DOVER, Del. -- Rookie Chase Elliott is not only holding down the points lead in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he's slowly starting to pull away from his more experienced competition.
Elliott, the 18-year-old son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, has stretched his advantage over JR Motorsports teammate (and preseason championship favorite) Regan Smith to 20 points. Along the way, he's looked a lot more like a seasoned veteran than a raw rookie both on and off the track.
Which probably explains why he's not really surprised by his instant success.
"The opportunity came along late for us and it's been a lot of fun to be here and compete at this level," said Elliott, who drives the No. 9 Chevrolet with sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts. "That was a surprise in itself, and certainly to get a couple wins has been great.
"I said at the start of the season that I didn't have to worry about our team and our guys and the cars they bring," he continued. "I really felt like that stuff was fine; I knew they were going to bring cars capable of winning and I just had to do my part. I still feel today that if I can do my job on my end, we'll have as good a shot as anybody each week.
"It was definitely a little bit of a surprise to get a couple of wins so early, but we'd like to have some now and moving forward."
One major NASCAR personality who is not surprised by Elliott's early prowess is JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. But Earnhardt pointed out that it's not all down to the driver.
"Well, we knew he was pretty good," Earnhardt said. "I think it's the best car in the garage; it's giving him every opportunity to learn on a quicker scale and he is just doing a good job with it. They are the best-prepared group and they cover the details. They have a great crew chief with Greg Ives.
"Both of those -- the car and the driver -- I think complement each other really well. He's been given a great opportunity and cars that he can excel in, and excel in quicker, because the car really is an easy tool for him. He is able to hone his skills and understand what he is looking for."
With three wins (at Texas, Darlington and Chicagoland), Elliott has definitely exceeded the expectations of others. But what is his own assessment of his dynamic rookie Nationwide campaign?
"It has certainly been a good year at times and obviously some weekends have been better than others," he offered. "We'd like to fix some of those weekends that haven't been so good and try to make them a little better. I can think back to a lot of races that didn't go very well for us, but we have been fortunate enough to get to Victory Lane a couple times and hopefully we can try to get back there before the season is over with.
"I've been trying to enjoy it, but you have to be ready, stay focused throughout and realize that anything can happen," he continued. "It's certainly not over 'til it's over and you don't want to get ahead of yourself. That's the biggest thing."
Elliott admitted that he sometimes seeks out Earnhardt, Ives and his other teammates for advice. But for the most part, he tries to work things out on his own whenever possible.
"I try to lean back on those guys and talk to them, but I think everybody is different, especially when you get into situations when you're trying to battle for something," Elliott said. "It's good to ask questions, but in a lot of ways, you've got to figure out your own way to cope with things, to cope with the stress that's on the team and everything throughout that.
"I just try to keep it as simple as possible and as stress-free as you can," he added. "I put a lot of emphasis on taking it one week at a time and hopefully we're still in the hunt when it counts and can battle to the end."
FONTANA, Calif. -- This time, there were no mistakes.
There were no penalties. No crashes. No contact. No controversy.
This time, Will Power did exactly what he needed to finally claim his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship. By finishing ninth in the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, Power held off his Penske Racing teammate Helio Castroneves and put to rest the ghosts of his past championship failures.
AP Photo/Will LesterWill Power finished ninth Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway to claim his first IndyCar Series crown.
He wasn't the only happy man at Fontana on Saturday night, as Tony Kanaan won his first race for Target Ganassi Racing with Scott Dixon completing a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi's team. But the story on the night was Power taking Roger Penske's first Indy car championship since Sam Hornish Jr. won the 2006 title for "The Captain."
"It was a great year for the whole team," Power said. "I feel with the two teammates, Juan [Pablo Montoya] and Helio, they gave good feedback, and we were a very strong combination. Full credit to the team.
"That was one of the hardest races ever," he added. "I was crying over the line. It's surreal to be champion, man. I can't believe it."
Power appeared to be on edge in the run up to the season finale after an unforced error a week ago at Sonoma Raceway made the championship battle closer than it should have been.
The pressure piled on even more when Power started 21st in the 22-car field after he nearly crashed in his qualifying run.
Despite a lack of yellows (the first 175 laps were run without a caution), Power never dropped off the lead lap, and he steadily worked his way into the top 10. He then moved into the lead shortly after the only restart of the race, but an incorrect front wing adjustment during his final pit stop spoiled the handling of his car and he faded to ninth place at the flag.
By then, it didn't matter, because Castroneves, after starting from pole position, made an illegal pit entry for his own final stop, and the subsequent drive-through penalty left him 14th in the final reckoning.
