BROOKLYN, Mich. - In an interesting marriage of the fastest and slowest of sports, a chess move made the difference in a 200-mile-an-hour race here yesterday.
Buddy Rice overtook Tony Kanaan with 10 laps left after nipping at his backside all day long and won the Michigan 400 Indy Racing League event, benefiting from a miscalculation in strategy by Kanaan's team.
With all of the leaders cutting things extremely close on fuel, Kanaan's Andretti Green Racing team figured that Rice would not have enough to finish the race if he had to run out front. So under orders from his crew, Kanaan allowed Rice to pass, then watched him run to the checkered flag. The move backfired as Rice won by .0796 seconds, a bitter pill for Kanaan to swallow.
"I had a strong car, and I did my job," Kanaan said. "I did what I was told to do. They told me to let him by, and that's what I did. It hurts. Letting someone by because somebody tells you he's not going to make it on fuel, and he makes it - I'm not happy about that."
Kanaan, the season points leader in the IndyCar Series, got side-by-side with Rice with just two laps left, but could not overtake the Indy 500 winner, who is second in the points race and closed the gap on Kanaan with the win.
"I tried, but I could not make it. The reality is, I shouldn't have been behind him - I should have been ahead like I was all day," said Kanaan, who led for 183 laps, including the first 125. "Today, we were not very smart, and the other team was very smart. That's the way it is."
Rice felt he had the car to overtake Kanaan, and said his Rahal Letterman Team was content to stay close and wait for the opportunity to win at the end.
"We dropped the hammer when we needed to," said Rice, who averaged 182.112 mph, the fourth-fastest winning time in IRL history. "We had to wait and see how the last 20 laps would go, and see if it came down to a fuel race. We had more than he did, and we were able to run full-rich at the end and drive away. I'm not sure what their strategy was, but when we got up there, fuel was not an issue. We had plenty of fuel."
Kanaan started from the pole and looked as if he could make it a wire-to-wire run. While the race was fairly clean and accident-free out on the track, there was chaos in the pit area and Kanaan managed to stay out of the fray.
Thirty laps into the race, Tomas Scheckter had moved into second after starting 13th. Working with a new Chevy engine, Scheckter felt he had picked up close to 10 horsepower, but when he pulled into the pits on Lap 36 in a round of green-flag pit stops, the mayhem commenced.
As Scheckter tried to pull into his stall, Tora Takagi left the preceding pit stall without adequate clearance and bumped Scheck-ter, who hit the pit wall, pinning crew member Steve Namisnak against the concrete barrier. Namisnak suffered a broken leg in the mishap.
Scheckter fell out of the race picture after the nose on his car needed to be changed, dropping him to 21st in the 22-car field. While Kanaan maintained the lead, Rice periodically battled Sam Hornish Jr. for second through the midway point in the race.
Rice inched ahead of Kanaan momentarily, with Hornish third, when the field went to green on Lap 116 after a five-lap caution, but Kanaan was back in front before the lap was completed. The yellow flag came out again on Lap 124 when Dario Franchitti blew his engine, and another dash to the pits ensued.
Adrian Fernandez bumped Vitor Meira as he came in, and Meira got pushed sideways into Dan Wheldon's pit. Fernandez' car clipped the legs of one of Wheldon's crew members, who stayed in the pits with a minor ankle injury.
On Lap 159 Fernandez overshot his own stall, spun out in the pits, and hit one of his own crew members. The crew member was not seriously hurt, but a black flag stop-and-go penalty took Fernandez well back in the pack.
Hornish moved as high as second in the field after Rice made an unsuccessful run at Kanaan with about 35 laps to go, but Rice and third-place finisher Wheldon slipped by Hornish in the final sprint to the end. Honda, which has won nine of the 10 IRL races this season, finished 1-2-3 and had five of the top six cars in the race. Hornish was fourth in a Toyota powered car.
"Anybody that says the IRL is not the most exciting racing championship in the world is a complete idiot in my book," Wheldon said. "It was very intense out there all day. I was just a little bit off Tony and Buddy's pace, but with their speed, the best I was going to do today was third."
The crowd was estimated at 45,000.42.11068 -84.24795