One year ago, IndyCar’s Justin Wilson became a driver for Texans to remember

Posted Thursday, Jun. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Now that he has won at Texas Motor Speedway, Justin Wilson can feel like he can win on any oval anywhere.

He might have never thought that before last June — before he slipped past the wounded car of Graham Rahal to win the Firestone 550 nearly a year ago Friday.

“I felt like I knew what I was doing, but I still wasn’t classified as an oval driver and was kind of disregarded,” he said. “But from that point on, I felt I had the confidence that I knew what I was doing, I knew what I was trying to achieve.”

He is back to defend his title Saturday night when the IndyCar Series visits Fort Worth for the second oval race of the season. Wilson comes to Texas seventh in driver points.

“It gave me the confidence to go out there and attack and believe in myself,” he said.

The victory on June 9 last year made a lot of people believe in the 33-year-old driver from Sheffield, England, an open-wheel veteran who won four road or street races in four years in CART and two in his first two years in the IndyCar Series.

But he had been winless in 52 races before the night things came together at TMS last summer.

“It did a lot for the whole team, as well,” he said. “I had been saying to them, ‘We’re going to win a race this year.’ I’d been saying that and saying that. They kind of didn’t believe it. And when we did win a race, they understood, ‘OK, we’re in the game, we’ve got a chance.’

“Every weekend, we’ve just got to approach it as an opportunity to win.”

Wilson, who wound up 16th in points last year, is almost sure to have an opportunity this weekend. Everyone is.

“He’ll be very good,” ABC race analyst Eddie Cheever said. “He’s another one you have to put on the list who can win Saturday night. Texas is immensely fast and difficult. So anybody has a chance to win the race.”

Last year, it looked as if it were going to be Graham Rahal. He had a comfortable lead with two laps to go, although Wilson was closing. But the track was getting away under Rahal’s tires, and he made contact with the wall — just enough to let Wilson make up the difference and win.

“It took me by surprise — kind of disbelief,” Wilson said. “It’s just one of those things. The track was getting slick. It was so easy to just slide up there at the end. When it finally happened, I didn’t really believe it because of how close he’d been to winning there the final few laps.”

Wilson wound up beating one of the best-known names in racing. And at the same time, made a name for himself in Fort Worth.

“I wouldn’t say I go racing for the fame,” Wilson said. “It’s nice, and I love the response that we get when we go to Texas from the fans, and not just the fans, but the whole of IndyCar. It’s really cool to see the passion they have for racing. Hopefully we can have some good results and build up my reputation around the rest of the races that we go to.”

But he’ll always have that night — or nights? — in Texas.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @calexmendez

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