Winner Briscoe Is Not The Lone Star In Texas As Danica Shines

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 5 2010

Ryan Briscoe made up for a bad day at Indy by winning in Texas on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com Fort Worth, Texas – On a hot summer night when both Ryan Briscoe and Danica Patrick resuscitated their IZOD IndyCar Series seasons, the Firestone 550k neatly came down to the events occurring on Lap 192 and Lap 193.

On Lap 192, Hideki Mutoh pitted for fuel under green, allowing Patrick to finally lead her first lap of the 2010 season.

On Lap 193, Briscoe powered around Patrick to retake the point en route to his first victory of 2010.

“I’m surprised I didn’t have anything thrown at me,” Briscoe joked, a reference to Patrick’s unquestioned fan popularity. “If I didn’t get her there, I’m not sure if I was going to get her at all. That was huge.”

Less than a week after he crashed-out of the 94th Indianapolis 500, Briscoe stopped beating himself up long enough to qualify on-pole, break an eight-race winless streak and climb back into the championship points picture with 10 events remaining.

Briscoe began the season’s first night race seventh in the standings, 72 points behind Team Penske teammate Will Power. Briscoe exited Texas fifth, 38 points behind new leader Dario Franchitti, the two-time and reigning Indy 500 champion from Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Yeah, this is a huge win,” Briscoe reiterated after notching his first victory in four starts on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval, and sixth of his IndyCar career. “I mean, not just the prestige of winning such a marquee event here in Texas. You know, just to get the championship rolling for the No. 6 car. It’s been a rough start. My two teammates (Will Power and Helio Castroneves) have won races this year. It’s a great feeling to join them.”

Briscoe rebounded from his season-worst 24th-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a dominant run highlighted by a race-high 102 laps-led. Briscoe’s Indy 500 ended on Lap 147 when his Dallara/Honda got caught up in tire marbles and whacked the Turn 4 wall shortly after a pit stop.

“Indy was disappointing, for sure,”  said Briscoe, a 28-year-old native of Australia. “We were running  decent. But Dario was strong. We needed to come back, you know, show them we’re not going to give up in this championship and fight back. I think I’m still a long way back, but I’m not going to give up. Hopefully, we can get a few more victories this year.”

Patrick certainly made him earn Saturday night’s, much to the delight of an estimated crowd of 76,000 fans. Working off the momentum generated by her sixth-place finish at Indy, Patrick raced at the front most of the night after qualifying a so-so eighth. It easily was Patrick’s strongest all-around performance since her only series victory to-date at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan in April 2008.

Patrick, who roundly criticized her Andretti Autosport crew after qualifying a disappointing 23rd at IMS, praised the effort here led by strategist Ziggy Harcus. The boos she heard after qualifying at Indy were replaced by a NASCAR-style Dale Earnhardt Jr. cheer when she took the lead.

“I think my engineer and I, we really thought about what it was going to take here to run well,” said Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com Dallara/Honda. “Sometimes it takes looking at the past to really be able to move forward. Really looked at last year and looked at what it was I didn’t do right. We made some really good improvements with the car in the first one or two changes, and that really set up our whole weekend.

“We had a great car in the race. No matter how good you are and how brave you are it comes down to that car so many times. Not every time, but so many times. It was probably my best, cleanest race. I’ve had races where some awesome things have happened and get overlooked because you’re not in the lead. But tonight was probably my best race as far as top-to-bottom and not making any mistakes and being good in the pits and being good in and out of the pits and being good on the track.”

Marco Andretti, Patrick’s teammate, finished third for the second consecutive race. Scott Dixon, winner here in June 2008, was fourth and followed across by Target teammate Franchitti. Andretti Autosport’s Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay _ the latter possibly competing for the last time because of lack of sponsorship funding _ finished sixth and seventh, respectively.

Rookie Alex Lloyd placed eighth, his second consecutive top-10 result for Dale Coyne Racing, followed by Dan Wheldon of Panther Racing and Vitor Meira of A.J. Foyt Racing.

