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Power Powers To Victory In ‘Intense” Texas Race

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 11 2017

Will Power takes the checkered flag at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Pack racing returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, where Will Power survived a massive battle of attrition to win the 21st annual Rainguard Water Sealers 600.

Power, of Team Penske, won under caution following the night’s ninth yellow flag on Lap 244 of the scheduled 248 for a four-car wreck initiated by reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato in Turn 1. That crash eliminated Sato, of Andretti Autosport; Scott Dixon and Max Chilton of Chip Ganassi Racing and Conor Daly of A.J. Foyt Racing.

“Oh my God, what a race,” Power said over his radio after taking the checkered flag for his second win at TMS and 31st of his career. Power led a race-high 180 laps to move from eighth to third on the track’s all-time laps-led table with 432. The native of Australia only trails Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. in that category.

“It was very intense,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “I’m so stoked to win in my second home. I don’t care about the rest. My wife (Liz) is from Texas and you don’t understand how good that feels.”

The race was the first for the series on TMS’ repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval. In addition to the fresh pavement that included pit road, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was reduced from 24 to 20 degrees and the bottom widened from 60 to 80-feet. Turns 3 and 4 remain banked at 24 degrees. Firestone Racing addressed the changes with a revised compound that met with mixed reaction post-race.

“There was zero degradation with the tires,” said Power, wearing his winner’s cowboy

Race-winner Will Power celebrates in Victory Lane.

hat in the infield media center. “No matter what lap you were on, it was like you were on new tires. Made for very tight, close racing.”

Power added he had predicted as much after Friday’s lone pre-qualifying practice, time trials and the final evening practice.

“Yeah, I mean, I told the series, next to Jay Frye (INDYCAR president, competition and operations), this will be an absolute pack race,” Power said. “I didn’t say whether it was good or bad; I absolutely knew it would be a pack race. There was no doubt in my mind. Anyone who didn’t…I mean, the first time we ran here, I said, ‘Yeah, this will be a pack race.’ Yeah.”

Power said he was convinced a second lane would form in Turns 1 and 2, giving the field an option from the preferred bottom groove.Yeah, I knew there would be,” Power said. “They (some of his peers) didn’t go up there. Some did, but it’s just so obvious that once the rubber goes down, there’s just a lot of grip. It just gets better and better and better. It was so obvious to me, and anyone who said it wasn’t going to be _ I can’t see how you could not see that.

“I mean, what happens is distance matters. You actually don’t take a racing line, you take the shortest line around and that’s the quickest way because there’s no limit, at least we hugged the white line. Yeah, that’s how it was when I first turned up in 2008.”

Power returned Chevrolet to Victory Lane on an oval after Sato gave Honda a prestigious win in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28.

Asked if he enjoyed his latest experience with pack racing, Power said, “I like tire degradation so at least you can work on the car. It’s fine to do that for the first half of the stint, you know, 10 laps. But I think there needs to be a bit of falloff to create some separation because it gets…you know, when we’re doing it every week, people got good at it, and need to give some respect and understood it.

“When you just do it once, as I know it all happened behind me, but it gets pretty intense. So yeah. I don’t know what to say. I won the race, though. I mean, when you’re leading, it’s the easiest night. Until you’re leading, the last 10 laps or six, you’re driving around wide-open. The tire never fell off. And I always said that, like the easiest day of your life if you lead a pack race. The easiest day of your life.”

Beginning on Lap 237, Power and Dixon raced side-by-side and swapped the point six times _ Dixon led Laps 237, 239, and 242; Power retaliated to lead Laps 238, 241 and 243.

Series veteran Tony Kanaan, of Chip Ganassi Racing, finished second followed by reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske, defending event champion Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Gabby Chaves of Harding Racing, Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport and Daly. Only the top six cars completed the 248-lap distance, with Daly one lap down.

