Texas 2
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Last but not Least
by Esteban Morales

     With the Indy Racing League championship having been decided in favor of Brazilian Tony Kanaan, a twenty-one car grid made its way to the season ending Chevy 500 for its second visit to the Texas Motor Speedway this season. Although twenty-three cars were originally expected, Darren Manning was still unable to fulfill his driver duties due to an injury sustained earlier this season, surprisingly Target Chip Ganassi Racing was not prepared with a replacement for the event, while Greg Ray’s rumored second Access Motorsports entry never came to fruition.

     Helio Castroneves continued his string of qualifying success capturing yet another pole leading to a series high five, nearly a third of all pole positions this year. The trick of course would be to convert this into a first victory to match teammate Sam Hornish Jr.’s initial win at the season opener. Once Indy legend Johnny Rutherford pulled the pace truck off the track Castroneves took off in hopes of converting a dominant performance into victory. Just four laps into the event however, Ed Carpenter dashed his rookie of the year hopes after making contact while exiting turn 2. With the green back out on lap 13 Castroneves continued to lead with Hornish following in second while Tomas Scheckter furiously made his way to the front after starting at the back due to failing technical inspection. By the 30th lap of competition the South African was battling with Dan Wheldon for fourth on the track.

     Buddy Rice’s plagued second half of the season finally halted with electrical problems on lap 40 while Castroneves continued to lead at the front until the first set of stops ensued. The Marlboro Team Penske driver came in with the lead in hand but gave it up to Wheldon as they cycled through. No gripes though, Castroneves easily took it right back on lap 67. Castroneves easily kept his lead up until about lap 90 when Adrian Fernandez joined him at the front. The two raced wheel to wheel with Fernandez ultimately taking command on lap 95 just before the halfway point. As Fernandez continued however, Tomas Scheckter’s fight to the front ended in an all too familiar fashion with an expired engine bringing out a second caution.

     Fernandez and the rest of the field took this opportunity to pit under yellow. Sam Hornish Jr. closed in on the California winner as they entered pit road and led the grid back out. Following the restart on lap 116 Fernandez jumped to the outside in an attempt to take back his lead but a determined Hornish would not let up as the two were side by side for a number of laps until the Penske driver finally stretched a good margin on second. Hornish kept leading the event until electrical gremlins brought his race to a halt on lap 165 handing the lead over to IRL champ, Tony Kanaan. Unable to limp his Dallara back to his pit stall, Hornish stopped right before pit lane leading to a third yellow.

     Kanaan led the remaining cars into pit lane only to have series runner up, Dan Wheldon, snatch the lead. With just thirty laps to go the field was given the green, Wheldon and Kanaan resumed fighting for the lead with Castroneves a close third. Before long, Castroneves moved into second and began stalking Wheldon before taking back first. With under twenty laps left to run Dario Franchitti encountered a bizarre mechanical failure that sent him into turn 4 collecting the 51 car of Alex Barron. With the pace truck out the safety crew was back in full force and gave the field a last minute restart with just two laps left to run. Castroneves jumped the field at the restart building a huge gap pivotal to his inaugural win of the season and second for Toyota. Castroneves was happy to finish the season on a high although he was subsequently fined a princely sum of $50,000 for his unorthodox restart. Kanaan completed the final race of the season in the second position setting an all time U.S. record for completing every lap in a single season; Kanaan astoundingly never failed to finish out of the lead lap for the entirety of the year and hopes to keep his form coming into 2005.

Results:

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