Justin Wilson was the surprise winner Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, where Graham Rahal wrecked while leading a topsy-turvy race that took out several contenders.
Rahal took control of the race with a strong pass of Ryan Briscoe 28 laps from the finish. He had pulled away from the field and seemed headed to his first victory since 2008, but his car drifted high into the wall as he exited the fourth turn.
Rahal bounced back onto the track and kept going, albeit slower, and Wilson charged past him with two laps remaining. The Englishman pulled away from Rahal to snap a 46-race winless streak, dating to Watkins Glen in 2009.
”That’s just fantastic,” Wilson said. ”I just can’t believe we managed to pull this off. I saw people sliding around, and knew I just had to hit my marks. I saw (Rahal) sliding more and more every lap. I didn’t think it was much chance, but then when I saw him hit the way, I thought `OK, it was time to go.’
”It was four-wheel drifting all the way into three, all the way out of four. You were having to hang on out there.”
A disappointed Rahal settled for second, his best finish of the season and best finish ever at Texas. Honda drivers finished first and second.
”I just messed up, honestly. There’s not much else to say,” Rahal said. ”I didn’t expect it, honestly.”
Briscoe was third for Chevrolet.
The race took several turns, beginning when Scott Dixon wrecked late after leading 133 of the 228 laps. It set up a restart with points leader Will Power and Penske Racing teammate Briscoe lined up first and second with Tony Kanaan behind in third.
Kanaan tried to go low and around Power to make it three-wide, but Power blocked him and the contact broke Kanaan’s front wing. He was furious and demanded IndyCcar penalize Power, and a drive-thru penalty was indeed issued.
”I had Briscoe on the outside and Tony took me by surprise,” Power said. ”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.”
That sequence took Power and Kanaan out of contention: Power went from first to eighth on the penalty and finished eighth, Kanaan wound up 11th.
Kanaan thought Power’s block was dangerous, particularly at a track where nerves were already frayed.
”Will just put the biggest block ever on the oval, and when we talk about safety, man,” Kanaan said. ”That move right there to me is unacceptable. I talked to him, I said `Man, we talk about safety. I could have put you in the wall and hurt yourself.’ ”
The race was the first on a high-banked oval for IndyCar since Dan Wheldon’s death in a 15-car accident at Las Vegas in October. Drivers were skittish about racing at Texas, and IndyCar worked hard on a formula to break up the pack racing that was cited as a contributing factor in Wheldon’s death.
It worked, there was no pack racing, and despite the car being difficult to handle, the race featured passing and an exciting finish. Drivers had been split after qualifying about the downforce level set by IndyCar, with half the field embracing it because it made the cars so difficult to drive and half the drivers opposed while warning it could potentially make Saturday night a boring race.
There seemed to be only praise, though, after the race.
”I have to say, that’s the best racing I’ve ever had on an oval,” said Power, who broke his back in the Las Vegas accident. ”The car was moving around, and that’s the sort of racing we need at places like this.”