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Sunday, August 8, 2010

IndyCar Race Review: Honda Indy 200

Dario Franchitti posted his first IZOD IndyCar Series road course win in nearly a year in today's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, holding off polesitter Will Power to the checkered flag.

Franchitti, whose last win on a road course came at Infineon last year, inherited the lead when Alex Tagliani made his final pit stop, put the power down for a few extra laps, and managed to beat Power out of the pits to retain the lead when stops cycled through.

Tagliani, for his part, drove one of his finest races of the year, scoring his best finish, a fourth place, between Helio Castroneves, who threw away the race at Edmonton two weeks ago on a blocking penalty, and Scott Dixon, who won that race. His pit crew, reading the race like a book, had him pit on lap 22, expecting a caution that would come almost immediately after. The Canadian led from lap 26, midway through the first caution, to his final pit stop on lap 56.

That first caution came when Justin Wilson, driving with an injured thumb from a Saturday incident with Ryan Briscoe, made an ill-advised attempt on passing E.J. Viso in the first turn on lap 23. Both cars went off track and were done for the day.

Almost immediately after the green flag flew after that caution, Takuma Sato brought the yellow out again, when a combination of cold tires and cold brakes caused him to careen off course, again in the first turn. That was just the icing on the cake for a bad weekend for KV Racing; not only were Viso and Sato out, Mario Moraes had given three of his pit crew minor injuries in an incident during race warmups.

Pit incidents were not out of the question all weekend, as a 27-car field meant that pit stalls had to be shortened to 35 feet. Normally, the Mid-Ohio pit accommodates 26 cars length-wise, and is also fairly narrow. Ryan Hunter-Reay became a victim of the tight space, getting sandwiched between the Penske cars of Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe during the first pit stops and having to return to the pits for damage repairs. He dropped back to 24th but recovered to finish 10th.

Two drivers made their IndyCar debuts during the race, but neither did all that much to impress. J.R. Hildebrand, last year's Indy Lights champion, was never a factor in a 16th place finish for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Meanwhile, Francesco Dracone caused the final two cautions of the race with two separate spins on different sections of the track. He finished three laps down in 22nd, beating only Milka Duno of the cars still on track at the finish.

On the other end of the spectrum, Simona de Silvestro and Bertrand Baguette were among the drivers who scored season-best finishes in the race. De Silvestro placed eighth in an older, heavier HVM Racing chassis that was able to chase down Penske cars in some points of the race. Baguette had a top-10 car for much of the race, but was bumped down to 11th by the checkered flag.

All in all, 21 cars finished on the lead lap, the last of them being Danica Patrick. Four cars did not finish the race: Wilson, Viso, Sato, and Jay Howard.

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