Saturday, August 29, 2009
By Jerry Bonkowski
JOLIET, Ill. -- The fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway has nothing on Chicagoland Speedway when it comes to close finishes -- nor does any other track on the Indy Racing League circuit.
The 1.5-mile oval, close racing and nail-biting finishes all seem to go hand-in-hand -- a tradition that continued once again in Saturday night's Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300.
Current IRL points leader Ryan Briscoe managed to extend his lead by defeating Scott Dixon by .0077 of a second, the fourth-closest finish in IRL history.
Put another way, the winning margin was roughly 28.5 inches, according to IRL officials.
"That's enough," Briscoe said with a laugh. "It started out as a good night, not as smooth as I would have liked
but it was great, really good racing, real close. Obviously, the final stages with Scott were very exciting. I didn't think I was going to have enough for him, but once I got alongside him, it slowed both our cars down and I was able to get past him."
Chicagoland Speedway extends its distinction as the track with the closest finishes in the league, now boasting three of the top four and four of the top six closest finishes in IRL history.
"I was doing all I could to get Scott tonight and keep him from getting wins," Briscoe said.
Dixon finished second for the fourth consecutive race at Chicagoland Speedway and the fifth time overall in his career.
"I've seen this movie several times, unfortunately," Dixon said. "We come here to Chicago, and we finish second again. We just didn't have the speed.
"It's frustrating. I was thinking maybe for a lap or two we might just be able to do it, but if it came down to that shootout, I definitely didn't think we were going to lose. It's getting pretty old, so hopefully we can turn it around at some point."
With the win, Briscoe extends his points lead over Dario Franchitti to 25 points (550 to 525) and 33 points over Dixon (517 points).
"We really need to play catch-up to Penske," Dixon said. "They clearly were faster than us. That was all we had out there, all we had. As a team, we did our best job and still came up short. It's going to be the same for the last two [races of the season]: go out and try to win both."
With races still to be played out in Tokyo and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida, Briscoe may have slightly increased his advantage in the standings over closest challenger Franchitti, who finished fourth Saturday, but that's of little consolation.
"We're not going to do anything different [in the next two races]," Briscoe said. "We've seen how quickly [points leads] turn around."
The win was Briscoe's third of the season and fifth of his IndyCar career, as well as the 35th win for Team Penske, tops in IRL annals.
"Ryan did a good job tonight, and we're going to have to do something in the next two races," Franchitti said.
The question is whether Franchitti can -- or Dixon can, for that matter.
The championship battle is now down to a three-driver shootout, as Helio Castroneves, this year's Indianapolis 500 winner and last year's winner at Chicagoland Speedway, was mathematically eliminated from the title fight after crashing late in the race.
Saturday's race marked the first time the IRL has raced under the lights in its nine years at Chicagoland Speedway. But even though the race started after 9 p.m. CT because of television scheduling issues -- the latest an IRL race has ever started -- the finish definitely produced the same kind of excitement that race fans in Chicago have grown used to.
"At the end of the day, it's important to put on a show," Briscoe said. "Now, the racing is a lot closer and maybe a bit scarier, but the cars feel more secure, in my opinion. I think the racing's been great and fairly accident-free."
Added Dixon, "We have to look at the show we put on, keeping everyone enthusiastic and putting on exciting races."
And even though the race ended around 11 p.m., there's no question that "exciting" was once again the key word to describe Saturday night's outcome at Chicagoland Speedway.