Earlier, Simona de Silvestro escaped serious injury, and burns, when she hit the wall between Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 99. The right side of de Silvestro’s No. 78 Team Stargate Worlds/HVM Racing entry was on fire as it slid to a stop. De Silvestro was struggling to exit the cockpit with its collar-brace intact when the IRL’s Holmatro Safety Team arrived. They also struggled with the brace and were slow in getting water on the fire. However, an IRL spokesperson said after the race that the team’s hose apparatus failed, forcing workers to use their portable extinguisher tanks.

Once pulled from the wreckage, de Silvestro slumped against an inside pit wall before being taken to the infield care center. “I just burned my hand a little bit,” said de Silvestro, wearing a white bandage on her right hand and wrist. “It was pretty crazy. The fire wasn’t going away, it was getting worse and worse.

“The car was pretty loose for a couple of laps. It was pretty hard coming out of Turn 2. I was able to catch it a couple of times but this time it got away from me and I hit the wall. The car caught on fire and it wasn’t really extinguishing. Now I know what a loose car is.”

A 21-year-old native of Switzerland, de Silvestro earned the prestigious Indianapolis 500 Chase Rookie of the Year Award after a 14th-place, lead-lap finish at IMS.

Briscoe was leading Patrick by 0.2853-seconds when the race-ending scenario began to shape up during a round of green-flag pit stops. Patrick pitted on Lap 189 for four tires and fuel, followed by Briscoe one lap later. Wheldon inherited the lead but when he pitted on Lap 191 Mutoh, of Newman/Haas Racing, took the point. Mutoh ducked into the pits on Lap 192…handing the lead over to Patrick for the first time in 2010. In five previous starts at TMS, Patrick had led a pair of laps en route to a third-place finish in 2007.

Briscoe was still working up to speed when Patrick got around him, but the strength of the Penske entry was put on display moments later. Briscoe took to the outside lane, used one of his allotted Honda push-to-pass blasts and completed the pass. As clinical as Briscoe made it appear, he insisted he was not sure he had the ponies to get around Patrick.

“Absolutely not,” said Briscoe, who gave car-owner Roger Penske his fourth win of 2010 and 39th in the series. “She had been running strong all night long. That whole second-to-last stint, she was in my mirrors and attempted a couple of times to get around me. I knew she had a very strong car. She must have had a good pit stop as well.

“I was hoping having gone the extra lap I was going to be able to pull some distance. But she got me in (Turns) 3 and 4 as I was coming out of the pits. You know, I let her go. But I was able to sort of slingshot back, carry some momentum, use the Honda push-to-pass button on the exit of (Turn) 4, which really helped me.

“Instead of hitting the (rev)-limiter, I sort of drove through it and was able to clear her into (Turn ) 1. That was key. If I didn’t get her there, I’m not sure if I was going to get her at all. That was huge. I knew it was going to be an important time and that’s why I was being aggressive, to get right on her while I had fresh tires and the high line was going to work.”

Patrick said that’s when reality began settling in _ that her first top-five of 2010 was going to be as good as it gets. “I was actually just hoping that there was going to be a whole bunch of lapped traffic that showed up,” Patrick said. “That was what I was hoping for. It wasn’t quite the case. One here and one there isn’t going to do it.

“I guess I knew when he (Briscoe) just drove around the outside of me when I had my foot down (on the gas) that he’s probably pretty fast. I knew I was going to have to have some picks out there to get by him, but that didn’t happen. He was just fast.”

Still, Patrick confirmed it had been another good-news weekend for herself and her teammates.

“You know, sometimes the little victories that I have throughout the season are not necessarily obvious on the track,” said Patrick, who has been running at the finish in the last 23 series races, five short of Dixon’s record of 28. “Maybe that’s another aspect of what I’m doing, winning little victories here and there to get everything in line to be able to perform from top-to-bottom on race day.

