FORT WORTH — Justin Wilson scooted into the lead with 1 1/2 laps to go Saturday night after Graham Rahal scraped the wall, and the Englishman won the Firestone 550K at Texas Motor Speedway.
Rahal was leading by about a second when he drifted high coming out of Turn 4 with just over two laps left in the race and slapped the wall. Wilson, who gradually had been closing in on Rahal, shot into the lead when Rahal had to slow down in Turn 1 of the next lap.
“We had that one,” Rahal said. “It just washed out a little bit. It’s my fault. … This one’s going to haunt me forever, that’s for sure.”
Rahal nursed the car home for a second-place finish, and Ryan Briscoe was third. James Hinchcliffe was fourth and J.R. Hildebrand fifth.
It was Wilson’s seventh career victory, and his first on an oval.
“It was a lot of fun,” Wilson said. “I saw people sliding around, and knew I just had to hit my marks.
“I saw [Rahal] sliding more and more every lap, and I didn’t think there was a chance, but when I saw him hit the wall, I thought, ‘OK, now it’s time to go.’”
IndyCar Series points leader Will Power appeared well on his way to a second consecutive win at TMS after a restart with 44 laps remaining, but he had to serve a drive-through penalty for blocking Tony Kanaan.
Power was racing side-by-side for the lead with Penske Racing teammate Briscoe after the restart, and Kanaan attempted to move inside of Power heading into Turn 3. Power reacted with a blocking move and drew the penalty.
Power dropped off the lead lap with the penalty and finished eighth. He was able to increase his championship lead because Scott Dixon crashed with 55 laps to go, bringing out the final caution.
Dixon led a race-high 133 laps but was passed by Power two laps before he crashed hard in Turn 4. Dixon said his car just got loose and spun out.
Wilson led eight laps halfway through the race after Dixon pitted from the lead. When the round of green-flag pit stops was complete, Wilson emerged in fifth place.
A caution came out a few laps later when E.J. Viso stalled on the track. Most of the lead-lap cars pitted again, but Hinchcliffe, Ed Carpenter and Wilson stayed out. They made the strategy for track position pay off when everybody pitted after Dixon’s crash.
It then looked like an all-Penske race to the finish, with Power in control, but Wilson took advantage of the late-race action and won for Dale Coyne Racing. It was his first victory since 2009 at Watkins Glen.
It was the first Indy car race on a high-banked oval since Dan Wheldon’s fatal crash in the 2011 season finale at similarly configured Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Concerned about safety, drivers met before traveling to Fort Worth and agreed they wanted less downforce on their cars, which meant they wouldn’t be able to run around TMS at full throttle.
The plan seemingly worked, as there were no large packs of cars racing at the same speed for extended periods of time. The accidents each involved only one car, including crashes by Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato.
Gronholm wins rallycross race
Finnish racer Marcus Gronholm won the Global Rallycross Championship race held on the TMS frontstretch Saturday afternoon, leading a podium sweep of $400,000 Ford Fiestas.
Top Gear host Tanner Foust finished second and Brian Deegan was third on a course that utilized pit road, the quarter-mile oval that cuts through the infield grass, and the tri-oval portion of the frontstretch. It featured a water hazard, a “tabletop” jump and a 9-foot-high ramp that drivers used to clear a 70-foot gap to the landing ramp.
During the six-lap feature race, drivers were allowed to take a shortcut on one lap. Because of differing strategies on when to take the shortcut, the race had to be restarted from the beginning twice after on-track incidents brought out caution flags.
Gronholm took the shortcut on the first lap, while Foust pulled away from the rest of the field. After Foust took the shortcut midway through the race, he fell in line just behind Gronholm but was not able to mount a challenge for the win.
Rhys Millen of New Zealand finished fourth in a Hyundai Veloster and Englishman David Binks was fifth in another Fiesta, as the top finishers looked to clinch berths in the X Games, set to begin at the end of the month.
Gronholm made it two wins in as many races this season, and Foust repeated his second-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway last month.
The top 12 drivers in the standings after Fort Worth have guaranteed spots in the X Games. Other drivers competing and moving on to Los Angeles included Travis Pastrana, Ken Block and Dave Mirra.
The race was named the Hoon Kaboom Texas, with “hoon” being an Australian term used to describe extreme driving styles.
MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.