“What did you guys think (about the race)?” Pagenaud asked the assembled media during his post-race presser. “Last crash I didn’t see. I saw sparks. I saw Sato sideways, and I thought that was going to happen. That’s all I thought about. I just saw a hole and I went for the hole on the right, kept my boot in to make sure I was going to clear the crash and that was it. But Sato was all over the place and was going to crash someone. I don’t like to bash on people, but he was really out of control tonight. It’s unfortunate because he’s a tremendous racer, but yeah, glad it wasn’t with me.

It (a crash) was cooking, and it was a shame because what I saw when he (Sato) came in the mix, he really started chopping things around and that was when I realized it was too late. I should have been leading at that point. But it’s racing.”

The frantic pace produced 23 lead changes among seven drivers mixed in with nine cautions for 66 laps and 11 penalties. Power’s winning average speed was 140.491 mph. Power also recorded the fastest lead lap in 23.7282-seconds/218.474 mph.

A massive, nine-car crash heading into Turn 3 prompted a red flag stoppage on Lap 152. The cleanup took 30 minutes, 42 seconds.

The incident was triggered by contact principally involving James Hinchcliffe, who was sandwiched between Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Mikhail Aleshin on the outside and Kanaan on the bottom. Hinchcliffe’s car darted right and up the 24-degree banking, collecting the cars of Ed Carpenter Racing teammates Carpenter and JR Hildebrand, Dale Coyne Racing’s Tristan Vautier and Ed Jones, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, Dixon and Carlos Munoz of A.J. Foyt Racing.

Hinchcliffe placed the blame squarely on Kanaan _ the 2004 winner here _ moments after team-owner Chip Ganassi defended his driver and questioned Hinchcliffe’s in-race judgment.

“Tony drove me straight into Mikhail,” Hinchcliffe retorted. “Tony’s one of the best in this type of racing and normally a guy I trust my life with. Today he wasn’t driving respectfully and took out half the field. It’s unfortunate it’s become a pack race. There’s so much grip on the track we went back to that type of racing. Everybody was flat-out…that’s old school racing. That’s exciting to watch.”

Kanaan, an outspoken critic of the pack racing witnessed here in the past, took responsibility for the crash. “I guess I don’t have many friends out there,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. “It was pack racing…tough night, very intense from first lap to the last lap. I’m glad it’s over.”

Kanaan, the 2004 series champion, reiterated he wasn’t trying to squeeze Hinchcliffe, who finished second here in the rain-delayed event run last Aug.27.

Honestly, I didn’t see it,” Kanaan said. “There was a bump going into Turn 3 there, and I think…I guess I moved up, and I really have to apologize to Hinch. I’m definitely going to go see him if he wants to see me or I’ll call him. But yeah, and I guess it was a close call. I moved up, and we hit. I’m really…it’s sad. I don’t do those kind of things. I race people clean, and I want people to race me clean. It was definitely an honest mistake.

“You never _ especially in a place like this, you don’t crash people on purpose, and you don’t do…I’ve been around it way too long to do any silly things like that, and if I did, it was really a mistake, and I apologize for it. Obviously, I had to pay that in the pits for the longest 20 seconds of my life.”

The “Big One” trimmed the 22-car field to 11 with 94 laps remaining. Before the race went green, INDYCAR announced a competition caution _ a mandatory pit stop for four tires _ after 30 green flag laps.

Earlier, oval-track specialist Carpenter brought out the third caution when his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka Chevrolet spun near the exit of pit lane on a restart on Lap 102. Carpenter did a 360 on the track’s apron…eliciting comparisons to Danny Sullivan’s “Spin and Win” en route to victory in the 1985 Indianapolis 500. Carpenter pitted for four new tires and restarted 17th on Lap 107.

Helio Castroneves’ bid for a fifth win at TMS ended on Lap 91, when his No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet darted from the racing line into the outside Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. Flying sparks as the left side of the car ground the pavement indicated either a parts breakage or flat left rear tire. The car came to rest along the inside wall further down the backstretch. Castroneves remained in the cockpit for several minutes before being removed with the help of the Holmatro Safety Team. The popular Brazilian walked to the ambulance without help.

