Photo from indycar.com
On a night chock full of miscues and head scratchers, the driver and team who made the least mistakes in Texas won.
Widely known for brain fades, Takuma Sato sat on pole alongside Scott Dixon as they led the field to the green flag with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Frenchmen Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud making up the top five. Josef Newgarden battled with Spencer Pigot for eighth, the two black cars menacingly swapping positions. In other nearly identical looking cars, rookie Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi began a battle that’d last nearly all night. Still another Andretti Autosporter, Zach Veach, charged forward, going high around Graham Rahal for eleventh. Son of Dracula ran decently, but a late race screw up sent his car into the wall and spinning, relegating him to a twentieth place showing.
Pitting from a comfortable lead, Taku’s brain fade fully engulfed the proceedings. He slid hot into his pit box, recklessly slamming into a crewman and sending him flying through the air. Fortunately Chris Welch, inside tire changer, wasn’t seriously injured although watching the replay it’s hard to see how. The side pod and rear wing both slammed into him incredibly hard, and he was lucky not to get run completely over or wedged beneath the car, which banged the pit wall. Sato was of course penalized and the characteristic mistake cost him the race. On track, RHR got around Dixon and led after the pit stops cycled through ahead of James Hinchcliffe, Rossi and Pags.
The utterly fearless “Joaquin” Herta soon passed Pags for fifth as the nineteen year old’s driving alone was worth the price of admission for fans. Newgarden trailed Pags at this point, in seventh with a hundred and fifty laps to go. Green flag racing lasted the first half of the race, as RHR continued to lead Dixon, but farther back the rookie phenom wouldn’t stay put. He brazenly passed Rossi on the outside going into turn 1 for fourth and then did the same to Hinch the very next lap, battling a loose car all the while but advancing to third place and in contact with Dixon.
After the second round of green flag stops Veach touched the wall and brought out the first caution flag of the night on lap 135. Hunter-Reay continued to lead over Dixon as the yellow dragged on for too many laps, as usual. Restarting on lap 144, cars raced two wide with Dixon challenging RHR for the lead. Herta again battled with Rossi for third and awesome oval track action throughout the field continued with less than a hundred to go and darkness fully descended on TMS.
Dixon pssed RHR for the lead, although NBCSN viewers had to guess what it might have looked like. Hinchcliffe got around Herta for fourth as Ragin’ Rahal now was up to sixth. Rossi went high around Dixie for the lead as cars jostled and fuel strategies played out with final pit stops approaching. Dixon quickly took it back from him as RHR pitted, followed by others. Newgarden had been tooling around in seventh or eighth most of the night and suffered a slow pit stop, then suddenly after the latest pit stops led the race. His strategy changed when he pitted under the yellow Veach brought out and, almost incredibly, it won him the race.
With less than thirty laps to go Hinch, running fifth and appearing strong all night, got high and loose, hitting the wall and spinning for the second single car incident and yellow of the night. “This one’s on me,” Hinch rightly admitted of his second consecutive DNF. A few cars took advantage and pitted prior to the restart, which came with twenty three to go, but none that mattered. Newgarden led Dixon, Rossi, Herta and Pags to a really ragged restart as Dixon and Newkid touched wheels. Again Herta charged around the outside of Rossi for third, with Dixon next in his sights.
The Dixon-Herta incident brought out the third and final caution and was a real head scratcher. To us it looked like Herta on the low side got loose and went up into Dixon, not that Dixie “pinched him” as he said before surprisingly apologizing to the rookie. Paul Tracy in the booth also pointed to Herta as being at fault. Regardless, both cars hit the wall after getting into each other and were out. As Townsend Bell said earlier in the evening, “it’s amazing Colton’s still on track . . . making bold moves.”
Newgarden held on through the final restart and last twelve laps despite Rossi’s best efforts, which had begun earlier when he somehow avoided the Dixon-Herta accident. The two went side by side repeatedly for one helluva oval show. Rahal finished third, salvaging something for his Rahal Lanigan Letterman Racing crew. For Team Penske and Newkid, it was another night of zero mistakes – or mental lapses.