It was the fourth second-place finish in the championship since 2002 for the Brazilian.
"I was pushing extremely hard because I knew the only way to get in front was in the pits," Castroneves said. "My bad, guys.
"It stings a little bit, but that's what motivates me," he added. "It's good to be upset when you finish second in a championship, which gives me another reason to come back stronger next year and fix what we can fix to win a championship."
Power won a series-best three races in 2014 and led far more laps than any other driver. But a series of unforced errors (pit lane penalties, blocking violations and spins) kept Castroneves and several other drivers in contention until the very end.
AP Photo/Will LesterTony Kanaan picked up his first victory of the season in Saturday night's finale in Fontana.
Given his checkered history in critical championship battles, some observers expected him to crack again Saturday, especially with his jittery prerace demeanor. Instead, Power was calm and collected as his rivals eliminated themselves over the course of 500 miles.
"I'm so mentally exhausted now, and my hands are like numb from holding the wheel so tight," Power said. "The last 14 days have been the worst in my life. Just mentally and emotionally so bad -- not sleeping and stressing. I feel bad for my wife, keeping her up at night.
"You never think it can happen until it happens. I can't believe I won, and this is just mega."
While Roger Penske is the runaway leader with 15 Indianapolis 500 victories, in recent years, Ganassi has edged closer and closer to Penske's tally of 12 series championships with all 10 of his titles scored since 1996.
Meanwhile, Hornish's 2006 crown was Penske's only championship since 1994. Until Power got the job done Saturday.
"I think tonight shows you the strength of the team, and Will did a great job," Penske said. "What a night -- you couldn't ask for anything more. We got what we wanted: the championship."
With Castroneves finishing second in the championship and Montoya fourth, it was Penske Racing's most successful season since Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy finished 1-2-3 for the team in the 1994 CART-sanctioned championship.
Ganassi ended the 2014 season strongly, with victories in three of the final four races, including Kanaan's at Auto Club Speedway.
With a new engine manufacturer and driver lineup, the entire Ganassi team started the 2014 campaign slowly, but Kanaan and Dixon were the hottest drivers in the series since July.
"It's been a long time coming," Kanaan said. "Chip gave me the opportunity, and it's Target's 25-year anniversary with the team. At the team meeting, Chip said 'If you win the last race, you get to brag about it for seven months.' It's an awesome feeling. I think it shows our potential. We turned the situation around, and the team got a grip on what we needed to do."
The 2014 IndyCar Series matched the modern-era record established in the 2000 and 2001 CART-sanctioned series with 11 race winners.
STEAM CORNERS, Ohio -- If there was any doubt that Scott Dixon is the man to beat at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it was put to rest Sunday.
Dixon won the Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 with relative ease after starting last on the 22-car grid. He had a little help: A multicar accident at the first corner eliminated his Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan and several other contenders, he needed a well-timed caution to make his fuel strategy work, and the driver who looked like Dixon's toughest challenger -- Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing -- was set back by a mistake in the pits.
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesScott Dixon qualified last for Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but the defending series champ finished first.
"There was no miracle there," observed second-place finisher Sebastien Bourdais in a television interview. "They were the class of the field today.
"[Dixon] made an impossible mileage, holding the same pace we were, and he was even a little quicker. So hats off to the Target Chip Ganassi team."
Somehow, someway, from the back of the pack at an "impossible to pass" track, Dixon managed to take his fifth career victory at Mid-Ohio, and the sixth consecutive dating to 2009 at the venue for the Ganassi team.
The key to Dixon's 34th career race win was the decision by Target Ganassi managing director (and No. 9 race strategist) Mike Hull to stay on track during a Lap 39 caution when the majority of the field pitted.
It required Dixon to run almost two full stints in fuel-saving mode, all while dictating the pace of the race as the leader.
"Our race was going so poor from the start; we tried to switch strategies a couple times and the guys kept on it," Dixon said in Victory Lane. "I guess we got a little lucky with that caution, but the team had to call those shots. We were extremely close with the fuel number, but we still had the speed.
"Man, it feels good to be back in the winner's circle."
The Ganassi team cut it a little closer than expected. There was urgency in Hull's voice during a last-lap radio transmission to Dixon that instructed the driver to switch the Chevrolet engine's fuel mixture control to the maximum fuel-saving position. Dixon pulled over at the pit exit immediately after he took the checkered flag, concerned that he might not be able to complete another 2.25-mile lap under power.
"I think we came a little closer to running out of fuel than we thought," he admitted. "I was trying to be conservative, even with the lap times, to make sure that we were good with the competition. But the fuel light came on a little earlier than we expected.
