Belterra Indy 300
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First at Forty-One
by Esteban Morales

     Following a last minute defection to the Indy Racing League and a dismal debut with a retirement on lap one at the Phoenix International Raceway, most ruled out an auspicious future for Fernandez Racing in the IRL. Coupled with being the oldest driver in the field at 41 and the only driver/owner, the odds were definitely stacked against Mexican fan-favorite, Adrian Fernandez. Fernandez proved all the naysayers wrong however, by ousting Andretti Green Racing and Rahal Letterman Racing off the thrown and claiming victory at the Belterra Resort Indy 300 held at Kentucky Speedway.

     Buddy Rice began the weekend in usual form claiming yet another pole position, his fifth of the season. The green flag dropped with over 60,000 strong standing in anticipation. Tony Kanaan immediately jumped into the lead with Adrian Fernandez in tow on lap one. Fernandez challenged Kanaan for the lead through the opening stint and at times led through the backstretch only to relinquish through turns 3 and 4 as Kanaan kept the inside line. By lap 34 the first caution flag waved for debris bringing the grid into the pits.

     Most everything stayed the same at the front with most of the action taking place behind Kanaan and Fernandez. Buddy Rice and Dan Wheldon battled it out for a number of laps jostling for third place until the arrival of green flag pit stops. Almost all of the leaders stayed out of trouble and cleanly pitted with the exception of Fernandez who fell from second to tenth. Following the stops and just before the halfway point, Kanaan built a huge lead over Dario Franchitti, Townsend Bell, Wheldon and Rice. Although, within a handful of laps Kanaan caught heavy traffic substantially shortening his lead. Tomas Sheckter, who had worked his way to the front, took this opportunity to challenge the leader on lap 127 and took the lead just two laps later. Kanaan quickly faded to fourth and from then on was not a factor in the outcome of the event.

     Scheckter gave up the lead on lap 138 when he pitted under green. Scheckter exited much too soon however, and took the fuel valve with him unraveling his fuel hose and dousing his crew with methanol which eventually started a fire in his car; this brought about the second yellow of the day. The field followed new leader, Dan Wheldon, into the pits while Rice managed to emerge in the lead upon exit. With some quick pit work courtesy of the Fernandez Racing crew, Adrian Fernandez gained a few positions and now found himself in sixth, pivotal to the outcome.

     As Rice led the grid to the lap 149 restart Fernandez began carving his way to the front taking fourth on lap 151. One lap later Fernandez found a small opening and wasted no time as he passed Rice, Kanaan and Wheldon along the outside through turns 1 and 2 to take the lead. With Wheldon tucked in behind, Fernandez continued to steadily lead through the closing stages of the race. Just as he had the race in control the yellow waved on lap 158 after Townsend Bell smacked the wall while exiting turn 2. Fernandez led Wheldon, Kanaan, Rice, and Vitor Meira back to the green on lap 166. The veteran kept the race in his grasp while rookie teammate, Kosuke Matsuura, fought his way to an eventual fourth place finish. Fernandez marked his first career Indy Racing League victory in only his tenth start propelling him into the top ten in points(ninth) after missing the season opener at Miami. Buddy Rice went on to finish second to Fernandez but more importantly ahead of Kanaan and continues to close on the championship leader bringing the lead to within 50 points.

Results:

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