A late mistake by Graham Rahal helped Justin Wilson to take his first oval win in a dramatic Firestone 550 IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night.
Wilson had been closing in on Rahal over the final laps when the Ganassi driver clipped the wall two laps before the end, allowing Wilson to slip underneath him and take the victory, which was also his Dale Coyne Racing team's first ever oval triumph and only its second win in the series.
"It's just fantastic," said Wilson. "I just can't believe we managed to pull this off. The car was fantastic. And on the long runs, it just got better and better. I saw people sliding around and knew I just had to hit my marks."
Rahal was able to hang on for second, but took little consolation from the result.
"I just made a mistake," he said. "The car was pushing through the center of Turns 3 and 4 pretty well the last stint, and it would kind of grip up for me late in the corner.
"I stayed with it, because they told me Justin was coming. So I was trying to pick up the pace a little bit, and it just never gripped up and I didn't give myself enough of a margin for error. I own up to it, and we'll come back and we'll win one here, and I certainly feel like it should have been today."
Penske's Ryan Briscoe took third, reporting afterward that he did not have enough grip to keep pushing in the latter stages of the race.
"The guys put me in position to win tonight," he said. "I had the lead, I just didn't have the car to bring it home and stay in front. It's disappointing, but I had a huge moment out there at one point tonight and I'll take third."
Aero tweaks introduced by the series to break up the pack racing that has long been a hallmark of the 1.5-mile ovals delivered a race where the drivers were visibly struggling to hold on to their cars, resulting in constant position changes through the field.
Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon was in control during the early phases and appeared to have sufficient pace throughout each stint to hold his advantage to the end. But the New Zealander made a rare error when he lost the rear and spun into the Turn 4 wall at on lap 173. Teammate and series champion Dario Franchitti also had a difficult race, finishing three laps down after making an unscheduled pit stop halfway through the first stint.
Other standout incidents from an evening filled with incidents included a drive-through penalty for Will Power (Penske), who was judged to have unfairly blocked KV Racing's Tony Kanaan just after a late restart. Power had earlier worked his way back into contention after dropping to the back of the field when he made an extra pit stop early on, but eventually had to settle for finishing a lap down in eighth.
Kanaan also had a busy evening, finishing the race with one of teammate Rubens Barrichello's nosecones fitted to his car after needing two front wing changes. The latter was the result of contact while dueling with Power, while the earlier damage was caused by the manual jack in the pits following an airjack failure.
Mechanical problems and accidents combined to produce to the race's high attrition rate, with Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato hitting the wall early on, while Simona de Silvestro and Barrichello were both non-starters after developing problems on the dummy grid.
Results - 228 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Justin Wilson Coyne DW12-Honda 1h59m02.0131s
2. Graham Rahal Ganassi DW12-Honda + 3.9202s
3. Ryan Briscoe Penske DW12-Chevy + 5.8619s
4. James Hinchcliffe Andretti DW12-Chevy + 10.4511s
5. JR Hildebrand Panther DW12-Chevy + 18.7749s
6. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt DW12-Honda + 21.3883s
7. Helio Castroneves Penske DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
8. Will Power Penske DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
9. Alex Tagliani Herta DW12-Honda + 1 lap
10. James Jakes Coyne DW12-Honda + 1 lap
11. Tony Kanaan KV DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
12. Ed Carpenter Carpenter DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
13. Josef Newgarden Fisher DW12-Honda + 2 laps
14. Dario Franchitti Ganassi DW12-Honda + 3 laps
15. Katherine Legge Dragon DW12-Chevy + 4 laps
16. Mike Conway Foyt DW12-Honda + 4 laps
17. Marco Andretti Andretti DW12-Chevy + 6 laps
Scott Dixon Ganassi DW12-Honda 173 laps
EJ Viso KV DW12-Chevy 129 laps
Oriol Servia Panther/DRR DW12-Chevy 89 laps
Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti DW12-Chevy 66 laps
Takuma Sato Rahal DW12-Honda 63 laps
Charlie Kimball Ganassi DW12-Honda 29 laps
Rubens Barrichello KV DW12-Chevy 0 laps
Simona de Silvestro HVM DW12-Lotus 0 laps