Three years is a long time in racing, especially when you're as hungry for success as Dale Coyne, his loyal team, our engineer Bill Pappas and myself (right to left, RIGHT). Back in 2009, we were the first team to break the Penske/Ganassi stranglehold on the IZOD IndyCar Series that season, and three years later, after all getting back together, we've gone and done the same thing again. We scored Dale Coyne Racing's first victory on the Watkins Glen road course. Now we've scored its second win, and this one was on an oval.
But Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday saw us produce a different kind of oval racing from what we'd been used to on 1.5-mile tracks in recent years. This time the driver and engineering input had a much bigger role to play. It was about mechanical grip and balance and using the throttle to help turn the car. This time we were constantly making little adjustments to tune the car, and we had a great time out there. And although I haven't had a chance to watch the race on TV, I think the people watching us loved what they were seeing, too.
It was a real challenge, where you had to concentrate on the car up ahead as you gained on it, and figure out how to pass him, because people were taking lots of different lines. If someone wasn't going all the way down to the white line, then you could dive into the space, not necessarily to pass but to then get a strong run on him down the next straight. We were having to plan in advance and work on each rival, one- or sometimes two-at-a-time. We weren't just running in a giant pack for lap after lap, waiting for someone to screw up and take four of us into the wall. It's such a relief to see that, as a sport, we have moved on from that kind of insanity that contributed to some terrible accidents in the past, including the one that took our friend and highly respected rival Dan Wheldon from us last October.
As a result of this return to real oval competition, although we'd only qualified 19th, I was confident we'd have a strong race, with a decent top-five finish and maybe better. If we played it smart, didn't stress the tires too much early on in a stint, and so we kept the car under us when others were fading at the end of a stint, we might even see a top three. Those were my thoughts at the start of the race. So in the first stint we made some progress, passed a few cars, gained on others, and we felt we were matching the guys at the front. Then I came into the pits and discovered that Simon Pagenaud in the adjacent pit had had a major moment, sliding through his box and kind of acting like a pool cue on the laid out sets of new tires. There seemed to be tires everywhere, and his outside front tire changer leapt backward to avoid being hit, but had stopped right in front of me! So I just had to come to a halt before I'd even reached my box while this strange mess got sorted out.