IndyCar Has A Brutal Night At The Texas Motor Speedway

Twenty-two cars started the race, only nine crossed the finish line.

byGabriel Loewenberg| PUBLISHED Jun 11, 2017 10:52 AM
IndyCar Has A Brutal Night At The Texas Motor Speedway

On Saturday night at the Texas Motor Speedway (TMS), IndyCar had a very bizarre race. What was expected to be 248 fairly normal laps turned into a brutal race of attrition and on-the-fly rules changes. A field of 22 cars started the race. Only nine crossed the finish line.

So what in the hell happened?

The track happened. The TMS is an intermediate oval but, as far as average lap speeds go, it races more like a superspeedway. For comparison, the TMS is a 1.5-mile long oval. It's is a mile shorter than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is a superspeedway. The TMS has higher banked corners and a back straight that isn't straight. The track used to be narrow, compared to other tracks of its size. This led to close pack racing, rather than the drafting you get at Indy. Much like a short track oval, the cars would be running two and three wide for laps at a time, but at superspeedway speeds.

Since IndyCar was here last year, the track has been widened by about 20 feet. With this change, it was thought that the pack racing wouldn't work. The new racing line around the wider track would force more drafting and fewer packs. The high outside lane wasn't thought to be drivable for any length of time. That turned out to not be the case.

As soon as the race started, Tristan Vautier, who was filling in for Sebastien Bourdais, decided that the high lane was the place to be. Within a handful of laps, he worked his way up through the field and was fighting for the lead with pole-sitter Charlie Kimball. For the majority of around 20 laps, he ran in high lane, side by side with Kimball, eventually taking the lead on lap 30. 

All of Vautier's running up there cleaned up the track and laid down rubber. This changed everything. More drivers started testing the water up there. Cars were running side by side, some even trying to go three-wide into the corners, before backing out at the last second. This was the beginning of the end. 

On lap 38, running three-wide, Alexander Rossi got squeezed between Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. He and Kanaan touched, sending Rossi pinballing off each of them and then into the wall. 

While under yellow for Rossi's accident, there was a minor wreck in the pits. James Hinchcliffe fishtailed and plowed into Helio Castroneves, who in turn was pushed into Takuma Sato. Hinchcliffe was able to drive off, while the other two were delayed before they could get underway. Hinchcliffe was given a drive-through penalty for the contact. 

Takuma Sato, driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda, Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet, and James Hinchcliffe, driver of the #5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, collide on pit road, Sean Gardner / Stringer / Getty Images

About 40 laps later, after it seemed the race had started to settle down, Castroneves had worked his way up to third, using the high lane. All of a sudden, his front right tire went down, sending him into the outside wall. Just seven laps before, Josef Newgarden pitted early as his tires were blistering from running in the high lane. His front right was taking the most damage. Castroneves seems to have had a similar issue that became terminal. 

After the restart on lap 103, Vautier tapped Ed Carpenter, sending him spinning down low. He managed to not hit anything and kept going. Though he didn't crash, the safety car came out again. After the yellow cleared, there were about 25 laps of clean running. Vautier was still charging up high and things were looking good for him. He could have been a contender. 

On lap 139, the track went yellow again, this time for debris. Max Chilton stayed out while others pitted, giving him the lead at the restart. Will Power quickly got by him with fresh tires. Everyone was bunched up behind Chilton, running two and three wide again as they tried to get by.

Mikhail Aleshin was running up high with his teammate Hinchcliffe below him. Kanaan moved up from the bottom of the track, sandwiching Hinchcliffe. Just like what happened to Rossi, Hinchcliffe got bumped by Kanaan and bounced between the car. Unlike Rossi's accident, this would not be a single car wreck. 

Eight cars were collected in the carnage. Hinchcliffe, Aleshin, Ed Jones, Vautier, Carpenter, JR Hildebrand, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Carlos Munoz were all out. Somehow, Kanaan avoided damage, again. Thankfully, everyone came away uninjured. The race was red-flagged for a lengthy track-clean-up.

This left just 11 cars left to finish the last 93 laps of the race. 

