Justin Wilson gets gift win at Texas
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Now what's not to love?
Once again, an IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway delivered everything you could want and more.
Breathtaking passes for the lead in the final laps, controversy when leader Will Power was penalized for blocking near the end and a shocking bash into the wall by Graham Rahal when he had the race all but won with two laps to go.
Rahal's misfortune made Justin Wilson a surprising winner Saturday night in a race that was different from any other IndyCar event in TMS history.
The pack racing here, something many drivers have complained about, was gone. Changes with the new DW12 chassis made the cars harder to drive and spread out the field but still allowed for side-by-side passing.
Frankly, it separated the men from the boys. And it made most of the drivers happy about a place that had given them major concerns.
The Firestone 550 was the first IndyCar race on a high-banked 1.5-mile oval since Dan Wheldon was killed in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
This race was nothing like that one, an event that was canceled after the 15-car crash that cost Wheldon his life.
"I thought it was a lot of fun," Wilson said. "I had a blast out there."
Easy to say when you win, especially when it comes as an enormous gift. Rahal was on his way to the first oval-track victory of his career before he had his JR Hildebrand moment.
Hildebrand slammed the wall exiting Turn 4 while leading on the last lap of the 2011 Indy 500. Rahal slid into the wall exiting Turn 4 with just more than two laps to go.
"I just messed up," said Rahal, who finished second. "There's not much else to say. I ran a high line because I found it helped save the tires, but it was getting tricky in the final laps. The car pushed, and I didn't leave enough margin for error.
"Obviously, we had this race won. We should be in the winner's circle right now. It would have taken a hell of a lot of pressure off my shoulders had I won tonight. This one will haunt me forever, that's for sure."
And Dixon had the dominant car most of the night before getting loose out of Turn 2 and slamming into the outside wall late in the race.
"I was really fighting to hold on," Dixon said. "It dipped down on the apron and shot up the track. This was not a good result, but it was a much better way to race."
This race was about surviving with a car that had reduced downforce and became tougher to drive as the tires started to fall off on green-flag runs.
And that was just fine with the drivers.
"Pack racing is wrong in these cars," said Ryan Briscoe, who finished third. "But I've never been opposed to racing here. We just needed to get the package right. I definitely would come back if it's this way. I thought the racing was awesome."
However, the estimated crowd of 69,000 might have seen the last IndyCar race at TMS after 16 consecutive seasons of successful open-wheel events here.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard didn't exactly give the place a ringing endorsement in comments a couple of hours before the race.
Bernard said a return to TMS would be a "financial" decision. Then he added there was interest in racing on the new Formula One road course in Austin, clearly a shot across the bow at TMS president Eddie Gossage.
The IndyCar drivers feel differently.
"I'd definitely give it a thumbs-up," said Wilson, who won for the first time on any oval. "I don't know the political side, but the competition side was all positive. Oval racing is part of IndyCar. It's what makes it special and why we want to race here."
"This place always has been a staple of the series," said Dale Coyne, Wilson's team owner. "We should come back again. It just took a little common sense to get the product right, and we did that tonight."
Even Rahal, after such a heartbreaking loss, had only good things to say about the race that so many people in IndyCar approached with trepidation.
"If the racing is like this, I definitely want to come back," Rahal said. "The driver made the difference tonight. I thought it was a really good race and we put on a great show."
Wilson, a 33-year-old Brit who never raced ovals until coming to IndyCar, said he believes the rules package made the race what most of the drivers wanted it to be.
"All the drivers were concerned," he said. "But I think INDYCAR did a fantastic job. You couldn't afford to make a mistake tonight, but I think it was as safe as motor racing goes."
Nevertheless, the future of this event is iffy at best. So here's the question to all the doubters and naysayers:
What's not to love?
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