Once again, the Kentucky Indy 300 gave thousands of fans hope at an upset victory. And once again, a Roger Penske-employed driver thwarted any designs that a little guy had at victory.
Panther Racing - former IZOD IndyCar Series champions, but now restricted to an underdog role in the series as ex-CART powers have taken over - qualified first and third for the race with Ed Carpenter and Dan Wheldon, respectively. They combined to lead 104 laps of the race, including 49 of the final 53 circuits.
Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, Carpenter had the victory stolen from him by Team Penske. This year, Helio Castroneves did the honors, conserving enough fuel in an extended green flag run to coast to the win, and even turn a couple victory laps afterwards.
Last year, Carpenter was beaten to the line by Penske driver Ryan Briscoe in a memorable finish. This year, Briscoe wasn't around to challenge for the win, having crashed out in a three-car wreck before the halfway point, but Carpenter was a contender for much of the night. He even worked his way back through the pack after getting shuffled back early.
But late race, splash-and-go pit stops for all of the leaders shuffled the order, and the victory went to the driver who used the underdog strategy: hang out towards the back and run slow laps to ensure the ability to make it to the end.
It was the second consecutive strong run for Carpenter, whose team is actually a collaboration between Panther and Vision Racing, as well as Wheldon, Panther's lead driver. Last week at Chicagoland, fuel issues knocked Carpenter out of contention, while Wheldon finished second in that event. This weekend, Wheldon led more laps than anybody (93) and made a strong case to remain in the series next year, even as he and Panther will part ways at the end of the season.
In the end, Carpenter finished second at Kentucky for the second year in a row, and Wheldon placed third.
Meanwhile, Castroneves took his second race victory of the season (though, referring to an incident at Edmonton, jokingly called it his third) by running laps almost 10 miles per hour slower than the leaders in the very late stages of the event. As such, when Tony Kanaan pit with less than 10 to go to begin the cycle of splash-and-go fuel stops, Castroneves had conserved enough to stay out on track.
Kanaan, who had qualified miserably off the pace to start in 26th, passed 10 cars on the first lap of the event and eventually wound up fourth, in front of Dario Franchitti. Franchitti further closed the gap on point leader Will Power, who wound up eighth. Power led 83 laps of the 200-lap event, nearly garnering him an important two-point bonus for leading the most laps, until Wheldon topped him late in the event. Power's shrinking points lead is now down to 17 with only two races to go.
Bertrand Baguette had a career-best 10th place finish, which also propelled him past the perpetually unlucky Takuma Sato in the points. After taking out teammate E.J. Viso last week at Chicagoland, Sato failed to even complete one lap at Kentucky, as his car broke loose from him in turns three and four and he slammed into the wall. It was the latest in a long line of incidents for KV Racing Technology this season, where the crash count now tops two dozen.