Will Power stayed in the clear and emerged victorious Saturday night at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 in one of the craziest races the Verizon IndyCar Series has seen in years.
It was a war of attrition at a fierce 220 mph on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway track in the “wild west” that lived up to its nickname.
Less than half the field even finished the race with Power pushing his way to the front early and hanging out ahead to avoid the multiple wreckages and pick up his 31st career victory. That tied the Australian driver for ninth on the all-time wins list with Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti, and pushed him into fifth in the championship points race at the midway mark of the season.
Sixty-six of the 248-laps were under caution, plus a red flag that stopped the race for half an hour, due to numerous accidents. There was no shortage of intense moments right down to the final moments of the race as things were getting just a little too dicey with Power, Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato running three-wide through the turns. It was inevitable something very bad was going to happen and that came with only a handful of laps remaining as Sato dropped into the dirt and lost it, veering up into Dixon and sending both cars out of the race. That brought out the final caution as Power crossed the line under yellow that surely made those who remained unscathed breath a heavy sigh of relief.
Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe was at the centre (literally) of the eight-car pileup that brought the race to a temporary halt.
Hinchcliffe overcame a drive-through penalty — following a pit-lane incident with Helio Castroneves and Sato — that put him down a lap to work his way back up through the field and fight Tony Kanaan for fifth on lap 151. With Kanaan on the inside and inching upwards, Hinchcliffe’s teammate Mikhail Aleshin came in on the outside and boxed in the Oakville, Ont., native. Hinchcliffe ran out of real estate, pinballed off both cars and triggered the chain reaction and red flag.
While Kanaan was penalized for avoidable contact, one has to wonder what Aleshin was thinking when he sandwiched his teammate (the one driver on the track he should be trying to help) and gave Hinchcliffe nowhere to go. By the way, Aleshin was knocked out of the race in the incident too.
Dale Coyne Racing’s Tristan Vautier, making his IndyCar return after an almost two-year hiatus, was making up for lost time and battling for the lead earlier, but was among those who got caught up in the carnage. Vautier, who races sports cars full-time now, was a late call-up to fill in for the injured Sebastien Bourdais.
Kanaan wasn’t making friends earlier either as he was also involved in a previous three-wide incident that sandwiched Alexander Rossi, who broke loose and crashed out of the race.
Despite the stop-and-hold penalty that put Kanaan a couple laps down, it clearly didn’t torpedo his chances as he was able to battle back and secure second place.
Power’s Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud appeared to be the only driver among the pack to just hold it steady and it paid off as the reigning series champ took third to move up into second in the title chase and just 13 points behind Dixon for the lead.
Chilton’s crystal ball
Max Chilton should buy a lottery ticket. While others thought the changes to Texas Motor Speedway — repaving the track and reducing the banking in the first couple turns — would lead to single-file, conservative racing, Chilton predicted correctly there would be pack racing and it would come down to the wire. Chilton had his near brush sustaining some damage to the nose of his car in the Sato-Dixon crash, but he remained in the race and finished eighth.
Chaves, Daly hanging tough
Gabby Chaves was among those who actually crossed the finish line on the lead lap and posted a new career-best IndyCar finish in fifth place after starting back in 20th. Chaves is only running the three super speedway races this season with the brand new Harding Racing team in an effort to make a full-time run in 2018. So far his bid is looking good as the 23-year-old Colombian-American driver also took ninth just a couple weeks ago in his season debut at the Indianapolis 500.
Conor Daly also had a strong race finishing seventh after starting 21st. That had to make team owner AJ Foyt, aka “Super Tex”, happy in his home state.
Carpenter team collects crucial points
Ed Carpenter and teammate J.R. Hildebrand were among those caught up in the big lap 151 crash, but neither one was too banged up and their crews patched things up to stay in the race. Although both their chances to win were vanquished as they were several laps down, it was still a chance to pick up key points with most of the field out. Carpenter finished 11th and Hildebrand came in 12th.