Ryan Briscoe got his hitherto messy IndyCar season on track by beating the impressive Danica Patrick to victory at Texas Motor Speedway.
In one of the most competitive performances of her career so far, Andretti Autosport driver Patrick emerged as polesitter Briscoe's main rival in the second half of the race, but the Penske driver was able to fend her off and clinch his first win of 2010.
"It was pretty crazy out there," related Briscoe. "There was also a lot of tire management too. I really had to work with the tools in the car to keep a good balance throughout the stint. That really made the race fun."
Briscoe said his duel with Patrick for the win at the beginning of the final stint was a key part of that fun: "Danica got by us and I didn't want to make any aggressive moves and block. I gained some momentum on the next lap, used the push-to-pass and was able to pass her out of Turn 4 and into Turn 1. She gave us a real run for our money tonight. It was fun racing side-by-side with her."
Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti led much of the race before fading to fifth, while damage from debris and a failed fuel gamble left Will Power (Penske) back in 14th – which allowed Franchitti to take over the championship lead. To add to a strong day for Andretti Autosport, Marco Andretti won a big battle with Scott Dixon (Ganassi) to claim third.
Briscoe held the lead throughout the opening stint, despite some concerted pressure from Franchitti, and eventually started pulling away as Power took second from the Indy 500 winner. But Franchitti hit the front during the first pit stops – which took place under a debris caution – as Briscoe lost time and fell to fifth.
That made Power Franchitti's main challenger for a while, until a lap 97 yellow caused by a scary fiery crash for HVM's Simona de Silvestro, who escaped with minor burns to her hand after the rescue team had difficulty extricating her from her burning car. Power collected debris under his car during the caution and had to make an additional stop for repairs.
By then Briscoe was back up to second, chasing Franchitti. Their battle was interrupted on lap 129 when Mario Moraes (KV) pinched a furious Helio Castroneves (Penske) into the wall, and Conquest driver Bertrand Baguette's race also ended, as he threaded the needle between the two crashing cars but clipped one and wrecked his front suspension. It had already been a difficult night for Castroneves, who was struggling with communication and handling problems and had dropped to the upper midfield.
FAZZT's Alex Tagliani and Power chose not to stop under the consequent yellow, so had brief turns in the lead. Franchitti and Dixon took the restart right behind them, but both faded during the next stint – dramatically in Franchitti's case, as he tumbled right back to 13th while Briscoe and Patrick started to squabble over the lead, the latter having been among the frontrunners from the outset.
Patrick made her final stop a lap earlier than Briscoe and momentarily swept into the lead as her rival got back up to speed, but she could not hang on for long before Briscoe inched past to reclaim first place. As they hit traffic, Briscoe started to build an advantage again, eventually winning by 1.4 seconds.
"It was a good weekend last weekend in Indy and it was a good weekend here in Texas," mused Patrick. "Sometimes the little victories that I have throughout the season are not necessarily obvious on the track. Maybe they're in other aspects of what I'm doing –winning little victories here and there to get everything in line to perform from top to bottom on race day. I've been working hard all season. It's just really nice to have a result to show how hard I've been working and how hard the team has been working as well."
Power got back up to third when the others made their last stops, but never got the yellow he needed to stretch his fuel load to the finish, so had to make a late splash-and-go stop.
That left Andretti and Dixon to race for third until the end, while Franchitti regained some speed late on and took fifth ahead of Tony Kanaan (Andretti).
Both Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) and Alex Lloyd (Dale Coyne) dropped from the top 10 to the back due to missing their marks at pit stops, before surging back to finish seventh and eighth, followed by Panther's Dan Wheldon and Foyt's Vitor Meira.
EJ Viso was a top five factor for a while before slipping back to 11th. He was the only KV driver running at the flag – Takuma Sato having crashed early on, suspecting a suspension failure.
Pos Driver Team Gap
1. Ryan Briscoe Penske 228 laps
2. Danica Patrick Andretti + 1.4629s
3. Marco Andretti Andretti + 2.3162s
4. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 3.0770s
5. Dario Franchitti Ganassi + 7.5882s
6. Tony Kanaan Andretti + 8.0664s
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti + 13.9390s
8. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne + 14.3084s
9. Dan Wheldon Panther + 15.0859s
10. Vitor Meira Foyt + 15.8250s
11. EJ Viso KV + 18.8687s
12. Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas + 23.0449s
13. Tomas Scheckter Dreyer & Reinbold + 1 lap
14. Will Power Penske + 1 lap
15. Sarah Fisher Sarah Fisher + 1 lap
16. Raphael Matos De Ferran Dragon + 2 laps
17. Mario Romancini Conquest + 2 laps
18. Alex Tagliani FAZZT + 3 laps
19. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold + 3 laps
Helio Castroneves Penske 129 laps
Mario Moraes KV 129 laps
Bertrand Baguette Conquest 129 laps
Milka Duno Dale Coyne 116 laps
Simona de Silvestro HVM 97 laps
Takuma Sato KV 56 laps
Jay Howard Sarah Fisher 37 laps