Survivor: IndyCar at Texas Motor Speedway Edition

Wild. Shocking. Enraging. “Adorable.”

These were just some of the words used by viewers, drivers and commentators to describe Saturday night’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at the Texas Motor Speedway.

A newly paved track surface and brand new Firestone composite tires were promised to make for a more spectacular show at Texas, but I don’t think they were expecting the painful, yet exciting show we all ended up watching.

Oh, and it wasn’t a photo-finish reminiscent of last year’s race by any means. Rather, it ended under a yellow caution. But most of it was exciting with plenty “sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat” fun.

The race ended with less than 10 running cars–with two of those cars more limping over the finish line, which wasn’t difficult to do under the caution that the race ended on.

But the disaster or the beginning of the domino-effect of cars retiring from crashes and failures on the track all started with Andretti-Herta’s Alexander Rossi and the first of some not-impressive and controversial driving by Ganassi’s Tony Kanaan.

Rossi has been driving a great season sans the few bouts of bad luck due to crashes or Honda engine failures. He was looking to be one of the many possible contenders for the win in Texas. During lap 36 he would be between two Ganassi cars–Kanaan and Scott Dixon, and in a strange maneuver from Kanaan combined with Dixon’s inability to move, Rossi found himself in a sandwich that got him nosed and spun into the wall.

He was only the first of the nine “victims” of Kanaan’s driving.

Friday’s pole winner and another Ganassi driver, Charlie Kimball would be next, having lead and then changed leads back and forth with Dale Coyne’s Tristan Vautier.

Kimball would suffer engine failure and retire from the race on lap 41–an unfortunate end for what looked to be a potential podium for the Ganassi driver.

The next to go would be Helio Castroneves, who was having issues with his car early in the race due to some damage he suffered in a pit incident between Schmidt Peterson’s James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato. Hinch lost it a little and ran into the two as they exited pit lane. Although the damage appeared to be fixed, it wasn’t the case and Castroneves ended his race on Lap 90.

Hinch was issued a drive-through penalty for his little mistake.

Vautier, fighting Kimball for that first place was driving a spectacular race having not been in an Indy car for the last two years. The French driver was brought in to replace Sebastian Bourdais’ replacement for the Dale Coyne team–ex-F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez, who had not yet been cleared to race on ovals in time for the Texas race.

The “Big One”–brought Kanaan, making contact with Hinch and causing the eight-car incident which also involved Hinch’s teammate Mikhail Aleshin, both Dale Coyne cars (Vautier and Ed Jones), both Ed Carpenter Cars (J.R. Hildebrand and Ed Carpenter), Foyt’s Carlos Munoz, and Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay had been having an awful season of luck, with constant encounters with crashes and Honda engine failures. Yet another crash-ending race did not well add to it.

Kanaan was issued a 20-second hold penalty for the avoidable contact.

Carpenter was able to get his car and Hildebrand’s back on the track with both having suffered only minor damage from the pileup. Both had rejoined late enough though that they were unable to catch up in the laps with the rest of the field.

Penske’s Josef Newgarden would take himself out by trying to take the high line on lap 201 after the clean up of the previous disaster, where he would hit a spot of kitty litter from the prior “big one” and send himself into the wall, ending his night. Oops.

The last whopper of the evening was due to the reigning Indy 500 Champ and Andretti driver Takuma Sato. Sato’s tires would make contact with the grass in Turn 1, causing him to lose the car and take out Ganassi’s Scott Dixon, as well as Max Chilton and Foyt’s Conor Daly. Somehow both Chilton and Daly were able to “repair” the car enough that both managed to limp to a finish as the last two of the remaining eight cars on the field.

Confused about who was where and when and made it back and finished? I was too. Thankfully there are notes and a box score to reference for the doozy of an evening.

Tire blistering was a bit of a factor in some of these incidences, which caused for a competition yellow to be issued, indicating a mandatory pit stop for drivers every 30 green laps. This made for a little dullness to the race until the last mandatory pit at lap 224, which finally released the drivers to actually race, and in a pack with the first four rows running in twos.

