Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage snapped a picture in Victory Lane and couldn’t wait to share it with anyone in sight.
It captured the essence of the Firestone 600 on Saturday night, a moment in which the IndyCar Series finally reverted back to its glory years that had become a thing of the past at Texas.
Stuck in the end wing of race winner Graham Rahal’s car had been a piece of third-place finisher Tony Kanaan’s car. Gossage proudly showed it off. That’s how close and hard the drivers were going in the closing laps.
“When the winner drives into Victory Lane carrying part of another guy’s car, that’s pretty cool,” said Gossage, grinning. “I don’t know how you’re going to find a better race than what you saw tonight.”
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0.0080 seconds in winning margin, closest race in TMS history
For Gossage, it’s a sign that open-wheel racing still has the ability to bring intrigue and excitement at his mile-and-a-half track. A year ago, Scott Dixon blitzed the field in an uneventful race to win by 7.8 seconds.
Saturday marked the closest race in Texas history, including the NASCAR series. Rahal won by 0.0080 seconds over James Hinchcliffe, and had a 0.0823 second lead over third-place finisher Tony Kanaan.
Put another way, that’s three contending drivers finishing within one one-hundredth of a second of each other.
That was as good as it gets.
Race winner Graham Rahal
“That was as good as it gets,” Rahal said.
Added Kanaan, a veteran of the series: “That’s some old-school Texas right there. I feel bad for the people that didn’t come back to watch because it was a hell of a show.”
Gossage echoed those sentiments and should have felt somewhat prophetic. TMS and IndyCar reached a two-year agreement for the series to return in 2017-18 about six weeks ago, the first time a multiyear agreement has been reached between the two.
Most sanctioning agreements are one-year pacts, but Gossage has a good relationship with the current IndyCar management and knew how committed it was to bring exciting racing back to Texas.
“We’ve been after IndyCar for a number of years to bring back the kind of racing that fans enjoyed here and this is an instant classic,” Gossage said. “You’ve got outstanding talent driving these cars and obviously they’re drivable because they were able to do what they did. So the combination worked. You can’t ask for more than that.
“This is as good of a race as you’re going to see.”
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Gossage paused for a second and added: “Ever.”
All of the drivers had similar things to say about the race and were happy to put on a good show. They were aware of how boring a few of the previous races were for fans at Texas, and knew something had to change.
Safety remains the top priority, of course, and Saturday showed that a safe, exciting race is still possible. The racing at the end with cars darting back-and-forth should have had any racing fan on the edge-of-their-seat.
“We put on a great show for Eddie, but we put on a great show for the fans,” Rahal said. “I think anybody that watched that race, they can come back next year and understand that when they come to an IndyCar race, they’re going to get the best racing possible.
“It’s a lot different than what it used to be. It is not just flat-out easy pack racing anymore. I mean, you were lifting a heck of a lot in traffic, but the way these cars suck up nowadays, the draft is huge. It just makes the racing awesome.”
TMS couldn’t have asked for a better night, given the unique circumstances of it all. The race had been scheduled to run in June, but Mother Nature wreaked havoc on that weekend.
The drivers were able to complete 71 laps of the 248-lap race, but it had to be postponed 2 1/2 months because of rain. Resuming the race 11 weeks later could have meant minimal interest, but Gossage was pleased with the attendance.
It was just a great feel to it all night long and they saw a great race.
TMS president Eddie Gossage
It appeared sparse early in the day, but the frontstretch stands filled in by the time the green flag dropped at 8:18 p.m.
“Seventy-some-odd-days later and the race just had a great vibe about it,” Gossage said. “There was just a buzz of excitement and I think the fans appreciated all the things we did. It was just a great feel to it all night long, and they saw a great race.”