How ironic is it that in the world that is the Verizon IndyCar Series, that the two wildest races over the past two seasons have seen the same car and driver in the winner’s circle. Last year, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing pilot Graham Rahal survived the hijinks at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California to take the win. Saturday night, after a two month plus delay due to rainfall suffered in June, Rahal once again did not have the fastest car, but once again took advantage of a late opportunity and secured his first win of the 2016 season at Texas Motor Speedway in the Firestone 600.
The win however, by just eight one thousandths of a second came at the expense of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe, who was seeking his first IndyCar Series victory since suffering a near fatal crash during practice for last year’s Indianapolis 500. Leading the way when action resumed from where it stopped in June on lap 75, the Canadian controlled the proceedings at the front for a majority of the 258 lap, 600 kilometer distance, managing to fight off multiple attacks from some of the best oval track drivers on the circuit, including Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter, and Helio Castroneves.
After the race went caution free for 140 laps, Saturday saw its first yellow flag when Scott Dixon collected the turn one wall after slight contact with Carpenter. The final 40 laps would begin a run of multiple restarts coupled with almost immediate cautions as drivers started to take chances that they elected not to in the earlier stages of the race. In the end, several contenders including Carpenter and Hinchcliffe’s SPM teammate Mikhail Aleshin would see their hopes for victory crushed against the outer walls of the 1.5 mile quad oval. No drivers suffered injuries, but attrition eventually saw the race climax into a three-car scrap between Rahal, Hinchcliffe, and Tony Kanaan, all of whom were without a win in 2016 entering Saturday’s action.
After nosing ahead of Hinchcliffe on two occasions, Kanaan eventually gave way to Rahal just before the white flag who went on try his luck. Despite having the strongest car for most of the night, Hinch surprisingly did not fully protect the inside line on the backstretch during the last lap, allowing Rahal to draft past and into the lead entering turn three. The Canadian driver quickly tried to reverse the maneuver back to his favor, but fell just short at the finish line. Kanaan held on to place third, followed by championship leader Simon Pagenaud in fourth, and his Team Penske teammate Helio Castronves in fifth.
The victory is the fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series for Graham Rahal and his second on a super speedway. As for engine manufacturer Honda, the victory is only the second in 2016 as opposed to tweleve by rival Chevrolet, but the triumph also marks a clean sweep of the two most prolific oval track events on the current IndyCar season schedule by Honda, when coupled with Alexander Rossi’s dramatic victory in May in the 100th Indianapolis 500.
As for the battle for the season title, Simon Pagenaud’s fourth place finish compared with Penske teammate Will Power’s eighth place effort on Saturday night, results in the Frenchman extending his lead on the Australian to 28 points with just two races remaining this season. The next comes one week from Sunday at the Watkins Glen International circuit in upstate New York.