Marco Andretti finally claimed his second IndyCar Series win under the lights at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night, almost five years after his first triumph.
The Andretti Autosport won a superb late battle with his former teammate Tony Kanaan, now at KV Racing Technology, with Scott Dixon coming through from 23rd on the grid to third for Ganassi.
Ironically, the win came just hours after Marco had written on his RACER.com blog about the Andretti Autosport team's struggles on oval tracks this season, but he said in victory lane that he'd known Iowa might be different.
"We were down a little bit on the bigger ovals but we know when it comes down to handling we'd be OK," said Andretti, who started 17th in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy car. "These guys did a great job with pits. They got me the lead back. We had some good racing with T.K. It was good fun."
"Knowing TK, I knew he would do exactly what I did to him," Andretti added. "He'd make his car very wide. I didn't want to wait until two to go because he was just going to chop me and I would have been done. I knew I had to get it done earlier and actually make my car wide.
"This win feels every bit as good as my first one five years ago and hopefully we can start making this a habit."
Kanaan indicated there were no hard feelings toward his ex-teammate, since the pass had been for the lead: "I told him if it hadn't been for the win, we'd have have had words about it," said the Brazilian. "Congratulations to him. He did a great job. It was a great battle, a great race.
"The lower line was quicker, and I set him up," Kanaan added. "He came out of 4 a little high, and I came to the bottom. And what happens is you can't say it's a block because he gave me space for a car, but coming into Turn 1 that tight all the way on the white line, there was no way I was going to turn. I was going to actually start to wash up a little bit. And what he did, he just stayed there; he didn't give me any space, so I had to lift.
"You know, like I said, it's not a block. He did exactly what he needed to do to win the race. It was just –I needed it to be at least one wheel ahead of him to be able to pull that off, and when I made the move, I didn't go further enough, and then I had to lift, and after that I knew the race was over. I was pretty happy with second place then."
Polesitter Takuma Sato crashed out late in the race, while longtime leader Dario Franchitti faded to fifth behind JR Hildebrand, but still moved into a clear points lead as title rival Will Power had a pit incident with Charlie Kimball and later spun into the wall.
Ganassi driver Franchitti seemed to have the race under control for most of the evening. He moved up from sixth on the grid to first within just seven laps, ending an early KV one-two formation that had seen polesitter Sato holding teammate Kanaan at bay.
The champion and the KV duo were joined in a lead pack by Andretti and Penske's Helio Castroneves, until the latter found himself having to pit under green with a deflating tire while challenging for the lead – just as he had at Milwaukee only six days earlier. Andretti finally got through to the lead for the first time on lap 158, though only for three laps before Franchitti was back in front. But at the final pit stops the Andretti crew managed to turn their driver around faster, with Andretti sweeping past Franchitti in the pit exit.
Those stops happened just as Sato brought out the last yellow by spinning into the Turn 2 wall and at the subsequent restart, Kanaan pushed Franchitti down to third and set off after Andretti in what became a private lead battle. They would swap first place no fewer than five times in the closing stint before Andretti finally made a small but crucial break, going on to take his first victory since the Infineon Raceway triumph of his rookie season in 2006.
Dixon steadily crept forward from his lowly grid spot and was soon in the top 10. He then pounced on teammate Franchitti when the Scot lost momentum trying to pass Kanaan, taking third. Panther's Hildebrand edged Franchitti back to fifth soon afterward, in a very strong run for the American rookie.
Penske had to settle for sixth and seventh with Ryan Briscoe and the delayed Castroneves. Their teammate Power sustained early damage when he collided with Kimball in the pitlane, and later crashed heavily in an incident that Power, who sustained a slight concussion, reckoned was caused by damage from the pit clash.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) was eighth ahead of Newman/Haas' James Hinchcliffe, whose teammate Oriol Servia was a top five contender until a disastrous final pit stop dropped him to 14th.
Front row starter Danica Patrick (Andretti) could not match her qualifying speed in the race and ultimately finished 10th.
The race saw a string of heavy accidents at the bumpy Turn 2. In addition to Power and Sato's evenings ending at that spot, James Jakes, Sebastian Saavedra and Ana Beatriz all lost control at the same turn, with the latter collecting Mike Conway in her crash.
Results - 250 laps:
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Marco Andretti Andretti
2. Tony Kanaan KV + 0.7932s
3. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 1.1067s
4. JR Hildebrand Panther + 1.4856s
5. Dario Franchitti Ganassi + 1.8926s
6. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 2.3628s
7. Helio Castroneves Penske + 2.6732s
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti + 4.1625s
9. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas + 5.6272s
10. Danica Patrick Andretti + 6.0327s
11. Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher + 7.6745s
12. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold + 14.1527s
13. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne + 16.8865s
14. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas + 1 lap
15. Graham Rahal Ganassi + 1 lap
16. Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt + 1 lap
EJ Viso KV 239 laps
Vitor Meira Foyt 227 laps
Takuma Sato KV 182 laps
Sebastian Saavedra Conquest 114 laps
Will Power Penske 89 laps
Charlie Kimball Ganassi 62 laps
Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold 44 laps
Mike Conway Andretti 44 laps
James Jakes Dale Coyne 22 laps