'Push to Pass' Thrills IndyCar in Kentucky
The biggest story won't be Briscoe's triumphant return to victory lane in 2009 or how narrowly close the Tony George-owned Vision Racing team with Carpenter came to winning his first career race in some 94 tries.
Instead, the racing that the IRL IndyCar Series had become known for seemed to return with a bang in the hills of Sparta, Ky., thanks to a few rule changes for the series.
Call it what you will -- push-to-pass, overtake assist, magic potion No. 9 -- but the new button giving drivers a twelve second boost in horsepower up to 20 times per race, in addition to some heavy aerodynamic rulebook changes that are harder to explain, brought IndyCar back to seeing races won by inches and enough side-by-side action for a nail-biter to start look for extra hands.
Prior to Saturday night's race at Kentucky, the series had seen a total of 72 lead changes in the season's first 11 lead changes, leading to an per race average of 6.54. With the additional horsepower and increased downforce package, IndyCar drivers swapped the lead some 20 times on the 1.5-mile track -- accounting for nearly 22% of the season's lead changes to this point.
Lead changes weren't even the whole story. The downforce seemed to keep cars more under control as the only caution waved when Justin Wilson suffered electrical problems, while the last 10 laps were a complete dog fight for the top spot between Briscoe and Carpenter.
Officially, the record shows Briscoe led every lap from 192 until the checkers on lap 200, but Carpenter used all of his resources to stay on the low groove and in contention for the win the the Penske driver. The two cars came perilously close on numerous occasions all around the tri-oval as Carpenter tried to subtlely force Briscoe higher and higher out of the groove.
Briscoe never flinched, and instead held on and kept his foot in it as Tony Kanaan and teammate Helio Castroneves breathed fire down the necks of the two leaders in what became a four-way pack for the win.
When the checkers did fly, it was Briscoe in front by less than a nose, or merely some 0.0162 seconds, to secure the closest finish in Kentucky Speedway history and the seventh closest overall for the IndyCar Series -- certainly a result that the question-filled series needed heavily.