Commentary

Wild IndyCar race shakes up title chase

Updated: August 14, 2011, 9:42 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

LOUDON, N.H. -- The entire Izod IndyCar Series seemed to slip out of control on a slick track Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The record book will show that Ryan Hunter-Reay won the MoveThatBlock.com 225 for Andretti Autosport. But that's not what folks will remember.

"Obviously everyone is going to be talking about this one for a while," said third-place finisher Scott Dixon.

This one had rain, cars upside down and on fire, questionable calls by officials who later admitted they blew it and emotions aplenty.

[+] EnlargeWill Power
AP Photo/Jim ColeWill Power was furious that IndyCar Series officials allowed a late-race restart on a slick track.

Oriol Servia thought he won and had to rein in his fury when he was informed he hadn't. Meanwhile, Will Power delivered a double-barreled salute to IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart that was caught in all its high-definition glory by the ABC television cameras and quickly went viral on the Internet.

"I'm not going to say anything about the officiating. It is what it is," said Power's team owner, Roger Penske.

"If [Will] gets fined or penalized, I'll pay for it. I'm not worried about what he said or did."

The controversy started just past the halfway point when Dario Franchitti, after leading 115 of the first 118 laps, was spun out on a restart by second-place runner Takuma Sato.

"I think it's fairly obvious he hit me," Franchitti said after watching a replay of the incident. "I don't know why he was sitting so close to me coming up to a restart. To have that happen when you have a car that fast, it's pretty devastating."

Perhaps on a day marred by rain, it was fitting that Sato blamed moisture in his eyes.

"I had debris in my eyes -- tears," said the Japanese driver. "There's no excuse for that. I'm sorry. It was my fault. I was too close to Dario."

With the dominant Franchitti out of the way, an entertaining three-way battle for the lead broke out between Hunter-Reay, Servia and Dixon. Hunter-Reay had the legs on the competition, but for the second time on the day, the caution flag flew for light moisture on Lap 206.

Despite almost every driver complaining that the track was too wet, IndyCar officials threw the green flag on the 217th lap. Almost immediately, Danica Patrick spun, triggering a multicar accident that swept in Power.

The Australian, who had been running fifth, was furious -- but more at the decision to restart the race than at being taken out.

"I begged them not to do it," Power exclaimed. "We were all on the radio. [Penske boss] Tim Cindric said all the other drivers were saying the same thing. It was just unnecessary -- we did not need to do that."

After his two-fingered outburst directed at race officials, Power remained defiant, though he later apologized for his actions.

"That's as mad as I've been," he admitted. "I was uncontrollable. But I couldn't help it. That's the worst decision I've ever seen. Everyone has been talking about the officiating. It's just not good enough."

[+] EnlargeRyan Hunter-Reay
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesRyan Hunter-Reay was in a seafood state of mind after winning the MoveThatBlock.com 225 at New Hampshire.

During the restart, Servia got the jump on Hunter-Reay and led into Turn 1. But after red-flagging the race and preparing to restart for a five-lap sprint to the scheduled 225-lap finish, series officials reconsidered and instead posted the results as determined at the end of Lap 215, with Servia second and Power fifth.

Servia was furious, insisting that he had actually won.

"Like Paul Tracy says at Indy, I won my second race today," Servia said. "But it's not in the books.

"They threw the green, [Hunter-Reay] had a bad restart, I was ahead and the yellow came. I've never seen them reverse the order like that."

Hunter-Reay bristled at the notion that he was not the rightful winner.

"We had gapped those guys by almost a straightaway, so I'm not sure why they were complaining that much about it," said the American.

"I don't have to feel we have to validate winning it because Oriol Servia says he led for 20 feet. They're grasping for straws. Sato getting into Dario is a bigger part of the story than Oriol Servia saying he led 20 feet."

Barnhart, who has often been maligned in his 15-year history as the IndyCar Series' chief steward, received perhaps his strongest criticism to date on Sunday.

"This is the worst officiating I've ever seen," fumed Hunter-Reay's car owner Michael Andretti -- prior to the reversion to the order before the restart. "I'm really, really disappointed. Normally Brian does a great job but this time he really missed it."

Barnhart, who works in race control with Al Unser Jr. and Tony Cotman, admitted he got it wrong by ordering the race to be restarted with the track still wet.

"It makes you sick to your stomach when you know after the fact you made the wrong call," Barnhart told reporters after the race. "There's a thousand times we've made these calls and they're right 99 percent of the time. They just weren't today.

"To me the logic behind it was it was the right thing," he added. "We restarted on an oval in unsafe conditions and that wasn't their fault -- it was my fault. To not affect their standing in the championship, we reverted to the last lap that was run."

Restoring Power to fifth place let him trim Franchitti's championship lead from 62 to 47 points. Dixon also gained on his teammate, moving to within 73 points.

"It could be better if they didn't screw up the results the way they have," Dixon noted. "I feel sorry for Dario, and this brings Will back into hunting ground, which should make things exciting for the fans.

"After today I don't know why we even have a rule book," he added. "We don't. When has that ever happened in Indy car racing? Never. Not in my 10 years."

Dixon set aside his frustration and disappointment to look at the overall picture.

"It's good to see Will is back at it and good to see everyone is fired up," he said. "It was all happening, and all in all it was a hell of a race."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.