"Luckily we had saved a little more than we needed to."
It looked like there was going to be a fight to the end between Dixon and Newgarden, who had several laps more fuel than his rival as well as fresher Firestone tires.
But Newgarden ran over an air hose entering the pits for his last stop, tripping his right-rear tire changer and incurring a drive-through penalty that took him out of contention after yet another competitive outing.
"One of those days, right?" he mused. "When it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be, I guess. We had a heck of a car, and really good strategy. It was falling perfect for us, but it just kind of unraveled."
That was typical of the help Dixon received on a day when the primary IndyCar Series championship contenders had a terrible day.
Incoming championship leader Helio Castroneves didn't make the start, the Brazilian's Team Penske Chevrolet suffering from an electronic problem that caused his engine to stick at full throttle on the parade laps. Castroneves eventually got going, but he was four laps down and classified 19th.
"As soon as they turned on the engine, I was like, 'Something is happening here,'" related Castroneves.
"It's just awful when you're running four laps behind and there is not much you can do."
Meanwhile, Ryan Hunter-Reay incurred a pit-lane speeding violation, then lost a lap with a spinout before rebounding to squeak into the top 10.
Will Power and Simon Pagenaud were in position to capitalize, but neither displayed the kind of speed at Mid-Ohio that they have at some other road racing venues this year. Power finished sixth, three places ahead of Pagenaud.
Thanks to his teammate's misfortune, Power did assume the championship lead, by four points over Castroneves. Hunter-Reay (minus-63) and Pagenaud (-64) made small gains, but the big mover was Dixon. He's still sixth in the standings behind Juan Pablo Montoya, but on Sunday he cut the gap to the leader from 146 to 108 points.
With the season finale at Auto Club Speedway paying 100 points to the winner, don't make the mistake of counting Dixon out yet.
Need proof? Just look at what he accomplished at Mid-Ohio.
TORONTO -- Rain pushed Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto "2 in TO" doubleheader back from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning, and it returned later Sunday in the afternoon to significantly shake up the second Verizon IndyCar Series contest of the day.
A very long day of racing was prolonged by multi-car accidents that blocked the narrow 1.755-mile street course at the start of Race 1 and the end of Race 2, the latter prompting INDYCAR officials to red-flag the event with 4-½ minutes remaining.
Sebastien Bourdais' victory in the dry in Race 1 was a straightforward affair, with the Frenchman leading 58 of the 65 laps to secure his first Indy car victory since November 2007, when he won the swansong race of a five-year tenure in the Champ Car-sanctioned series.
Meanwhile, Race 2 started dry, but a midrace shower caused a series of incidents that brought the action to an end after a predetermined 80-minute time limit, rather than the scheduled 65 laps. It also introduced the element of tire strategy, as drivers and teams tried to determine the perfect time to switch from Firestone rain tires to slicks on a drying track.
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesRace 2 winner Mike Conway, from left, third-place Will Power and second-place Helio Castroneves had time for a selfie on the podium.
It was Mike Conway who called it best, calling for dry tires two laps earlier than the majority of the field. The gutsy move earned Conway and Ed Carpenter Racing their second race win of the year, matching their victorious performance at the Long Beach Grand Prix in April.
Conway had just returned to the track on slicks when Sebastian Saavedra nosed into the Turn 3 tire wall, prompting INDYCAR to throw a late-race red flag for the second time in less than a month. The Englishman then had to sweat out a restart and three more laps as he held off Tony Kanaan for his fourth career IndyCar race win.
"That's Mike," team owner Carpenter said in a television interview, giving Conway credit for making the call for slicks.
"He was out there on the track and said he was ready for dries. We thought it was a bit early, but this one is all down to him."
Despite the victory, Carpenter was not totally pleased with INDYCAR's decision to throw the red flag, a move similar to one made in Houston three weeks ago to allow the race to end under a green flag.
"It worked out for us today, but the question is how many times are you going to go red?" he said. "As competitors, we don't always know what's going on out there."
Conway said the call for dry tires was, well, cut and dried.
"It was really difficult conditions in the wet and we were kind of struggling a bit," he said. "As soon as I saw part of a dry line, I knew it was time to come in and it was a great call.
"From there we just took off and kind of controlled the race," he added. "I was kind of nervous about the red flag but we had Justin behind us [Wilson, one of the last drivers on rain tires] and we were able to close it out."
Kanaan enjoyed his best weekend of the 2014 season, finishing third and second in the two races. He passed Will Power for second with two laps to go and crossed the line 3.542 seconds behind Conway.
