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All Four Won, and One For All
by Esteban Morales

July 31, 2005

     It's tough to stay in the spotlight when driving alongside Ashley Judd's husband, the defending IRL champion and this year's Indy 500 winner. Making matters worse for Bryan Herta is that the Californian is essentially the Andretti Green Racing lab rat, testing anything from questionable pit strategy to atypical pieces of carbon fiber. Simply put, Bryan Herta is overlooked come race day. Herta's position, however, promptly changed following the IRL's visit to the Michigan International Speedway for round eleven of the IndyCar championship.

     Prior to Herta's demonstration of sheer domination came several interesting changes to the grid. Darren Manning made headlines for the first time this season after being unceremoniously booted from Chip Ganassi's outfit. Ganassi's questionable decision came immediately after the league's visit to The Milwaukee Mile. Although many believed the seat would be left vacant for the Michigan event, it was in fact filled with fan-favorite Jaques Lazier. Meanwhile, brother Buddy Lazier was back in a third Panther Racing entry while Townsend Bell returned to the team as substitute for injured Tomas Enge.

     It appears Ganassi's quick decision making engendered some motivation in former series champ, Scott Dixon. Although Dixon drove a blistering lap that placed him in the second row, it was not nearly enough to oust Herta from pole. After leading an overly anxious grid to the green, Herta made his intentions known early by thrashing the field. Tomas Scheckter was able to keep pace with the leader during the opening stint of the race but ultimately lost much ground after suffering a drive-through penalty during pit sequences. The South African driver came close to losing a lap but kept his car just beyond Herta's reach.

     Herta showed he was the class of the field by easily pulling away from the pack and establishing a 7.25 second lead by lap 75. Herta added an exclamation point by stretching his lead to over 10 seconds by the halfway mark of the race. The leader's work was undone just as easily as he had driven away after Ed Carpenter's Toyota powerplant let go along the front stretch on lap 122. While the AGR camp was all frowns, the rest of the field, especially Tomas Scheckter, was more than happy to catch the leader one way or another. With the green unfurled on lap 130 the pack went for broke as Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan swallowed Herta during the restart. Wheldon took the lead while Herta stumbled to 5th. Not shaken by the situation, Herta began to inch back to the front. By lap 135 he was battling with Kanaan for 2nd; which he took the following lap. Before long, Herta was side-by-side with Wheldon and once again assumed the lead. Scheckter also made huge strides after almost being lapped and made his way to 4th just before another caution for a second blown Toyota, this one belonging to Helio Castroneves.

     Herta held to his lead while half the field pitted during the caution period but relinquished it once again during the restart. Sam Hornish Jr. and a surprising Kosuke Matsuura led the swarm with Hornish eventually settling into the lead by lap 151. Herta kept in touch with the leaders and was the first to pit just before the penultimate yellow for Danica Patrick's failing Honda. The strategy worked perfectly for the AGR driver as he was able to leapfrog back into the lead while the rest pitted under caution. Herta successfully restarted the field and avoided late race melee involving Townsend Bell, Jaques Lazier, Roger Yasukawa and Matsuura. Any lingering team etiquette was disposed of during the closing laps of the race. As nice a guy as Herta is, neither Tony Kanaan nor Dan Wheldon were willing to hand him a win. Herta was forced to fend off his teammates, particularly Wheldon, as he drove to the line and became the fourth and last of the AGR drivers to collect his first victory this season.

Results:

1. Bryan Herta
2. Dan Wheldon
3. Tomas Scheckter
4. Tony Kanaan
5. Sam Hornish Jr.
6. Buddy Lazier
7. Scott Sharp
8. Dario Franchitti
9. Patrick Carpentier
10.Ryan Briscoe
11.Alex Barron
12.A.J. Foyt IV
13.Jimmy Kite
14.Vitor Meira
15.Townsend Bell
16.Kosuke Matsuura
17.Jaques Lazier
18.Roger Yasukawa
19.Scott Dixon
20.Danica Patrick