Ryan Briscoe ended his victory drought and reclaimed the championship lead by denying Ed Carpenter a first IndyCar Series win in a spectacular Kentucky race. Vision Racing driver Carpenter came within 0.0162 seconds of beating Briscoe (Penske) to the win, as the American produced by far the best performance of his IndyCar career to charge through the field and challenge the might of the Penske and Ganassi teams for victory.
Tony Kanaan took third for Andretti Green, with polesitter and pre-race points leader Scott Dixon fading to seventh by the flag.
The event was comfortably the most exciting oval race of the season so far, as the Indy Racing League's rule tweaks to improve the spectacle proved very successful at the first attempt.
The first half of the race was dominated by Dixon and Briscoe, with the Australian stalking the New Zealander until lap 49, when Briscoe took advantage of Robert Doornbos' lapped Newman/Haas/Lanigan car to sneak ahead.
Dixon then reclaimed the lead in the pitstops that followed moments later, but once again Briscoe came on much more strongly near of a stint and mounted a huge challenge to the points leader as the second stops neared. Although Briscoe repeatedly inched ahead of Dixon on the outside line as they raced side by side through traffic, he could not complete the move on the track and had to wait until the next stops to get in front.
Shortly afterwards the first yellow of the night -- caused by Justin Wilson's smoky car -- turned the race around, as all bar Will Power chose to pit.
Power had made it up from 20th to ninth in the first half of the race but appeared unlikely to progress further before the strategic gamble, which placed him in the lead ahead of his Penske teammates Briscoe and Helio Castroneves -- who jumped Dixon in the pits -- at the restart.
But it was Carpenter who was on the move when racing resumed. He had rapidly charged from 14th to fourth in the first part of the race, and at the restart he pounced on Dixon and Castroneves in quick succession, then benefited when Briscoe slithered high at Turn 4 and tumbled down the order.
That allowed Carpenter to chase down Power for the lead and begin a long running side by side dice that persisted until Power made his final stop on lap 156. Carpenter then found himself in the race lead, but with both Penske drivers, Dixon and Kanaan piling the pressure on as they diced a few yards behind the Vision car.
The American proved unflappable, though, shrugging off his challengers and holding the lead through the final stops, which saw Kanaan emerge in second ahead of Dixon and the recovering Briscoe. Kanaan repeatedly attacked Carpenter for the lead going into the final 15 laps, but was then distracted by the arrival of Briscoe on his tail.
Although Kanaan tried his utmost to resist Briscoe, the Penske driver eventually got ahead and then pulled up to Carpenter, who hogged the inside line as Briscoe tried again and again to drive around his outside as they raced wheel to wheel throughout the last 10 laps.It looked like Carpenter had done enough to clinch his first career IndyCar win, but as they charged out of Turn 4 for the final time, Briscoe inched ahead just far enough to take his first victory since St. Petersburg and deny Carpenter and Vision a shock success. His second win of the year put the Australian into the championship lead by eight points.
Kanaan claimed third after Castroneves slid wide in the closing stages, while a late charge from Graham Rahal took the Newman/Haas/Lanigan driver through to fifth. Dario Franchitti quickly fell back from his front row starting position before recovering to sixth, ahead of his Ganassi teammate Dixon, who dropped out of the lead group after the last stops.
AGR duo Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti took eighth and 10th, sandwiching Power, whose alternate strategy did not pay off.
In a fairly trouble-free race, there was great frustration for KV Racing's Mario Moraes, who had matched Carpenter's early charge through the field by rapidly progressing from 16th to fifth, only to have his night ruined by a pitlane tangle with Mike Conway (Dreyer & Reinbold) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Foyt).RESULTS:
Pos Driver Team Gap
1. Ryan Briscoe Penske
2. Ed Carpenter Vision + 0.0162s
3. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green + 0.1614s
4. Helio Castroneves Penske + 0.2728s
5. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 0.6346s
6. Dario Franchitti Ganassi + 1.7670s
7. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 3.2512s
8. Danica Patrick Andretti Green + 4.7231s
9. Will Power Penske + 6.1424s
10. Marco Andretti Andretti Green + 6.9963s
11. Dan Wheldon Panther + 12.7597s
12. Sarah Fisher Sarah Fisher + 15.9732s
13. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green + 27.9705s
14. Ryan Hunter-Reay Foyt + 3 laps
15. EJ Viso HVM + 3 laps
16. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon + 4 laps
17. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold + 8 laps
18. Mario Moraes KV + 12 laps
19. Robert Doornbos Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 15 laps
20. Milka Duno Dreyer & Reinbold + 35 laps
Justin Wilson Coyne 120 laps
Tomas Scheckter Dreyer & Reinbold 59 laps
Jaques Lazier 3G 43 laps