Power, meanwhile, executed some nifty damage control by finishing third in Race 2 after a ninth-place finish in Race 1 dropped him 30 points behind IndyCar Series championship leader (and Team Penske teammate) Helio Castroneves.
Castroneves increased his points lead from 9 to 30 by finishing second to Bourdais in Race 1, but he got dropped from eighth to 12th place in the frenetic final three laps after starting Race 2 from pole position.
It was a tough afternoon for the Brazilian, who looked in control of the proceedings until the rain jumbled things up for everyone.
Power's podium finish in Race 2 pulled him back to within 13 points of Castroneves with four races remaining in the season. The three other main championship contenders all suffered through a dismal afternoon in Race 2, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (-70), Simon Pagenaud (-71) and Juan Pablo Montoya (-92) all dropping points to Castroneves.
"I just wasn't willing after yesterday [when Power was lucky the race was delayed to Sunday after he crashed before the green flag] to take a big risk and get caught out again," Power said. "Typical IndyCar race. It throws everything at you and you just have to survive.
"Anytime you gain in the points it's a great day, and the championship is going to be a battle to the end."
Yet Kanaan was but a sitting duck when Hunter-Reay, on fresher tires after a bold strategy call by team owner Michael Andretti, steamed past the Brazilian to pace the final two tours of the Iowa Corn Indy 300.
A jubilant Hunter-Reay crossed the line 0.581 second ahead of Josef Newgarden, with Kanaan a disappointed third.
Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty ImagesRyan Hunter-Reay won for the first time since his Indianapolis 500 triumph in May.
"I have no idea how that happened," said Honda Performance Development public relations boss T.E. McHale with a laugh as he hugged Judy Dominick, his communications counterpart from Chevrolet Racing in the media center after the checkered flag. "We definitely stole one tonight."
Kanaan and Scott Dixon, his Chevrolet-powered teammate at Target/Ganassi Racing, dominated the 300-lap contest. But when Hunter-Reay and several other drivers took advantage of a full-course caution for Juan Pablo Montoya's crash on Lap 281, the scene was set for a dramatic finish to what had been a fairly mundane race.
Kanaan tried in vain to post what would have been just his second race win in four years, but Hunter-Reay quickly sliced through the field from 10th place after the Lap 292 restart. By the 296th lap, he was past Dixon into second, and there was nothing Kanaan could do to slow down Hunter-Reay and his flying Andretti Autosport Honda.
"I've won races like that before and I've lost them," Kanaan said. "It's just hard to take."
While Hunter-Reay got to enjoy the adrenaline rush of Victory Lane after a thrilling late-race pass for the win, what got him there was the pit stop call made by Andretti and engineer Ray Gosselin.
Kanaan said that pitting from the lead during the final yellow would have been "the craziest thing in the world," but those drivers who stopped for tires with 15 laps to go (including Hunter-Reay, Newgarden and fifth-place finisher Ed Carpenter) were in another league in the nine-lap sprint to the finish.
"We stole it today, but I'll take it any way we can get it," Andretti said. "What's really weird is that we talked before the race about if a yellow comes out with 15 laps to go. When it came time to do it I was like, 'Screw it.' What were we going to do, lose three spots? And I knew if we came in a lot would come in behind us -- and you saw what happened."
Newgarden, who matched his IndyCar career-best finish of second place for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, likened the speed difference of having fresh tires for the final sprint to driving in a video game.
"It was almost unfair," he said. "We kept carving up to the top and with five laps to go, I knew this was going to be really good.
"Nice to get a result, finally," he added. "A little unorthodox way to get it, but you have to do whatever it takes. We caught some breaks tonight and it was nice to show something representative of our pace."
The drivers who got freight-trained included incoming points co-leader Will Power, who brushed the wall on Lap 294 and dropped from fourth to 13th. His Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves fared slightly better, holding on to finish eighth to claim sole lead of the IndyCar Series championship with a nine-point cushion over Power.
Hunter-Reay's win moved him up to third in the standings, 32 points behind Castroneves. Simon Pagenaud, who finished 11th Saturday night, is fourth (-50) followed by Montoya (-66).
The 2012 IndyCar Series champion could barely believe his good fortune after a bad run of races. Hunter-Reay had only a pair of top-seven finishes since winning the Indianapolis 500 in May, but his third victory of the 2014 season thrust him back into title contention.
"What a crazy day," he said. "Michael made a pretty bold call to take sticker [tires], but I didn't think we would have enough time with Montoya's car in the wall. All credit to the safety team for getting that cleaned up quickly so we could get back to racing.
