The beat goes on for the IZOD IndyCar Series, which had by all accounts, a needed rebound race in Texas after a widely panned and challenging event in Detroit a week earlier. The question now is whether IndyCar and Texas Motor Speedway will stick it out together for 2013 and beyond. Some thoughts on the 2012 edition:
A STELLAR SHOW – Before breaking down some of the other elements of the Texas IndyCar race, I have to say this was one of the best pure open-wheel races on a 1.5-mile oval that I've seen. My slight personal apprehension, after Las Vegas and some of the other 1.5-milers that were conducive to pack racing, went away after about the first green flag run of 30 laps. The downforce changes and the ability for the drivers to have to handle and manage the cars themselves was just great to see.
Too often as an observer, we've been lulled into a sense of needing a great finish rather than a great race. The side-by-side battles that have seen upward of five or six rows deep of cars two or three-wide, while exciting for maybe a couple laps, has always seemed a disaster waiting to happen. Here, where cars became separated and there was still a great finish even though it was not a close finish, made for a fascinating race throughout where at no point were there nerves about the situation.
I'm sure I'd speak for many in saying the race was a needed tonic after Detroit, and I'm genuinely hoping IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage can get in a room, hammer out the details, and ensure TMS remains a part of the IndyCar calendar. We already have a street race in Houston coming in 2013, and losing an oval that produced as quality a race as that really doesn't deserve to get the axe, after Saturday. Before this race, I wasn't sure I'd be thinking or writing that.
DEFINITION OF BADASSERY – Justin Wilson has earned the nickname “Badass” throughout his career, and his drive Saturday night fit the description.
Wilson had already climbed five spots from his 17th starting position to 12th by the first caution at lap 31. However, the progress was stunted when he was blocked entering his pit when Simon Pagenaud overshot his and hit two tires. That dropped him back to 17th again, but he'd gained more spots in the next green run. Speedy work from his Dale Coyne Racing pit crew promoted him into the top 10 for the first time on lap 68.
The adjustments made then helped propel Wilson forward and from there, the Englishman was seemingly shot out of a cannon. He moved up to sixth on lap 76, and third by lap 103.
The final restart on lap 184 saw Wilson and Graham Rahal restart fifth and sixth, but they quickly moved forward. Wilson's car was particularly good on long runs, which paid dividends toward the finish.
For Wilson, the win not only represented his first oval victory, but first for team boss Coyne in his career dating to 1984 as a driver, then owner. It ends the streak of Penske/Ganassi wins both in 2012 (six-for-six) and at Texas (the last seven races, with six different drivers in the last six).
And the first non-Penske/Ganassi win of 2012 equals the mark set by the same pairing in 2009, when Wilson won at Watkins Glen. As that was the only non-Penske/Ganassi win that year, it's a hope that historical stat doesn't repeat itself this year.
I'd be remiss, also, to give a shoutout to Alex Tagliani and the Bryan Herta Autosport crew, who were the first polesitters this year outside the Penske/Ganassi stables. Despite missing Brazil, Tagliani has now finished 12th, 10th and ninth in three races and jumped from 26th to 22nd in the points. Watch this space for more improvement to come.
RAHAL'S NEAR MISS – If he didn't showcase his abilities last week in Detroit – an oversight this author failed to point out – Graham Rahal more than proved his worth Saturday night in Texas. As thrilling as it was to see Wilson's win, Rahal's hitting the wall with two laps to go was almost as equally gut wrenching.
A week ago, Rahal passed eight cars on track in Detroit after recovering from a 10-spot grid penalty to get into the top-10. A late-race electrical issue demoted him down the order after what had been a promising run.
Come Saturday, Rahal seemed primed to end his own four-plus year winless drought, and like others who have been frustrated despite achieving their best results of the year, he had every right to feel mad at himself for the mistake. He owned it, though. It appeared throughout the last stint that Rahal used more of his tires in going to the front early in the stint, while Wilson's ability to save the tires for later helped aid his last charge after Rahal bounced off the wall.
Rahal's comments both after qualifying and after the race though, did a great job emphasizing the changes the drivers were facing in running with reduced downforce, and how much the drivers had to work to hang onto the cars. Add him to the list of 2012 moral victors along with the driver at his father's Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing squad – Takuma Sato – who, if karma comes their way, would be due actual victories later this year.