During the red flag period, IndyCar officials made a change to the racing procedures. Due to the tires blistering so much, there would now be a mandatory pit stop for four tires every 30 laps which would be served under a competition yellow. The first pit stop mandatory stop would come right after the cars got back on track after the red flag. 

After the stop, everyone the remaining 11 cars went racing again. Marco Andretti was now a lap down as he changed his rear wing during the stop. Kanaan was handed a stop and 20-second hold penalty for causing the massive wreck and blocking. This put him three laps down.

When all this was happening Ed Carpenter's crew repaired his and got him back out on track. With only 11 other cars running, they could do no worse than 12th place. That was higher than where they were running when the accident took them out. This would score them significantly more points than if they had called it a day. 

As the first competition yellow and mandatory stop were about to happen, Joseph Newgarden peeled down to pit. seconds after they crossed the "pit commit" line, the course went yellow. It looked like Team Penske had found a loophole in the mandatory stop order. They pitted before everyone else and would assume the lead when the other cars came in. 

Race control told them otherwise. Newgarden was told to pit again with everyone else. Team Penske was adamant that they were only told to make a stop after 30 laps and that they did not receive notice that the stop would be taken under a competition yellow. They were still in ninth place and on the lead lap, so it didn't really hurt their race. 

It was also unclear how IndyCar would handle the three cars not on the lead lap. Those three cars were kept out when the top nine stopped. This gave them a lap back. Andretti was now back on the lead lap. Kanaan would get back all the laps he lost to his penalty by the end of the race.

After the first competition yellow and pit stops were complete and the track went green again. Scott Dixon had jumped Power in the pits, and Sato 

After the red flag is lifted, the cars would get back on track behind the safety car. Everyone would then pit at the same time. The race would then go green. 30 laps later, regardless of any yellows in that period, the track would go yellow again. Everyone would be required to come in for a fresh set of tires. 30 laps later, it would happen again. Sounds simple enough.came out third. 

Newgarden charged from the back of the pack to the front and was going for the lead. He went up into the high lane, lost control and hit the wall. This brought out the safety car yet again. IndyCar had originally said that the competition yellows and mandatory stops would come after 30 laps of green flag running. When Newgarden crashed, race control clarified that any other yellow laps would count towards the 30. 

Yes, it's all very confusing. So, shortly after going green following Newgarden's crash, the final competition yellow and mandatory stop happened. It was at this stop that Kanaan finally got back on the lead lap. When the race would go green again, there would be 19 laps to go. At around 22 seconds a lap, it would be approximately a seven-minute sprint to the checkered flag. With only 11 cars on track and all but Carpenter on the lead lap, it was all or nothing.

All of the complete insanity of how this race unfolded culminated in a mad dash for the win. Everyone was running hard and closer together than they had all night. Power, Dixon, Sato, and Simon Pagenaud were fighting for the win. Kanaan and Graham Rahal made aggressive moves that put them right there behind the leaders. Max Chilton, Connor Daly, and Gabby Chaves had survived the night as well and were ready to pounce if something happened up front.

This was nail-biting, on edge of your seat racing. With so many cars destroyed over the course of the race, you would think that towards the end, those still running at the end would drive a little more conservative. No. They all could see a path to victory and went for it. The final stage of this long, confounding, and savage race was intense. 

You just need to watch the final ten laps for yourself.

A fitting end to the race.

Ultimately, this was how everyone was classified that the end. Those in bold were the cars running at the end of the race, while those in italics were not. 

1 – Will Power

2 – Tony Kanaan

3 – Simon Pagenaud

4 – Graham Rahal

5 – Gabby Chaves

6 – Marco Andretti

7 – Conor Daly

8 – Max Chilton

9 – Scott Dixon

10 – Takuma Sato

11 – Ed Carpenter

12 – JR Hildebrand

13 – Josef Newgarden

14 – Mikhail Aleshin

15 – James Hinchcliffe

16 – Tristan Vautier

17 – Ed Jones

18 – Carlos Munoz

19 – Ryan Hunter-Reay

20 – Helio Castroneves

21 – Charlie Kimball

22 – Alexander Rossi

After having run four races in just 14 days, IndyCar gets a much-needed break. The next race is the weekend of June 23-25 at Road America.