"That was unreal and I hope I get to do that sometime in my career again," he added. "Having 10 cars all in front of me, all on used tires, was just a dream. It was a wild last few laps. We made the right call there, and we had a car that could take it."
It was the fifth consecutive victory at Iowa Speedway for Andretti Autosport, and the sixth in eight IndyCar Series races at the 7/8-mile oval.
"We've lost many races that way and to keep the record going here at Iowa was great," Andretti said. "It's such an awesome racetrack and we've got such great luck here.
"It was a day we probably weren't supposed to win but, like I said, we'll take it any way we can get it."
The main excitement before the frantic finish was Montoya's late crash, which resulted after he tried to pull out of an attempted pass on Carpenter.
The Colombian was unimpressed by what he viewed as a block by Carpenter.
"They all preach safe racing but when you try to pass them they're d---------," Montoya fumed in a television interview.
Carpenter denied the move was intentional, and said that he was not aware Montoya was so committed to the inside when he tried to experiment with a lower line.
HOUSTON -- Some semblance of normalcy returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series on Sunday as Simon Pagenaud won his second race of the 2014 season.
But there were still plenty of surprises in store in the second race of the Shell-Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend, as rookies Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth completed the podium. Aleshin filled out the first 1-2 finish in the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as many of the IndyCar Series' top drivers and teams once again struggled in steamy conditions on the slick NRG Park temporary circuit.
AP Photo/David J. PhillipSimon Pagenaud jumped for joy after winning Race 2 at the IndyCar Grand Prix of Houston on Sunday.
"Awesome race!" exclaimed Pagenaud after his fourth career IndyCar race win. "The car was just beautiful -- awesome braking, awesome traction, awesome grip. What else could you ask for as a driver. That's why I was so disappointed yesterday. We had such a fast car this weekend. We regrouped after Detroit and they came up with this package.
"I wish we could have had the race to the end, because it was going to be a great fight with Helio."
Team Penske's Will Power looked set to pull of an amazing feat after working his way from 18th place to third, only for his Dallara's rear suspension to break with just a handful of laps to go. Power finished 10th, but still managed to increase his championship lead over teammate Helio Castroneves because the Brazilian crashed just past half distance when he was dicing with Sebastien Bourdais and eventual winner Pagenaud.
Thanks to Castroneves' travails, Power actually left Houston with the same 39-point advantage he arrived with, despite what was arguably the worst weekend of his nine-year Indy car career. Ryan Hunter-Reay (sixth) is third in the standings, two points behind Castroneves, while Pagenaud's win moved him into the championship contention, 59 points off the lead.
"We were in position for a good day, considering where we qualified," Power said. "We were going to maximize our points and we had a parts malfunction with two laps to go -- the same part that malfunctioned on two other cars at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. We fought really hard all day with nothing to show for it."
Even though the track was dry Sunday, the story of the second Houston race was again the rough-and-tumble racing. Most of the drivers were involved in some kind of contact during the day and there was plenty of blame being passed around.
Hawksworth's third place for Bryan Herta Autosport will be reviewed by INDYCAR officials after seventh-place finisher Juan Pablo Montoya accused the young Englishman of running him off the track three times. Castroneves said he was actually trying to pass Pagenaud when his accident occurred; he moved quickly from the inside to the outside of the track to take the racing line, but found Bourdais' car was already there. Bourdais finished fifth for KVSH Racing.
"Obviously when I'm attacking I can't have my eyes in the back," Castroneves said. "I am frustrated a bit, and upset, because we had a great car."
Saturday's surprise race winner Carlos Huertas finished at the opposite end of the standings Sunday, lasting just two laps before losing drive in his Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Others to struggle Sunday included defending IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who was relegated by brake problems to 18th place in his Target Ganassi Chevrolet, and Graham Rahal, who showed a lot of speed all weekend but was taken out by a gearbox problem.
It's doubtful that any of them could have beaten Pagenaud, who also claimed his first career IndyCar pole position this weekend for the Saturday race. Yet the Frenchman refuses to think ahead about the looming championship battle.
"I haven't had much time to look at the points yet," he said. "You know, it's important to capitalize on a day like today. We didn't do that yesterday [when Pagenaud finished 16th in Race 1]. We had a fast car, and I needed to do what Dixon did last year, win the two races. But unfortunately the conditions didn't work out for me in Race 1. Race 2 it did, so job done.
"I feel like I'm doing a good job," he added. "I feel like I'm very focused on the job here with my team. I feel like we're getting to the level I want to be at, and it's paying off today. Days like today is where I want to be at. This is what I want to do week in and week out. Getting wins is the best motivation factor.
"Now it's about repeating."
