Ryan Briscoe dominated the Bombardier Learjet 550k, leading 160 of 228 laps, but it was his Penske Racing teammate and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves who took his third checkered flag at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night.
Castroneves had the pit stall closest to the pit out line by virtue of his No. 3 team leading the IndyCar Series owner’s points standings. Briscoe led the field to pit road during a debris caution on lap 150, but Castroneves was able to take the lead after the stop.
“You don’t need to worry about how you stop the car; you just need to worry about leaving as fast as you can. Because of those pits, when you’re in the front, obviously it’s a great advantage to do that.”
Briscoe said he tried to pass Helio immediately after the restart.
“I just couldn’t get it done around the outside,” Briscoe said. “I opted to tuck in behind Helio for a while and just try to stay single file, which is definitely quicker, then have another couple of go’s later on. But I just didn’t have enough speed to get around Helio at the end.”
Briscoe, who started second, took the lead from Dario Franchitti on lap 11, the second green lap after an early caution that took out Graham Rahal, Milka Duno and E.J. Viso. He retained the lead after two rounds of green flag pit stops. While he leaves Texas with the driver’s points lead, it was a disappointing second place finish.
“It was frustrating to know that unless something drastic happened, which I wouldn’t want to happen to Helio, that we couldn’t make the pass after dominating the race,” Briscoe said.
Briscoe and third place finisher Scott Dixon said passing on the outside was next to impossible at TMS, but said it wasn’t a problem with the track, but too much parity in the cars that created the condition.
“It’s not that the outside line wasn’t working, it’s just that the bottom line worked so well,” Briscoe said.
“You’re fighting track distances,” Dixon said. “It used to be different. When you got a guy pinned on the bottom, maybe he had to lift sometimes. The cars were quicker, so when you ran up top, it would maybe run a bit freer, you could carry more speed around the whole track consistently and finish a pass.”
Dixon said green flag race speeds have dropped from around 223 to 210 mph, and blamed slower race speeds created by tighter car rules.
“I think we need to open a few things up and see how it works,” Dixon said.
Castroneves didn’t see things the same way.
“Well obviously they don’t think the race is good. They finished behind me. Don’t blame them,” Castroneves said.
He believes the parity between cars is due to running the same chassis for six years and the teams have figured out how to set them up best, but he acknowledges tighter rules brings the competition closer together.
“All the secrets that you have [are] becoming revealed after many years,” Castroneves said. “Pit stops are basically becoming a key to winning races.”
The win ties Sam Hornish Jr. for the most in the IndyCar Series at TMS, and marks Penske Racing’s fifth, which ties the team with Panther Racing for wins at the 1.5-mile track.