized was not fun, and it has to be fun. I tried to have fun this weekend. I think a positive attitude helped a lot. So, you know, I came this weekend with the mindset that it had to be fun again, otherwise there was no point for me to keep doing this. Guess I'm having fun again." Kanaan may have been able to make it a three-way battle for the win if it weren't for the gear set-up on his car. According to the Brazilian, he had too tall of a gear to fully exploit his overtake system. "I would say the 'press to pass' helped, but you have to have the right gear to do it," he said. "It will only give you 200 extra revs after [10,300], which is our maximum revs. If you have too tall of a gear, which is my case, I use it on the restarts, some of the laps. But that's the way it is."

Golden opportunity lost

Like Ed Carpenter, Mario Moraes was a surprise charger through the field in the early stages of Saturday's race. It appeared that his No. 5 KV Racing Technology car had the ability to battle for the win. But his golden opportunity ended on Lap 49. When he came in for his first pit stop, he was turning into his pit box when Dreyer and Reinbold Racing's Mike Conway was coming out of his own box after service. The two cars collided and almost collected A.J. Foyt Racing's Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was able to keep from hitting them. Moraes' car needed lengthy repairs and the young Brazilian finished 18th, 12 laps down. "I feel so sorry for the crew," he said. "They worked so hard and did a great job preparing the car. I had a really good car in the race. I could drive it fast just about anywhere on the track. It is just hard when you have such a good car and then something happens that is not your fault and it wrecks your race. "The good thing is we know we have a good car for the ovals and that is very positive for the future."

Notes

Three-time World Driving Champion and Formula One legend Sir Jackie Stewart was at Kentucky Speedway as a guest of Roger Penske. When asked on television if he still had the itch to drive and then, he answered, "No, I'm old enough to know better."... Speedway officials reported an estimated attendance of 48,000 for Saturday's race ... The finish was the 11th-closest in IndyCar Series history, while the race itself was the second-fastest in series history at an average speed of 200.893 m.p.h. The record: 207.151 m.p.h. at California Speedway in 2003, a race won by Sam Hornish Jr.
Tagged: Sam Hornish Jr., Mario Moraes

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