Out of nowhere, Texas Motor Speedway produced a race of surprises.
And out of nowhere, Justin Wilson won it.
The 32-year-old Englishman, a largely unknown name outside of open-wheel racing circles, blasted past the wounded car of Graham Rahal on the next-to-last lap and cruised to the checkered flag Saturday night in the Izod IndyCar Series' Firestone 550.
"I saw him sliding more and more every lap," Wilson said. "I didn't think there was much chance, but when I saw him hit the wall, it was time to go."
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Wilson was the fifth leader in the final 86 laps of the race and second in the final three of the 228-lap event on the 1.5-mile oval, the kind of track the series worried about because of the potential for dangerous pack racing.
But the track didn't decide the race, run before a crowd of 69,000, one of the smallest at TMS for an IndyCar Series event.
The drivers decided the race, just as they wanted. They agreed a day before the race to take downforce, or grip, off the cars to make steering matter more and increase the chances of the field spreading out.
"People weren't just glued to the racetrack waiting for something to happen," Wilson said.
The field did spread out, as predicted, and clearly, the steering mattered. Because when the drivers couldn't control their car, they hit the wall. Scott Dixon did it on Lap 173, ending a race for him in which he appeared to have the dominant vehicle.
The same for Charlie Kimball, just 34 laps in, and Takuma Sato.
But no contact with the wall mattered more than Rahal's on Lap 226.
"I thought Graham was gone, there was nothing I could do," Wilson said. "Then I caught some traffic. I wanted to do the best laps I could. I thought, maybe something will happen."
Cruising with better than a 1 1/2-second lead, barely two laps away from victory, Rahal lost his high-line gamble with an understeer and drifted into the wall.
"I just messed up, honestly," Rahal said.
It was just a glancing blow. Rahal saved it and tried to charge ahead. But the speed bled out of his car, and Wilson -- a former CART racer in his fifth year in IndyCar -- made up the distance in half a lap.
He took the white flag and came around for the victory, while Rahal salvaged second.
"I found myself running up top to save the tires. Obviously, it was getting tricky in the final laps," Rahal said. "I just didn't leave enough margin for error. Unfortunately, we brushed. we should be in Winner's Circle right now."
Wilson won for the first time in 42 races since his last win at Watkins Glen in 2009. It was his first oval victory, and he was glad to prove to himself that he could win on an oval.
"I had a blast out there," he said. "I wanted to win at Texas. People think I can't drive at this track. I wanted to put that to rest."
Dixon dominated the first half of the race, and it looked as though he was in control heading into the last quarter of race. But unexpectedly, he began slowing, and with 57 laps to go, series leader Will Power assumed the lead.
But 24 laps later, Power had to give the lead up when he was penalized for blocking Tony Kanaan's charge to the inside. The block caused damage to Kanaan's left front wing, and he had to pit for a repair, losing his chance for the win.
The exchange put Ryan Briscoe in front with 33 laps to go, but he couldn't hold off Rahal, who took command with 28 laps to go.
It would have been Rahal's race from there if not for his mistake.
"Hopefully we put on a really good race for the fans," Kanaan said.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407