Ryan Briscoe’s push for the 2009 championship doesn’t seem that long ago. And, if not for his crash exiting the pits at Twin Ring Motegi, he may well have captured the crown that season. However, he ultimately fell short, though his IndyCar career seemed well on its way.
Three years later, and Briscoe’s once promising career had stalled. Prior to Sunday, the likeable Australian was victorious only once (Texas, 2010) since that 2009 title run. He has been vastly overshadowed, first by Will Power, who quickly established himself as a “gold standard” on road and street circuits, and then by Helio Castroneves, who is in the middle a resurgent 2012 campaign. Though Briscoe has finished fifth and sixth in the standings the last two years, more than respectable by anyone else’s standards, he remained the “third wheel” in Roger Penske’s lineup.
This status has been highlighted by the team’s financial situation. While Penske’s outfit has had to piecemeal sponsorships together to maintain a three-car lineup, questions have persisted about whether or not they could retain all three cars. Given that Power is arguably the team’s ace, and has steady funding from Verizon, and Helio Castroneves’ three Indy 500 triumphs, their places have always been all but assured, leaving Briscoe the obvious man out. Though he has remained a full-time driver, rumors persisted through each of the last two offseasons that his ride might be in trouble because of sponsorship issues. And, with silly season in full swing with a number of quality drivers potentially looking for work next year, Briscoe’s seat is again in question.
Sunday’s victory will go a long way to keeping Briscoe in contention for a top ride, if not outright keeping him within the Penske stable. A relieved Briscoe explained afterward how challenging the last two years have been. “It was tough. The last year was the first year that I hadn't won a race in a while. You've just got to keep plugging away, keep pushing hard. We've been fast. There's no doubt - several poles this year and front row starts, but we had trouble executing, and today we executed flawlessly thanks to the guys in the pits. There was absolutely no trouble at all. It was a straight free race. It was fun at the end there with some pressure from Will. My car was a lot better on reds. In the middle of the race he got away from us - the car wasn't that good on the blacks. But, we saved those reds for the end."
It is still unknowns where Briscoe will land next year. And, given the number of free agent drivers at the moment, a lot of dominoes are still to fall. Regardless, Briscoe’s victory will inject some much-needed life into a career that had quickly begun to fizzle.