The IndyCar Series is back in action in just one week, with the Pocono 500 set for July 6. As with the other 500-mile races on the IndyCar schedule (Indianapolis and Fontana), Pocono will pay double points compared to a normal race like Houston.
HOUSTON -- The only predictable thing about the first race of the Shell-Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend was A.J. Foyt swearing on live television.
I didn't check the Las Vegas odds on rookie Carlos Huertas claiming his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory before the race, but the 23-year-old Colombian surely went off at more than 100 to 1. Yet Huertas took the checkered flag first Saturday afternoon, leading his countryman and hero Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Munoz across the line in a 1-2-3 finish for Colombia as rain played havoc with the usual IndyCar front-runners.
More than half the entries in the 23-car field were involved in some kind of contact on the wet track as what was supposed to be a 90-lap race was quickly changed to a timed race of 1 hour and 50 minutes. Dale Coyne Racing played the strategy perfectly, timing Huertas' final pit stop to perfection to give him track position and enough fuel to make the moving target of the finish.
Huertas eventually completed 80 laps for the win, stretching his final tank of fuel over 39 of those laps.
It almost ended up a DCR 1-2, because Huertas' teammate, Justin Wilson, led until he had to pit for a splash of fuel with less than five minutes remaining.
"Timed races are tricky," observed winning team owner Dale Coyne. "People sometimes forget how to run timed races, and we did it well.
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesIndyCar Series rookie Carlos Huertas after his Houston win: "The team called it perfectly with the fuel, and it's a great day."
"The kid has been improving all year," he added. "We showed when we put a guy in front, he can stay in front."
Did they ever. Any one of a dozen drivers could honestly say he had a shot at the victory Saturday, but Huertas, making just his ninth Indy car start, was the man who triumphed.
He's a product of the European open-wheel ladder system, a former race winner in Formula 3 and Formula Renault 3.5 -- and now IndyCar, as surely the most unexpected victor in the series in at least 10 years.
"For sure, this was always possible," Huertas said in a postrace television interview. "The team did a great job with the strategy. These races are so long here, you always have a chance to win if you do the right things at the right time.
"Today was really tough; I was really struggling," he added. "I had no pace in the first half of the race. But I reminded myself just to stay calm and do what you have to do and I did that. The team called it perfectly with the fuel, and it's a great day."
Montoya looked in position to score the first win of his Indy car comeback, but he didn't have the pace to beat his young countryman.
"I really thought I was only racing Tony [Kanaan] for the win," Montoya said. "There were a couple times I thought I could have passed Huertas, but I decided to save the car and not take chances. And here we are second and he took the win.
"I never thought he could make it to the end and I was only worried about protecting from behind," Montoya added. "They said, 'You better think about passing Huertas,' but by then, the tires were gone."
This race was crazy enough that championship leader Will Power lost just six points of his series lead despite missing the strategy and spinning out on his way to 14th place. His closest challenger, Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, finished ninth and is now 33 points back at the halfway point of the season.
Pole man Simon Pagenaud lost six laps to the leaders when he got swept into three-time series champion Scott Dixon's crash; early leader Takuma Sato was punted off by rookie Mikhail Aleshin; and Graham Rahal and Kanaan looked as though they would be in the fight for the win at the end after Wilson peeled off from the lead in the dying minutes.
But Ryan Briscoe nudged Sebastian Saavedra into a spin, and after a brief full-course caution to restart the KVSH Racing car, fourth-placed Rahal punted third-place runner Kanaan into the wall on the approach to the green flag for what would have been a one-lap sprint to the finish.
After Kanaan's crash, Rahal and Briscoe finished third and fifth on the track under caution, but were handed 30-second time penalties for avoidable contact, dropping them to 11th and 12th place, respectively.
Rahal had the fastest car on the track in the closing laps, but his error on the final restart proved costly.
"Everybody saw there was nobody quicker than us on that racetrack," Rahal said. "I think if it would have ended under green, I would have won that race for sure, and I feel confident saying that. I was getting by a lot of those guys in a hurry. Shoulda, coulda, woulda -- I made a mistake."
Kanaan looked to be on the verge of tears after missing out on a podium finish or a potential victory.
"I gotta be professional, and I'm representing a team and sponsors so I can't do what I really want to do," he said. "What a shame. We fought all the way, all day long. To be taken out like that is stupid. He came to apologize but that still doesn't take the frustration out of me."
The good news for Kanaan and all the other drivers thinking that Saturday's race was one that got away from them: They get to do the same thing all over again on Sunday afternoon.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Will Power didn't win the Firestone Indy 600 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
But he sure had fun trying.
