by John Sturbin for TMS
FORT WORTH, Texas (June 10, 2017) – Pack racing returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, where Will Power survived a massive battle of attrition to win the Rainguard Water Sealers 600.
Power, of Team Penske, won under caution following the night’s ninth yellow flag on Lap 244 of the scheduled 248 for a four-car wreck initiated by reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato in Turn 1. That crash eliminated Sato, of Andretti Autosport; Scott Dixon and Max Chilton of Chip Ganassi Racing and Conor Daly of A.J. Foyt Racing.
“Oh my God, what a race,” Power said over his radio after taking the checkered flag for his second win at TMS and 31st of his career. Power led a race-high 180 laps to move from eighth to third on the track’s all-time laps-led table with 432. The native of Australia only trails Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. in that category.
“It was very intense,” Power said. “I’m so stoked to win in my second home. I don’t care about the rest. My wife (Liz) is from Texas and you don’t understand how good that feels.”
The race was the first for the series on TMS’ repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval. In addition to the fresh pavement that included pit road, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was reduced from 24 to 20 degrees and the bottom widened from 60 to 80 feet. Turns 3 and 4 remain banked at 24 degrees. Firestone Racing addressed the changes with a revised compound that met with mixed reaction post-race.
“There was zero degradation with the tires,” Power said. “No matter what lap you were on, it was like you were on new tires. Made for very tight, close racing. I told the series (INDYCAR officials) that this will be an absolute pack race. Didn’t say it would be good or bad. Anyone who didn’t (realize that)…yeah. It was so obvious that once the rubber goes down there’s a lot of grip and (traction) gets better and better. It was so obvious to me…I can’t see how you can’t see that.”
Power returned Chevrolet to Victory Lane on an oval after Sato gave Honda a prestigious win in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
Asked if he enjoyed his latest experience with pack racing, Power said, “I like tire degradation, so at least you can work on the car. It’s fun to do that in the first half of the stint, 10 laps. When we did it every week people got good at it. But when you do it once, it gets pretty intense. I don’t know what to say, I won the race. Easiest day of your life is when you’re leading a pack race. You take the shortest line around, you hug the white line. It’s how it was when I first showed up in 2008.”
Beginning on Lap 237, Power and Dixon raced side-by-side and swapped the point six times -Dixon led Laps 237, 239, and 242; Power retaliated to lead Laps 238, 241 and 243.
Series veteran Tony Kanaan, of Chip Ganassi Racing, finished second followed by reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske, defending Rainguard Water Sealers 600 champion Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Gabby Chaves of Harding Racing, Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport and Daly. Only the top six cars completed the 248-lap distance, with Daly one lap down.
“What did you guys think (about the race)?” Pagenaud asked the assembled media during his post-race presser. “The last crash…I didn’t see. I saw a hole and went for a hole on the right and that was it. Sato was all over the place and was going to crash someone. I don’t like to bash on people but I’m glad it wasn’t me. It was cooking and it was a shame. He started chopping things around and I realized it was too late. I should have been leading but it was too late at that point.”
The frantic pace produced 23 lead changes among seven drivers mixed in with nine cautions for 66 laps and 11 penalties. Power’s winning average speed was 140.491 mph. Power also recorded the fastest lead lap in 23.7282-seconds/218.474 mph.
A massive, nine-car crash heading into Turn 3 prompted a red flag stoppage on Lap 154. The cleanup took 30 minutes, 42 seconds.
The incident was triggered by contact principally involving James Hinchcliffe, who was sandwiched between Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Mikhail Aleshin on the outside and Kanaan on the bottom. Hinchcliffe’s car darted right and up the 24-degree banking, collecting the cars of Ed Carpenter Racing teammates Carpenter and JR Hildebrand, Dale Coyne Racing’s Tristan Vautier and Ed Jones, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, Dixon and Carlos Muñoz of A.J. Foyt Racing.
Hinchcliffe placed the blame squarely on Kanaan moments after team-owner Chip Ganassi defended his driver and questioned Hinchcliffe’s in-race judgment.
“Tony drove me straight into Mikhail,” Hinchcliffe retorted. “Tony’s one of the best in this type of racing and normally a guy I trust my life with. Today he wasn’t driving respectfully and took out half the field. It’s unfortunate it’s become a pack race. There’s so much grip on the track we went back to that type of racing. Everybody was flat-out…that’s old school racing. That’s exciting to watch.”
Kanaan took responsibility for the crash. “I guess I don’t have many friends out there,” Kanaan said. “It was pack racing…tough night, very intense from first lap to last lap. I’m glad it’s over. I’m going to apologize to Hinch, if he’ll see me. It was definitely an honest mistake. I had to pay for that in the pits, the longest 20-seconds (penalty) in my life.”
The “Big One” trimmed the 22-car field to 11 with 94 laps remaining. Before the race went green, INDYCAR announced a competition caution – a mandatory pit stop for four tires – after 30 green flag laps.
Earlier, oval-track specialist Carpenter brought out the third caution when his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka Chevrolet spun near the exit of pit lane on a restart on Lap 102. Carpenter did a 360 on the track’s apron…eliciting comparisons to Danny Sullivan’s “Spin and Win” en route to victory in the 1985 Indianapolis 500. Carpenter pitted for four new tires and restarted 17th on Lap 107.
Helio Castroneves’ bid for a fifth win at TMS ended on Lap 91, when his No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet darted from the racing line into the outside Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. Flying sparks as the left side of the car ground the pavement indicated either a parts breakage or flat left rear tire. The car came to rest along the inside wall further down the backstretch.
Castroneves remained in the cockpit for several minutes before being removed with the help of the Holmatro Safety Team. The popular Brazilian walked to the ambulance without help.
Power led the charge into the pits, trailed by teammate Pagenaud. That pair retained the lead on pit-out, followed by Kanaan and Dixon and Aleshin. During the sequence, INDYCAR officials announced they were reviewing an incident between Dixon and the No. 19 Dale Coyne Honda of rookie Ed Jones. However, no action was taken.
The night’s first yellow waved on Lap 38, when Alexander Rossi wound up in the Turn 3 wall after being squeezed by Kanaan and Dixon. Rossi’s No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda spun and hit the wall with the driver’s side.
“Scott made it three-wide and there’s two lanes here, not three,” said Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion. “It was unnecessary and unfortunate.”
Vautier, subbing for the recuperating Sebastien Bourdais, led the field into the pits, followed by Josef Newgarden of Team Penske and Power. Exiting the pits, Hinchcliffe lost rear end traction in his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Honda and collected Castroneves as he drove down the inside lane. Castroneves then hit the No. 26 of Sato.
Sato’s crew was forced to change the front nose of his car, putting him a lap down. Castroneves was able to return to the track ahead of the Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car but later complained of a tire vibration. The incident was reviewed by INDYCAR officials, who assessed Hinchcliffe a drive-thru penalty for avoidable pit lane contact.
That wasn’t the only infraction, as Newgarden and Hildebrand were flagged for speeding penalties along pit road.
During the same sequence, pole-sitter Charlie Kimball’s No. 83 Tresiba Honda developed an engine oil leak, ending his race after 41 laps. Rossi officially finished 22nd; Kimball went from P1 to 21st.