Substitute driver Alex Barron won the Firestone Indy 400 yesterday at Michigan International Speedway. Owner Mo Nunn commented, `There's a lot of tiger there.'
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BROOKLYN, Mich. - Alex Barron shadowed Sam Hornish, Jr., for multiple miles, often by just inches, but the final two feet were his yesterday at Michigan International Speedway.
That's when the perennial stand-in stood on it to nudge the nose of his Mo Nunn Racing Toyota in front of Defiance resident Hornish to capture the Firestone Indy 400 before an estimated crowd of 30,000.
Alex, certainly no land baron on this day, won by 12.1 thousandths of a second, the fourth-closest finish in Indy Racing League history.
The 32-year-old Barron, from Menifee, Calif., near San Diego, again qualified as the top reliever out of the open-wheel racing bullpen. That brings up the question, how can this stop-gap guy not be a starter? If he's the understudy, who's the overstudy?
Asked if this finish, which included a comeback from a 180-degree spin into the infield 36 laps from the finish, might put him in someone's starting lineup, Barron said, “I hope the glove stays warm from now on. It's been a long season, but every time I've gotten the shot to drive, whether it's been with Roger Penske or Mo Nunn the cars have been really strong.
“I want to race competitively with a competitive car. I was fortunate enough to get that all four races this year. Hopefully, I can continue to get the opportunity to do that.”
This was Barron's fourth substitute role this season. He's currently subbing for the injured Felipe Giaffone on the Nunn team. Barron finished fifth at Nashville last weekend. He also stood in for Penske Racing and Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran at Motegi Japan last April, when de Ferran was injured. Barron was involved in a crash and finished 17th.
And when veteran Indy 500 driver Arie Luyendyk was injured in a practice mishap last May before the Indy 500, it was Barron who got the call from Nunn. Barron finished sixth.
Nunn thinks there's none better than Barron when it's time for a reliever with high-speed deliveries. Nunn's sponsor, Hollywood Cigaretts of Brazil, wanted a Brazilian driver. Nunn wanted a proven competitor.
“I haven't known him very long. He should be a regular driver from what we've seen so far, when he's raced for us,” Nunn said. “And he's an American. Yeah, it's obviously good for the series. Felipe called right away and said, `Do I still have a drive?'”
Giaffone suffered a broken right femur and pelvis during the IRL race at Kansas City on July 6. He is not expected to be back until, possibly, the IRL race in California on Sept. 21.
Nunn said that when he considered the drivers available to sub for Giaffone he considered Barron's very good performance at Indy, the fact that Barron was very familiar with the G-Force Chassis, which Penske also uses, and that Barron had already experienced an IRL victory, winning at Nashville last year while driving for the now-defunct Blair Racing team.
“He was obviously the best driver we could have,” Nunn said, and then, lowering his voice a little, added, “There's a lot of tiger there.”
The average race speed yesterday was 180.917 mph, the fastest average speed in the history of the IRL series. The previous record was 179.345 mph by Hornish when he won at California Speedway last year.
Barron said that if the start-finish line would have been three-quarters of the way down the front straightaway instead of halfway, the end result would have probably favored Hornish.
But it's a reliever's job to mop up and Hornish missed Barron's final delivery by two feet.