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for Texas Motor SpeedwayWill Power led the most laps Saturday night, but couldn't catch Ed Carpenter at the end.
The Team Penske driver dominated the first half of the race and led nearly two-thirds of the 248-lap contest, but Power lost the lead to Ed Carpenter on the 182nd lap, then made the costly error of speeding in the pits as he entered for his final stop.
A late caution flag gave Power the opportunity to pit for fresh tires, and he used them to carve from sixth to second over the course of the last couple laps. But he was unable to catch owner/driver Carpenter, who scored the third Verizon IndyCar Series race win of his career and the second for his team this year to go along with Mike Conway's victory at Long Beach.
For Power, there was no shame in finishing second to Carpenter, the only driver in the IndyCar Series who came up through a traditional oval racing path of midgets and sprint cars.
Power had started to cut into Carpenter's two-second lead in traffic prior to both drivers making their final stop on Lap 213. That's when Power got popped, the subsequent drive-through penalty dropping him to sixth place, nearly a lap down.
The break that nearly won him the race came on Lap 241, when Takuma Sato suffered the third Honda engine failure of the race.
"Obviously, the penalty hurt, but I was trying to close the gap to Ed so I could try to go for the win," the championship leader said. "The team made a great call to get tires at the end.
"I had so much fun," he added. "That was even more fun than Fontana [where Power won the 2013 IndyCar season finale] -- I just didn't get the bloody win."
That honor went to Carpenter, who simply got stronger and stronger as the race progressed.
"I knew we had a good car," Carpenter said. "We had a good test here back a couple of weeks ago, or a couple of months ago. Whenever it was. I just felt like we left some on the table in qualifying, but it made me extra motivated for tonight.
"We had one bad stint, but the guys just made great adjustments all night," he continued. "The Fuzzy's car was hooked up, and I think we were for sure the car to beat at the end."
Carpenter admitted that the final yellow flag caused him some concern. "I was a little worried," he said. "I knew guys were going to come in. We talked about what we would do in that situation, and we were kind of undecided, but Tim [team manager Broyles] and the boys made the right call.
"Awesome night," he concluded. "I have loved this racetrack for a long time and had a lot of bad luck here. I've really always wanted to win here, so I'm super excited."
Juan Pablo Montoya had the best race of his return to Indy cars in taking third place. The Colombian made an early, out-of-sequence pit stop when Marco Andretti brought out the first of three cautions on the night with a blown engine on just the fifth lap. Montoya was often the fastest car on the track, but he lost a lot of ground on the next-to-last stint.
However, he had moved back into second place before the final yellow. Montoya was bitterly unhappy after the race, claiming Carpenter jumped the last restart for the green-white-checkered finish.
"When you let people jump starts and you let them get away with it, it's impossible," Montoya fumed. "The first thing he did was slow down, which you're not supposed to, and then he went. It was like 200 yards before we're supposed to go.
"I was sure they were going to make a call, and they didn't," added Montoya. "So I was kind of disappointed, and I'm going to go talk to IndyCar now and see what they say."
This year's Texas race was closer to the 2012 contest than last year's strung-out affair, the addition of approximately 300 extra pounds of downforce making the cars able to run closer together but still a handful for the drivers.
"A bit of a struggle. Really loose all night," fifth-place finisher Scott Dixon said.
"I'm proud that we actually held the car on the track instead of putting it in the fence."
DETROIT -- With the eyes of corporate Detroit watching and General Motors CEO Mary Barra on his timing stand, Roger Penske delivered on Sunday.
Penske, the driving force behind the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, saw his drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power score a 1-2 finish in Race 2 of the Dual in Detroit. Team Penske swept the Detroit weekend, as Power won the opening race on Saturday afternoon.
Penske, who was a key figure when Detroit hosted the Super Bowl a few years ago, is one of the city's most important corporate figures. His guests on Sunday included Barra and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesHelio Castroneves was untouchable Sunday at Belle Isle.
Penske Corporation, based in suburban Detroit, revived the Belle Isle race in 2007 and has grown it ever since. Blessed by spectacular sunny weather, the IndyCar twin bill (which also included the Pirelli World Challenge and the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship) drew healthy crowds each day.
"We had three great days and there's no question right now that people see what we have here at Belle Isle," Penske said. "At a race like this, people can come and bring their kids. Seeing all the kids here was the most important thing for me.
"From a racing standpoint, you dream of these kind of weekends -- we won both races and sat on the pole," he added. "I better get out of here in a hurry!"
Pit stop strategy wasn't as critical in Sunday's race as it was on Saturday, the biggest mover being Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, who finished fourth after starting from the back row.