But this was also the reason why yet another round of cars would suffer a terrible fate of retirement, and we would end on a yellow caution. And the ending was rather anti-climatic as the remaining cars shuffled across the finish line.

And those mandatory competition yellows in turn helped Kanaan, who’s 20-second hold penalty had put him two laps behind. But each yellow gave Kanaan an opportunity to regain a lap, putting him on the lead lap and somehow earning a controversial 2nd-place finish.

Oddly enough, there has been little focus to Penske’s Will Power’s winning drive. He managed a win for his wife’s home state. And despite the disasters happening behind him, he held onto first as the majority leader for the grand total of 180 of the 238 laps in Texas. It was yet another surprise to the weekend as the under-powered Chevrolets on ovals have been struggling. But not this weekend.

(And note, half of the survivors of the last cars were Chevrolets.)

The final cars to make it through the Survivor edition of the Texas race was winner Power; the controversial and most-hated man of the night, Kanaan; Penske’s Simon Pagenaud; last weekend’s sweeping winner, Rahal-Letterman’s Graham Rahal; returning Harding with driver Gabby Chaves; shockingly, the last Andretti car to survive and still be running, Marco Andretti; Daly, who suffered a little damage and was able to make it to the end; Chilton, who drove a great race, leading for eight laps as well, but would also limp through the checker; and last but not least, Hildebrand.

There’s a good possibility there are quite a few people who are not only upset with Kanaan’s conduct on the track, but his second place finish added insult to injury.

Andretti was a surprise to see as the last Andretti car standing after a night of blunders. This team for the 2017 season appears to have an “all for one, one for all” ending in their races. One goes out–the rest will follow. Obviously it’s not planned, but there’s been already too many races this season with all four Andretti cars out. Marco not only survived, but gained his highest finish of the season while he was at it. It had a lot to do with luck, but his driving and attitude have been improving and I’d like to think that had some influence as well.

Daly also finished his highest finish to-date this season. It looked like he was almost the victim of another “Bad Luck Conor” moment with the crash involving Sato, but somehow perhaps that little Irish charm on the back of his helmet this weekend worked in his favor, and saved him some grace, while giving him the ability to nab a points finish.

So the carnage was plenty and left teams scrambling to get cars together and prepped for the test at Road America this week, while preparing for next week’s race at the track. For those who were not testing, they can enjoy a longer break and a little more time to prepare for the next round of racing on June 25th.

For the rest of you fans that can’t wait that long for any kind of racing, the Le Mans 24 Hours race is coming up the 17th and 18th–and I suggest if you’ve never had a chance to watch, you should make some time. Some of your favorite (or maybe not-so-favorite after this week) Indy drivers will be there as well to drive like Dixon and Kanaan.

The Results of the Texas Demolition Derby Race:
1. Will Power (Penske)
2.  Tony Kanaan (Ganassi)
3. Simon Pagenaud (Penske)
4. Graham Rahal (Rahal-Letterman)
5. Gabby Chaves (Harding)
6. Marco Andretti (Andretti)
7. Conor Daly (Foyt)
8. Max Chilton (Ganassi)
9. Scott Dixon (Ganassi) (DNF)
10. Takuma Sato (Andretti) (DNF)
11. Ed Carpenter (ECR) (DNF)
12. J.R. Hildebrand (ECR)
13. Josef Newgarden (Penske) (DNF)
14. James Hinchcliffe (SPM) (DNF)
15. Mikhail Aleshin (SPM) (DNF)
16. Tristan Vautier (Dale Coyne) (DNF)
17. Ed Jones (R) (Dale Coyne) (DNF)
18. Carlos Munoz (Foyt) (DNF)
19. Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) (DNF)
20. Helio Castroneves (Penske) (DNF)
21. Charlie Kimball (Ganassi) (DNF)
22. Alexander Rossi (Andretti-Herta) (DNF)

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