Tony Kanaan led 166 laps, including the final 95, to win tonight's 300 lap SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway. For a while, it looked like nobody would win. Almost half the field was gone by the halfway point. There were nine caution periods, matching the race record set in the inaugural race in 2001. 102 laps were run under caution. Eight cars finished on the lead lap, one a lap down, and one two laps down. The rest of the field was more than 60 laps down. The official results showed a mere ten cars eliminated from contact, but at least two more cars classified as finishing laps down did so after their teams got them running after spending time repairing contact damage.
"There was a lot of action," Kanaan said. "We benefitted from being at the front for sure. It's a just a typical Richmond race. Very difficult, very long.
"It was a tough race at first but once we got going I knew we could do it with the car. The problem was we had a lot of yellows and people making mistakes. Traffic was really good - everybody did a good job trying to keep away from the leaders. It was a great race apart from all of the yellows."
Kanaan's teammate Marco Andretti led 90 laps, and seemed to be the class of the field, when bad luck with pit stop strategy put him a lap down two thirds of the way through the race. He finished a disappointing ninth, still that one lap down. "I am incredibly disappointed," he said. "The Blockbuster car was the best car on the track today."
Helio Castroneves, who started 18th, worked every angle he could with his team to finish second. "We tried everything," Helio said. "Team Penske did a great job on our pit stops. I was driving my wheels off of it. I was trying everything I could to make up spots. The only chance I got was mostly on restarts and the start of the race. Andretti Green seemed to be better than us. They seemed to be more consistent, especially when the tires started dropping a little bit. It's a shame. I wanted to win so bad."
Target Chip Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon finished third and fourth. Neither was surprised by the nature of tonight's race.
"It was a tough night," Dixon said. "We had a very good car. Once again it was very tough to pass here. Even when the tires got old, it was very hard to get close to people. If we were out front, I think we had a car to win. Tony Kanaan definitely looked pretty strong tonight, but I think the Target car still had a good run. I think I just messed up my first pit stop. We dropped back to about eighth or ninth, so it was good to come away with third."
Teammate Wheldon almost finished third, but his car faltered on the final lap. "I was trying to be aggressive while trying to finish the race," he said. "It was difficult behind the other cars, and we knew there would be more than a few wrecks tonight. The car shut off on the last lap for some reason, and that's not what we need when we're trying to close the points gap."
Oriel Servia had a solid evening, finishing fifth. "When we unloaded the car right away I said we had a top five car," he said, "and fortunately was able to prove it. I'm very pleased with how the team performed. Everybody expected us to do well on the road and street courses, but I really wanted to prove the team is capable of doing a good job on ovals."
Jaime Camara led 44 laps during the first half of the race, using pit strategy to take the lead on Lap 72. He held off Kanaan and Andretti until Lap 116, when Marco passed him for the lead. Jaime's race came to a premature end against the front stretch wall on Lap 218.
"The fuel load was getting lighter and the tires wore," he said. "The car was getting lighter and lighter, and I was more neutral as we went on. Traffic was teally hard today. It's a real shame for the Sangari Conquest team. That was going to be a good result for us. We needed it, and it is all gone."
Scott Dixon remains on top of the series point championship, with 351 points to Helio Castroneves's 308. Dan Wheldon is in third place, with 299 points. Race winner Kanaan is fourth, with 269 points.
The next IndyCar race will be on the road course at Watkins Glen on Sunday, July 6.