Briscoe erases memory of horrific 2005 crash

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The culmination of a four-year journey for Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe is nearly at hand. His 2005 rookie season at Target Chip Ganassi Racing nearly ended in tragedy at Chicagoland Speedway, when he ran over the wheel of Alex Barron and launched himself into a catch fence. The impact shattered his car and left nothing but the driver tub with Briscoe inside — injured but still alive. Last Saturday night at the 1.5-mile oval in Joliet, the Australian got one back on the track that almost killed him. A nine-lap sprint to the finish that echoed the Indy Racing League of old wound up going in Briscoe's favor by .0077 of a second over fellow title rival Scott Dixon. The victory gave Briscoe something that had not been granted to him, Dixon or the third man in the championship fight, Dario Franchitti: a clear advantage. He now leads Franchitti by 25 points and Dixon by 33 points with just two races remaining in the season, and while the Target Chip Ganassi Racing duo is far from done, they now have to hope for Briscoe to have his own trouble. The problem for them is that Briscoe is hitting his stride at just the right time. August saw him win twice and finish in the top two in all four events, which is just what he had to do in order to put distance between himself and his rivals. The title race is still too close however, so Briscoe wasn't dwelling on how his victory may have changed his views of Chicagoland after coming so close to losing everything there. "We've seen how quickly that can turn around," he said. "Just got to stay focused and try to beat these guys still. Japan and Homestead, they're going to be tough races. Hopefully we go and have a good car. I don't see any reason why we won't. But I sort of got myself into a little bit of trouble tonight, and we've got to try to avoid those instances and run consistent, stay at the front, and we'll see what we can do." In a repeat of his narrow victory at Kentucky Speedway at the beginning of August, Briscoe had to overcome mid-race trouble in order to position himself to win at the end. Saturday night saw Briscoe pit too far away from his spots on a lap 95 stop, forcing his fueler to have to stretch out in order to get fuel in the No. 6 Team Penske car. The slow stop knocked the Aussie back into the pack. "It was tough," said Briscoe of the stop. "There was still half the race to go. I think it was the second stop, the first under yellow, so there was still half the race to go. I wasn't too worried at the time. But once we got going, I got a little bit more worried because there were a lot of fast cars out there tonight, and it was just difficult to get through the wall in front of me, sort of three rows of three wide. "It was difficult to find the holes and come through. I was moving forward, I was losing some positions, but then I found some rhythm, it started spacing out a little bit as tires went off a touch, and then I had my eye on the leaders." Briscoe overcame the incident and found himself in second place when his teammate Helio Castroneves suffered a suspension failure and careened into the SAFER Barrier with 16 laps remaining -- setting up Briscoe and Dixon's final confrontation for the win. Despite using his final push-to-pass boost at the start of the final lap, Briscoe still managed to nip Dixon at the checkers on the high line. It left Dixon, the defending series champion, convinced that TCGR had work to do in order to match Briscoe's pace on the speedways. "I think it's quite clear that we just didn't have the speed tonight," he said. "We didn't have it in qualifying and we didn't have it in the race. Definitely as a team, I think we need to redefine what we're doing on the mile-and-a-halfs and try and speed up. I think aero-wise, we're lacking a bit, whether it's in body fit and car preparation or whatever it is." They've got to find whatever's missing or Briscoe will have his four-year journey end with something not many people thought he'd achieve after his horrifying accident four years ago: an IndyCar Series championship.

Taking one for the team

Dario Franchitti wasn't going to sell out his teammate. Despite a prolonged stop on lap 158 that was caused by an air gun underneath his car, the Scotsman was able to get himself in the lead pack for the last sprint to the finish. But he had to abandon thoughts of going for the win, even though he still had multiple push-to-pass boosts on his No. 10 TCGR machine. "I was boxed in almost, because my ideal thing would have been to get behind Briscoe, get a draft and try to go three wide and use the overtake to pass," he said after settling for fourth place. "But I had my teammate leading the race and the guy we're fighting against the championship on the outside, and these cars when you're sitting very close to the guy ahead of you, you give him a bit of a push. "I couldn't and wouldn't push anybody else apart from my teammate in that fight, and I was trying to push Scott, and that got me hung up there and allowed (Mario) Moraes to get past. I had all these (boosts) left, but I couldn't use them because all I was going to do was run into Scott's gear box, so that was kind of frustrating."

First podium for Moraes

Mario Moraes made some noise earlier this season for run-ins with multiple drivers on the track, but now he's making noise for the right reasons. The Brazilian scored a second straight top-five finish and his first IndyCar Series podium run with a third-place finish at Chicagoland. His recent upswing on the track is coming in tough times off the track for himself and his family. Mario's father passed away in Brazil earlier this month, causing him to miss the race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He returned at Infineon Raceway and picked up a fourth-place finish, and with his mother in attendance last Saturday night in Joliet, Moraes played a role in the race's closing stages. "This last month has been really tough for me," he said in a team press release. "It has been really hard to stay focused. I am just happy that my mom could make the trip from Brazil for this race and I want to dedicate this podium finish to my Dad."

Other cool stuff

Ed Carpenter was unable to replicate his stunning second-place drive at Kentucky earlier this month and had to settle for a sixth-place showing in Joliet. The Vision pilot had to deal with understeer on his No. 20 machine late in the race, but traffic also kept him from rising: "We still had a good car at the end, but we just kept getting land-locked with guys running two- and three-wide and then I would be sitting there with nowhere to go."... According to several reports, a meeting of team owners before the race talked about the possibility of moving the Indianapolis 500 back to its original start time of 11 a.m. in order to try to lure NASCAR drivers into doing the Indy 500-Coca-Cola 600 double. Other topics reportedly included a planned 2012 rollout of new cars and engines, the league's current TV deal with ratings-starved Versus, and the network's decision to start the Chicagoland event at 10 p.m. ET, which apparently didn't go down well with teams and drivers... J.R. Hildebrand claimed the Firestone Indy Lights championship by finishing fifth in a Saturday undercard at Chicagoland.
Tagged: Dario Franchitti

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