Power led the charge into the pits, trailed by teammate Pagenaud. That pair retained the lead on pit-out, followed by Kanaan, Dixon and Aleshin. During the sequence, INDYCAR officials announced they were reviewing an incident between Dixon and the No. 19 Dale Coyne Honda of rookie Ed Jones. However, no action was taken.

The night’s first yellow waved on Lap 38, when Alexander Rossi wound up in the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier after being squeezed by Kanaan and Dixon. Rossi’s No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda spun and hit the wall hard with the left side.

“Scott made it three-wide and there’s two lanes here, not three,” said Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion. “It was unnecessary and unfortunate.”

Vautier, subbing for the recuperating Sebastien Bourdais, led the field into the pits, followed by Josef Newgarden of Team Penske and Power. Exiting the pits, Hinchcliffe lost rear end traction in his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Honda and collected Castroneves as he drove down the inside lane. Castroneves then hit the No. 26 of Sato.

Sato’s crew was forced to change the front nose of his car, putting him a lap down. Castroneves was able to return to the track ahead of the Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car but later complained of a tire vibration. The incident was reviewed by INDYCAR officials, who assessed Hinchcliffe a drive-thru penalty for avoidable pit lane contact.

That wasn’t the only infraction, as Newgarden and Hildebrand were flagged for speeding penalties along pit road. During the same sequence, pole-sitter Charlie Kimball’s No. 83 Tresiba Honda developed an engine oil leak, ending the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s race after 41 laps. Rossi officially finished 22nd; Kimball went from P1 to 21st.

Dixon, still seeking his first win of 2017, remains the championship leader with 326 points, 13 more than Pagenaud. Sato is third, one behind Pagenaud with Castroneves fourth with 305 _ 21 behind the leader.

Jones is the unofficial Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader with 228 points, with Formula One superstar Fernando Alonso a distant second with 47 after his one-off appearance in the Indy 500. Interestingly, Alonso took time from competing in this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix to call into the NBC Sports Network telecast. At one point the two-time F1 World Driving Champion said he would consider joining the Verizon IndyCar Series under the right circumstances…but did not elaborate.

The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is on June 25 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. The race will be telecast at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) by NBCSN and broadcast by the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network on local affiliates, XM 209, Sirius 212 and IndyCar.com.

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Results Saturday of the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 248, Running 
2. (4) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 248, Running
3. (12) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 248, Running
4. (11) Graham Rahal, Honda, 248, Running
5. (20) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 248, Running
6. (15) Marco Andretti, Honda, 248, Running
7. (21) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 247, Running
8. (6) Max Chilton, Honda, 245, Running
9. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 243, Contact 
10. (8) Takuma Sato, Honda, 243, Contact
11. (14) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 224, Contact 
12. (18) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 215, Running
13. (17) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 201, Contact 
14. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 151, Contact 
15. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 151, Contact 
16. (5) Tristan Vautier, Honda, 151, Contact 
17. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 151, Contact
18. (22) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 151, Contact
19. (13) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 151, Contact
20. (10) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 90, Contact
21. (1) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 41, Mechanical
22. (3) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 36, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 140.491 mph
Time of Race: 2:32:31.0118
Margin of victory: Under caution
Cautions: 9 for 66 laps
Lead changes: 23 among 7 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Kimball 1-15 
Vautier 16 
Kimball 17-22 
Vautier 23
Kimball 24-28 
Vautier 29-40 
Newgarden 41-46 
Power 47-57 
Vautier 58 
Power 59-111 
Kanaan 112 
Power 113-140 
Chilton 141-148 
Power 149-192 
Dixon 193-197 
Power 198-231 
Dixon 232-234 
Power 235-236 
Dixon 237 
Power 238 
Dixon 239-240 
Power 241 
Dixon 242 
Power 243-248

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Dixon 326, Pagenaud 313, Sato 312, Castroneves 305, Power 286, Rahal 283, Newgarden 277, Kanaan 264, Rossi 254, Hinchcliffe 232.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 11 2017
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