The track was relatively quiet to start the day as all of the official on-track activity took place yesterday. A few lucky fans and VIPs received two seater and pace car rides, but that was about it.
A surprisingly large media contingent remained on scene. I expected to see more drop off with the Camping World Truck Series leaving and the Cup contingent up in the Poconos, but the room was still fairly full.
A quick stroll through the garage area revealed the teams hard at work on their machines in anticipation for the upcoming race.
It was very obvious which teams were happy with their cars yesterday, as the Andretti Autosport cars were already buttoned up and ready for the race at 3:15 PM while the Penske Racing machines of Will Power and Helio Castroneves were getting scaled out and going through their checklists.
This stood in stark contrast to the teams at the bottom of the time sheets from Friday. Both Dale Coyne Racing machines were stripped down, and the Panther Racing team of Oriol Servia was starting a front control arm swap at 3:30 PM.
I took a moment to track down Johnny Rutherford after checking out the garage area. Johnny was one of many who took the time to allow me to interview him for my Lloyd Ruby book, and I wanted to thank him personally. Lone Star JR was just as gracious in person as he was on the phone, but the meeting did lead to one of the funnier encounters of the weekend.
While we were talking, Johnny called out to a passing Helio Castroneves, who swung by to shake Rutherford’s hand. I felt for Helio, though, who was stuck in a scenario drivers are constantly tasked with: he had to quickly try to figure out who I was (my pass wasn’t visible), why I was talking to Johnny, and whether I was actually important!
Helio was very friendly, but I definitely don’t envy drivers when it comes to the hundreds of interactions that they navigate each weekend. It’s a thankless job that provides many more chances to leave a fan disappointed than happy. All the drivers I saw this weekend have been going out of their way to ensure fans have a great experience, and I commend them for that.
Eddie Gossage pulled out all the stops for the pre-race show here at the “Wild Asphalt Circus,” and it began with the Friday Night Drags, which saw street cars dragging down pit road. The topper to the pre-race festivities, though, was the Ultimate Daredevil Jump, where “Spanky Jr.” (yep, that’s what he called himself) jumped a car through a stack of cars onto yet another car, hitting a red car and landing on yet another red car.
That one didn’t quite go off as planned, but there were fireworks and a car crashed, so all in all I think the crowd got what they wanted.
The race got started and immediately became a tire conservation race, much to Twitter’s chagrin. I will say that the race fans I spoke with really enjoyed the racing. Of course, a win for a fan favorite like “Spiderman” didn’t hurt.
Marco dominated early, but it was all Helio once the sun went down. Castroneves lead 132 of 228 laps to take a 4.692 second win over Ryan Hunter-Reay. Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter, and Marco Andretti rounded out the top five — and the lead lap finishers, for that matter.
One scary moment during the race came when something blew up in the rear of the Target machine of Scott Dixon. One crew member took a direct shot of gear oil to the face and was placed on a medical cart right in front of me on pit lane. Three Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew members were eventually treated and released from the infield medical center. Tyler Rees, Adam Rovazzini, and Greg Shuker were the affected crew members.
Helio made a few lucky crew members’ day by letting them fire the victor’s six shooters. He tried valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to get the Captain to take a few shots as well!
Exuberant as ever, Helio’s trademark smile graced the media center following the victory lane festivities.
“Everything was smooth for us,” Helio said. “The setup was fantastic, all the details worked out, and that’s why we are here.”
RHR and TK both described a different type of race without the fog of victory. Both drivers bemoaned the lack of grip on the mile and a half track.
“It’s so difficult to get the package exactly right, but as a series I think we are moving towards that,” said Hunter-Reay.
“It was a long night,” Kanaan said. “It was a difficult at times, and I went off-strategy to get more tires.”
“I definitely think we need to talk about the package for next year.”
Helio obviously had a better view of the racing at the end of the night.
“That was exactly the package we need. You needed to drive the car.”
Thanks again to all of the folks at Texas Motor Speedway, IndyCar, and More Front Wing for giving me the ability to cover the race this weekend.