TEXAS JUSTICE – It's rare all parties in a confrontation initially agree on a controversial move. Yet that was the situation when on the final restart, Will Power made a reactionary move to Tony Kanaan's charge – even as Power was trying to pass teammate Ryan Briscoe – and was called in for a drive-through penalty for blocking by IndyCar president of competition Beaux Barfield (Kanaan led Power on track earlier in the race, LEFT).
Drivers have been allowed more flexibility in being able to defend their positions this year, and as was stated by all members of the NBC Sports Network broadcast team in the moment – Jon Beekhuis in particular – had Power swung low out of Turn 2 to begin with, there would not have been a penalty called. It was only when Power moved low as Kanaan came to attack him – with slight contact that damaged Kanaan's second front wing of the race – that it was an obvious block.
The thing about it was, Barfield was unafraid to make the call to penalize the race leader as the situation warranted it, Kanaan said the move shouldn't have happened especially given the drivers' safety concerns, and Power apologized for the move right after the race.
HILDEBRAND'S RECOVERY – I tweeted after his qualifying run went horribly awry on Friday with two laps only in the 202mph range, “Who shot JR's speed?” in a reference to the episode of Dallas. The show was before my time but the question remained after Panther Racing's JR Hildebrand had a mysterious issue in qualifying – in Texas – at a track where Panther has always ran rather well.
Luckily, the adjustments made to the car in race trim alleviated the stresses and issues that plagued his two-lap qualifying run. Hildebrand was a man on a charge from his eventual 23rd starting position – two cars didn't start – up to 12th by lap 40, fourth by lap 68 after pit stops, and largely in the top-10 the remainder of the race before ending up a solid fifth. The day was made especially impressive because Hildebrand twice fell a lap down, and was able to recover in both instances.
“The last few stints the car was super loose, but we were able to keep the speed up enough that we didn't lose a lot of time or positions,” he said. “And when the car was good we could hammer on it and catch up. We would have liked the car to be a little bit better at the end of those runs, but shoot man, we're happy to take a finish like this tonight.”
CHEVY'S TECHNICAL WOES – The first four races when it seemed Chevrolet could do no wrong now seem an eternity ago. Mechanical issues took four big bullets – KV's Rubens Barrichello and E.J. Viso, Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay and Panther/DRR's Oriol Servia – out of the race. None of the issues were engine-related, but Hunter-Reay and Servia both mentioned an injector problem where their cars lost power and parked. Barrichello didn't even start.
Additionally, with three straight Honda wins, Honda has now closed what was a 12-point gap in the Manufacturer's Championship down to just three; Chevrolet leads Honda 54-51 through seven races. A fourth straight Honda victory next weekend in Milwaukee would equal Chevrolet atop those standings.
OTHER TEXAS TIDBITS – Despite his penalty, Power's eighth place ensured he finished ahead of both Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti – who had awful endings to their races – for only the third oval race since the start of the 2010 season (2010 Iowa, 2011 Texas 2). While eighth was surely not the result he was looking for, the fact it was a beneficial points day after Franchitti's handling woes and Dixon's crash despite leading 133 laps, serves Power very well from a championship standpoint.
Wilson, Rahal, Briscoe, polesitter Alex Tagliani, James Jakes and Katherine Legge all recorded their best finishes of the 2012 season in Texas. Jakes' 10th marked his first top-10 in his career, and the first time both Dale Coyne cars have recorded a top-10 finish in the same race since Watkins Glen 2008, when Bruno Junqueira and Mario Moraes finished sixth and seventh.
Despite fighting ill-handling racecars, Josef Newgarden and Legge did well to finish their first Texas starts in 13th and 15th, respectively. Meanwhile, Simon Pagenaud made a strong comeback to come home sixth despite earning a penalty for his pit incident and hitting his own tires. Pagenaud has nearly 100 points in hand on his fellow two season-long Rookie of the Year competitors.
The fourth race in as many weekends sees IndyCar now heading back to the Midwest with the Milwaukee IndyFest at The Milwaukee Mile this Saturday.