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Lone Star Hero
by Esteban Morales

     The Indianapolis 500 is always a tough act to follow in the racing world, Texas Motor Speedway however, is one of the few tracks on the Indy Racing League calendar that always delivers on sheer wheel to wheel excitement. This year’s Bombardier 500 was no exception; held under the lights, it gave way to thrilling on track pyrotechnics courtesy of heavy fuel loads, skid blocks and of course a bit of contact.

     Andretti Green Racing’s Dario Franchitti led the Saturday night mad dash to the green flag after recording his first career Indycar pole. Franchitti comfortably led the race while teammate, Tony Kanaan, battled it out with Buddy Rice, winner of this year’s Indy 500. By lap 20 Rice moved into second and began pressuring Franchitti; a few laps later Kanaan drove by Rice and took the lead of the race on lap 23.

     On track excitement soon brewed the first yellow of the evening when rookies Ed Carpenter and Darren Manning got too close for comfort and made light contact leaving Manning with a broken front wing. Kanaan led Franchitti, Rice, Vitor Meira and Kosuke Matsuura into the pits for the night’s first pit stops. While Manning’s Target Ganassi Racing crew changed his front nose cone, Kanaan had a brief mishap with his fuel hose and dropped to second behind Franchitti. Immediately after the field went green on lap 32 Franchitti and Kanaan battled wheel to wheel with Rice occasionally sticking his Panoz G-Force’s nose in the mix. A little further in the field the action was just as close and eventually brought Tomas Scheckter’s night to an end after making brief contact with defending champion, Scott Dixon, and a retaining wall. Unfortunately A.J. Foyt IV became a casualty for the second race in a row as he brought out the evening’s second caution on lap 32 after Ed Carpenter moved up high into his groove forcing Foyt into the wall between turns 3 and 4. The grid went green for about two laps and soon went through a long yellow after Carpenter made hard contact exiting turn 4 spilling fluids throughout much of the front stretch. Kanaan led Franchitti, Rice, Meira, and Matsuura back to the green on lap 57; the front runners immediately began to battle amongst themselves.

     As the sun began to fall and the lights glimmered off the field, the event’s first green flag stops ensued once Mark Taylor peeled off the track. Lap 99 saw Kanaan give up the lead and pit along with teammates Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta followed by Adrian Fernandez.1999 IRL champion, Greg Ray, found himself in the lead during the shuffle but ultimately handed it back to Kanaan while Rice and Franchitti followed in pursuit. Lap 125 spelled the end of Herta’s race due to a broken gearbox. One lap later he was followed into the garage by Scott Sharp after his engine let go; Sharp was then followed by Mark Taylor after making contact while exiting turn 2 on the same lap! The trail of mangled racecars led to the fourth caution of the night.

     Kanaan led the grid down into pit lane but was edged out by Rice upon exit. After losing his lead Kanaan drove right around Rice when the green flag was waved on lap 135. Although Kanaan was unable to pull out a gap he did manage to keep the field at bay. With 50 laps to go Sam Hornish Jr. began to leave his mark as he began to battle with the top 5 and soon challenged Kanaan for the lead.

     As the end of the race quickly approached the on track action begantt to erupt and culminated with the final yellow on lap 180. After trying to pass Kanaan for the lead, Buddy Rice fell back in line making contact with Darren Manning. Both cars showered the track with sparks; miraculously the only visible damage was another broken front wing on Manning’s car. Most of the field took this opportunity to make their final pit stop of the night. While Manning received a new nose cone for the second time that evening, Rice called it quits after suffering some suspension damage. While exiting the pits, Scott Dixon and Adrian Fernandez tangled, briefly catapulting Dixon’s car into the air and ending his run.

     Dan Wheldon and Helio Castroneves elected not to pit and led the remaining field to the green flag with 13 laps to go. Castroneves quickly fell through the field and came to a halt after running out of fuel on lap 90. Wheldon suffered similar fate after staying up front with the leaders but succumbing to a broken gearbox. Kanaan and Franchitti briskly drove off as Alex Barron, who started last in a field of 22, battled the last few laps alongside Hornish, Meira, Ray and Fernandez. Once the checkered flags fell Kanaan picked up his second win of the season and the points lead but cautiously said, “I’m hero today, I can be zero next time.”

Results:

1. Tony Kanaan
2. Dario Franchitti
3. Alex Barron
4. Sam Hornish Jr.
5. Adrian Fernandez
6. Vitor Meira
7. Greg Ray
8. Darren Manning
9. Felipe Giaffone
10. Tora Takagi
11. Al Unser Jr.
12. Helio Castroneves
13. Dan Wheldon
14. Scott Dixon
15. Buddy Rice
16. Kosuke Matsuura
17. Mark Taylor
18. Scott Sharp
19. Bryan Herta
20. Tomas Scheckter
21. Ed Carpenter
22. A.J. Foyt IV