Three races, three very different outcomes, and a quite a jumble of feelings. At the end of the Indy 500, I was happy for the team that it got a 1-2, happy for Dario and pissed for myself, if I'm totally honest. In Detroit, things couldn't have been better; we got the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car into Victory Lane after leading from start to finish; in Texas, I crashed after leading the most laps but I had huge fun driving the best formula for oval cars that IndyCar has had in over a decade.
The feeling after Indy is easily explained: if you drive for a team like Ganassi and go in expecting to win, it's pretty much a downer if you finish anywhere except Victory Lane. Sometimes it's easier to have just a really bad day because then your expectations aren't shattered at the end. In my opinion, we did everything right that day – a fast car, great pit stops, great strategy and when we were leading we slowed the field down to make sure we covered our backsides from the fuel mileage point of view. As a team, we had meetings about the fact that this car punches such a huge hole in the air, there was no point in leading at the start of the last lap because you'd be a sitting duck for getting passed before the checkers. Dario and I did the back-and-forth exchanges for a while in the closing stages and the only thing that messed it up was Takuma Sato joining the battle! But fair enough: he was just racing hard, and trying to win the biggest race in the world.
I still think I could have got both of them on the last lap had it not gone yellow. Both Target cars were extremely good through Turns 2 and 4. Earlier in the race, getting a run on someone out of Turn 4, you wouldn't have got the pass done until after the start/finish line, but once the track gripped up toward the end of the race that had changed. I was making passes out of Turn 4 so quick that I was almost clear of the guy I was overtaking before the start/finish line. So that's why I'm certain that whoever was ahead exiting Turn 4 on the last lap was going to lose the race, so we could have won if lap 200 hadn't been under caution.
Why were the Ganassi cars only mid-grid in qualifying and then so fast on Carb Day and race day? Well, 1) Our engines were nearing the end of their maximum mileage in qualifying. 2) Honda had concentrated on getting race pace and fuel economy right, so although Chevrolet looked strong when the boost levels went up for Fast Friday and Pole Day, Honda had the edge as soon as we returned to regular boost. 3) Although the Andretti Autosport cars looked really fast on the cool parts of the days leading up to qualifying and in qualifying itself, from the Sunday after Pole Day, they looked nothing special. 4) We had focused our running – solo and in a pack – for whenever each day was at its hottest, so when the temperatures really went up from Carb Day onward, we had a stronger setup than anyone else. So we had the best setup, the best engine (thank you, Honda!) and also fresh engines. If we stayed out of trouble, on race day, I had no doubts we were going to be able to move forward, car by car.
And that's basically what we did. Seriously, I think we had everything right, and I don't think we can look back and say this or that is the reason we missed out. It was just the circumstances. But there's no doubt that immediately afterward, I was frustrated. To have the Target No. 9 crew give me a car that was so fast and also strong in lots of different conditions and situations and then come up short was one of those things that bugs you until next year when you get the chance to go for it again.
Detroit helped though: our first win of the year. And although we went on to lead every lap from pole position – the first time I've done that since Richmond in 2003, by the way – I wouldn't have predicted that dominance after the first dry practice session on Friday, when we were only sixth or seventh fastest. Saturday morning wasn't a lot better. But then we made a big leap forward with mechanical grip in time for qualifying, and although we had overboost penalties in the first two rounds of the session, once we were into the Firestone Fast Six, we went back to an engine map that gave us less boost and that was what we needed and we put a really strong lap together.
Detroit's probably the toughest street course we go to, because it's so bumpy and mentally it's quite draining because there's no real place to relax and not much run-off. I do wish it had gone full distance after the stoppage, but in hindsight I think Bud Denker and everyone else who helped put on the event did a great job to get the circuit back to a race-worthy condition for us to have a 15-lap shootout.
I wasn't happy that the distance left to run was decided according to how much fuel people had in their tanks before they'd have to stop again, and that we were then allowed new tires but they had to be the same compound we were on when the race stopped. I mean, the difference between brand-new reds and brand-new blacks was huge, so I knew Dario on reds was going to carve through. Everyone else was on the defensive, whereas he was a man on a mission; credit to him for coming up to second place from mid-grid.