IndyCar returned to its photo-finish days Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
Graham Rahal won the closest race in Texas history, including the NASCAR series, narrowly edging out James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan at the Firestone 600.
Rahal won by eight-thousandths (0.008) of a second over Hinchcliffe, and 0.0823 seconds over Kanaan. The previous closest race had been 0.096 seconds when Sam Hornish Jr. beat Helio Castroneves in 2002.
Rahal made a daring move to the inside on the final lap, passing Hinchcliffe and holding on until the start/finish line. It was the only lap Rahal led on the night.
“I felt like I had the best car,” Rahal said. “I felt like if I could get back to [Hinchcliffe], I felt like my pace was extremely good. … I knew the only way to clear him was to the bottom.”
Said Hinchcliffe: “I’ve seen so many races won on the high line. But, man, Graham pulled through [Turns] 3 and 4 like no one had.”
It’s the first victory for Rahal at Texas. His previous best finish had been second in 2012 when he brushed the wall on the closing laps to lose that race to Justin Wilson.
“What motivated me the most was this team deserved this,” Rahal said. “This is going to lift their spirits a lot. I didn’t want to go through this year without a win.”
Hinchcliffe was the race leader when it resumed 76 days after it had started. TMS and IndyCar red-flagged the race after 71 laps in June because of rain, and completed the final 177 laps Saturday.
Hinchcliffe had the lead during a late restart with eight laps to go, and held off multiple charges by Rahal, Kanaan and series points leader Simon Pagenaud until the last lap.
Hinchcliffe had joked earlier in the day about holding the lead for such a long time. He laughed about people saying he’d been in the lead longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriages and reigning rookie of the year Gabby Chaves stating he had started the Texas race as a 22-year-old and finish it as a 23-year-old.
But those laughs turned into disappointment by the end of the night. Hinchcliffe knew he blew a chance for his first win at Texas.
“My night was great until about eight minutes ago,” Hinchcliffe said roughly eight minutes after the finish.
“We picked up where we left off in June. … It’s tough having a car like that lead so many laps, but not the one that counted.”
The fans, however, had to love seeing the open-wheel series get back to its golden days at Texas. The track hadn’t seen that sort of excitement down the stretch in years.
The race had plenty of intrigue the final 35 laps with three accidents because of drivers going after it.
On Lap 213, Ed Carpenter sat in second and was fighting off a charge by Scott Dixon, who was trying to get back on the lead lap.
Dixon appeared to get up into Carpenter going into Turn 1, and spun out of control. After hitting the wall, Dixon slid back down the track and was clipped by Castroneves, running third at the time.
Dixon didn’t seem pleased with the wreck, feeling Carpenter caused it. Dixon got out of his car and threw his hands up in disbelief.
But Carpenter had little damage and even took the lead with 27 laps to go. But that fizzled quickly when Carpenter’s car apparently blew the right rear tire and he wrecked with 23 laps to go.
Along with Carpenter, Castroneves and Max Chilton were involved in that wreck on Lap 224.
“Just disappointed, it’s going to be a long off-season,” Carpenter said. “I was having fun. I thought we were going to have a shot at it.”
On Lap 233, Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawskworth got into each other and caused another caution.
The close racing went on from there, and nobody should have left the track disappointed.
“It was fun,” Kanaan said. “Talk about some old school Texas right there. It was a good night.”