For the second race in a row Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe dominated his rivals, only to see a late caution wipe out his lead and allow a rival to snatch victory from under his nose.
Under the floodlights of the Texas Motor Speedway, it was Briscoe’s team-mate Helio Castroneves who took the victory – although finishing second allowed the Australian to take the lead of the series championship from Scott Dixon, who had performed the same trick on him in Milwaukee.
“I drove it like I stole it,” said Castroneves, who celebrated the win with his traditional fan-pleasing climb of a safety fence.
“It was an incredible day for Team Penske,” he said. “All the credit also goes to Ryan Briscoe and his team. They push us, and we push them, and together, we’re pushing towards the top. Having first and second at Texas is not easy, so that’s a compliment for everyone.”
A gloomy Briscoe said: “We did the best we could, I just didn’t have enough for Helio in the final stages. The last 20 laps were some of the most frustrating I’ve ever driven. To lead the whole race and have the quickest car out there, I just couldn’t pass Helio.”
The race was dominated by the Penske drivers and their rivals at Target Chip Ganassi, Dixon and Dario Franchitti, with only Marco Andretti from the rest of the field managing to mix it with the foursome.
Franchitti had qualified on pole, but he survived at the front only until the end of the safety car period caused by a lap two incident in which Graham Rahal lost control of an evil-handling car and collected the Venezuelan pairing of EJ Viso and Milka Duno as he crashed.
Briscoe took the lead on the restart and ran away with the race, leading 160 of the 228 laps and at one point lapping the entire field from fifth place down.
But a cautions between laps 150-158 for debris on the track and between 173-181 for a crash by AJ Foyt IV allowed the field to catch him up, and Castroneves jumped ahead in the pits during the final stops on lap 176.
Dixon took third ahead of Andretti, Franchitti, Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon.
“It was slow. It was just slow all night,” said Franchitti. “The biggest problem I had was the fuel mileage. If they would have told me that from the start, I would have done a lot better and saved fuel. I gave away a place tonight, and I hope it doesn’t cost us at the end of the year.”
Wheldon. who is now a respectable sixth in the championship, said: “For whatever reason, we just lacked a little bit of speed compared to what we had in practice and we geared the National Guard Panther Racing car to be quicker.
“Again, the Panther guys worked really hard and got us to the end, but we seem to make it difficult for ourselves sometimes. As time goes on, we’re going to continue to improve.”
Andretti had reached as high as second before dropping back and having to regain the places, battling hard with team-mate Danica Patrick in the final laps. Afterwards he whined that she had not let him overtake her as they raced for position.
He moaned: “The toughest people out there passing me are my team-mates, and I don’t get that. I think three out of four of us get what the camaraderie of Andretti Green Racing is.”
Patrick, who is fifth in the championship and working hard to throw off her reputation for being short-tempered, simply said “Marco passed me at the end far and square”.
But Andretti Green Racing elder statesman Tony Kanaan, who finished eighth, said he would sit the pair of them down to talk it through.
“It looked like they were racing for the lead when they were really racing for sixth and seventh,” he said. “But they’re kids, and one day they will learn. When you hit, you hit hard. One day they might respect each other a little more.”
Justin Wilson finished 15th for Dale Coyne Racing, three laps off the lead, and is now 11th in the overall championship standings.
Mike Conway was running at the end of the race for Dreyer & Reinbold, his first finish of the season outside of the Indianapolis 500, but he completed 43 laps fewer than the leaders after a lengthy stop in the pits for his crew to work on his engine.