The state of Texas is known for everything being big—the land, cars, and food just a few examples of this titanic reputation. After Saturday night’s Firestone 550, we’ll have to add surprises to that list as well.
It’s not just that Justin Wilson, a driver renown on the road and street courses but often an afterthought on the ovals, showed that he was far from a single-discipline driver. It wasn’t just that Dale Coyne Racing, an outfit still sometimes viewed as a team closer to the rear of the pack than the front of it, managed to win for the second time in INDYCAR. At every turn last weekend, it seemed like another surprise was in store:
-Dario Franchitti, lately resurgent in his efforts to win another IZOD IndyCar Series championship, had uncharacteristically severe handling problems early, never got comfortable, and finished well off the pace in P14.
-Scott Dixon, widely considered the most consistent driver in the paddock, led a dominating 133 laps before meeting the wall and ending his day.
-Simon Pagenaud and Will Power gaining points on the Target Chip Ganassi cars from the results of an oval race.
-Graham Rahal, looking so strong all evening long, brushing the wall while leading in the closing laps.
-Tony Kanaan suffering two broken front wings—one due to a failed air jack, one due to a block by Will Power—and still managing to finish in P11.
-An aero configuration for the DW12 that was relatively late in the game, so to speak, but provided racing that won near-universal acclaim from fans on the edge of their seats for the entire event.
Really, the entire manner in which the Firestone 550 unfolded is a fine reminder that while we might make our best guesses in terms of what will happen in any given week, nothing is certain in INDYCAR. Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi had dominated this race since 2006, but they couldn’t carry it over for one more year.
In the bigger scope of things, it is also a reminder of why we watch INDYCAR in general. From Dan Wheldon winning last year’s Indy 500, to Ed Carpenter’s underdog win at Kentucky last year, to this past weekend’s stunner, there’s always the potential that the little guy can still make it happen. Justin Wilson might be the tallest of the Series’ drivers, but none of us saw him coming. That’s a surprise large enough to be worthy of Texas.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com , which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter (@indycaradvocate), or via email at mail.rpgblog@gmailcom .