“I’ve been working hard all season. I think that it’s just really nice to have a result to show for how hard I’ve been working and how hard all the team has been working, as well.”

Furthermore, Andretti Autosport’s four cars in the top-seven indicated the team fronted by Michael Andretti is closing the performance gap to the Penske and Ganassi juggernauts.

“Well, I think that we’ve definitely proven that when it comes to the race that we’re strong,” Patrick said. “I think it’s a big accomplishment tonight, four cars in the top seven, especially as far as back as Ryan started, that’s really good.

“If I can be critical, we weren’t very fast, we were slow in qualifying. I was thinking to myself (Friday) night, I was watching the (NASCAR Truck race), I was like, ‘Man, it’s so great for the leader, he just puts his foot down, you have to go around the long way (to pass). If we can put ourselves in that position, these great runs we have in the race will become race wins. I think we need to figure out qualifying so we can be on the front row and get on some pole positions and be able to lead and win some of these.

“But I think what you see in the race is you see good strategies, you see good pit stops, and you see good driving. You see good cars. We work really hard on our race cars. You know, we’re always thinking about that as the main goal. There’s so many more miles to go than in qualifying. I think if we can find that speed, we start up front, these turn into race wins.”

Briscoe and Team Penske, of course, already are there. Over the last three seasons, Briscoe has finished at TMS where he started…third in 2008, second in 2009 and from the pole Saturday night.

During a brief post-race interview along pit road, Roger Penske admitted that his team “didn’t come to play” at Indy, where it has notched a record 16 poles and 15 victories. Castroneves’ highly-touted attempt to win a record-tying fourth Indy 500 fell victim to a botched pit stop. And the Brazilian crashed out here on Lap 129 after contact with Mario Moraes of KV Racing Technology during an attempted pass exiting Turn 4.

Penske praised Patrick’s full-court effort, and quickly noted that Briscoe had displayed the championship mettle that prompted his hiring for a fulltime IndyCar ride in 2008.

“Yeah, you know, racing for this team, there’s no better feeling than coming into Victory Circle and getting congratulated by The Captain,” Briscoe said. “He’s just such an amazing person. The receive compliments from him, it’s a good feeling. I want many more of them this year. We got to keep our heads down. It’s a long way to go. I want to win more races.”

Results Saturday of the Firestone 550K IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.455-mile Texas Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

2. (8) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

3. (10) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

4. (4) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

5. (2) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

6. (13) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

7. (24) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

8. (6) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

9. (15) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

10. (19) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

11. (14) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

12. (7) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 228, Running

13. (18) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running

14. (3) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running

15. (16) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Honda, 227, Running

16. (23) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 226, Running

17. (25) Mario Romancini, Dallara-Honda, 226, Running

18. (20) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 225, Running

19. (12) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 225, Running

20. (5) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 129, Contact

21. (9) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 129, Contact

22. (22) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara-Honda, 129, Contact

23. (17) Milka Duno, Dallara-Honda, 116, Mechanical

24. (26) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 97, Contact

25. (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 56, Contact

26. (21) Jay Howard, Dallara-Honda, 37, Mechanical

Race Statistics

Winners average speed: 159.508

Time of Race: 2:04:47.1555

Margin of victory: 1.4629 seconds

Cautions: 4 for 36 laps

Lead changes: 10 among 7 drivers

Lap Leaders: Briscoe 1-7, Franchitti 8, Briscoe 9-47, Franchitti 48-132, Tagliani 133-165, Power 166-169, Briscoe 170-189, Wheldon 190, Mutoh 191, Patrick 192, Briscoe 193-228.

Point Standings: Franchitti 246, Power 243, Dixon 235, Castroneves 211, Briscoe 208, HUnter-Reay 201, Wilson 179, Kanaan, 179, Andretti 169, Wheldon 164.

(This story will be updated shortly)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 5 2010
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