Like most of the leaders, Castroneves pitted under yellow on Lap 11. Mike Conway seized the lead at that point, but Ed Carpenter Racing's strategy of making Conway the only driver to start the race on standard tires backfired as he dropped through the field during his stint on the alternate tires.
Castroneves seized control of the event by half distance, but he had to make two perfect restarts late in the race to hold off Power and third-place finisher Charlie Kimball.
"That was a great race for several reasons," Castroneves said. "One, we were racing hard to the very end. My car was so fast and I could do whatever I wanted. It's very rare you have that scenario.
"To be honest, fifth place [Saturday] was great points, but I was very disappointed because we had a dominant car. Today Roger had the strategy to put me in front. I don't want to sound cocky, but I was really confident. I knew exactly what my car was doing, and when you have a car like that, you just have to deliver."
Power found himself embroiled in controversy again after being involved in a first-lap incident that ended with Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal in the Turn 3 wall. Power looked to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but INDYCAR called him in for a drive-through penalty on Lap 7 for instigating avoidable contact.
The Australian once again had one of the fastest cars and he was able to work his way back up to another podium finish.
"It was a bit of a surprise to end up second," Power said. "Fantastic weekend for Roger and for Chevy. I have a feeling we would have won without that penalty, but we've been on the right and wrong end of those calls.
"I wasn't going to attack [Helio] at the end," Power added. "A 1-2 for Roger is better than two cars in the wall. Second is good points instead."
Power was the big winner on the Detroit weekend, moving back into the championship lead with a 19-point advantage over teammate Castroneves.
Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay had a miserable weekend in Detroit, failing to finish either race. Hunter-Reay is now third in the standings, 27 points behind Power after arriving in Detroit with a 40-point cushion.
DETROIT -- Will Power didn't have the fastest car in qualifying for the first race of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit.
But he certainly did in the race itself -- which, combined with perfect pit stop strategy from Team Penske, allowed the Australian to score his second Verizon IndyCar Series win of the 2014 season and 23rd of his career.
Like so many Indy car races, this one was decided by fuel management and the timing of full-course cautions. Power started 16th after battling handling problems in qualifying, and his run to victory was keyed by an early pit stop under yellow on Lap 7 after Simon Pagenaud tapped the wall.
AP Photo/Dave FrechetteWill Power gets a champagne shower courtesy of Graham Rahal, left, and Tony Kanaan on Saturday.
Power made the second of his three pit stops under green on Lap 30, turning a series of quick laps that allowed him to take control of the race from pole winner Helio Castroneves and the other drivers who stuck to a standard two-stop strategy. Once the final round of stops cycled through, Power led, and he held off a charging Graham Rahal by 0.3008 seconds at the flag.
"Graham made it very difficult -- man, he never gave up," Power remarked. "I thought I could pull a gap, and every time I'd relax, he'd be straight back on me.
"What a tough race," he added. "No fuel saving, just run hard, and good strategy from the guys. I'm very happy."
Power still probably wasn't as happy as Rahal, who posted his first podium finish in 22 races dating to Long Beach 2013.
Rahal ran a stint in the lead and he and Power were the only drivers to lap in the 1-minute 17-second bracket.
"I thought I was going to finally get the monkey off my back today," said Rahal, whose last Indy car race win came at the 2008 St. Petersburg GP. "I knew I had a car that was as quick as him.
"I said after Indy that this team was made of champions and that it would come in time, and we're going to win one," he added. "We're going to do it -- I can promise you that, and it's coming soon."
"When you can put Will out front and get him some clear laps, he certainly puts them together," said Team Penske president Tim Cindric.
"Things kind of fell our way. We needed some of those breaks to break the race up a bit and we really took advantage of it. An awesome day for all of us."
It was a big day for Power in the IndyCar Series championship, as he cut Ryan Hunter-Reay's lead from 40 points to three. Castroneves is third in the standings, 44 points behind Hunter-Reay.
The Indy 500 winner had a terrible Saturday in Detroit, with a crash in qualifying forcing him to start from the back row. Pushing hard at the end of the race, Hunter-Reay again crashed on the last lap, costing him a potentially crucial five points as he dropped from 11th to 16th place.
Power looked somewhat knackered when he stepped from his car, but he said that his stamina will not be an issue for Sunday's 70-lap contest (ABC, 3:30 p.m.ET).
"I was thinking on the last stint, 'Man, I've got to do this again tomorrow!'" Power admitted. "I was absolutely puffing.
"But that's why we do fitness and I'll try to recover the best I can to come back and do it again."