Verizon IndyCar Series fans waited 76 days for the Firestone 600 to be completed at Texas Motor Speedway. It was definitely worth the wait.
Graham Rahal passed James Hinchcliffe coming out of the last turn of the last lap and held on for the win by 0.0080 of a second - the closest finish in the 20-year history of the 1.455-mile oval and the fifth-closest finish of any Indy car race in history.
"I didn't want to go through this year without a win," Rahal said. "On that last yellow, I was telling myself this could be my chance, you'd better get it done. We're just lucky it all worked out."
The nail-biting finish climaxed an evening of thrilling Verizon IndyCar Series racing as the event suspended by rain after 71 laps June 12 was completed under the lights at TMS. Eight drivers swapped the lead 14 times throughout the 248 laps (including the June portion), with Hinchcliffe setting the pace for 188 laps in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
Hinchcliffe and Rahal led the field to the green flag on the final restart on Lap 240, with Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud the only other lead-lap cars giving chase. On fresher tires after making pit stops during the last caution period, championship leader Pagenaud and Kanaan each made bids for the lead that Hinchcliffe denied - often with the help of a push from behind by fellow Honda driver Rahal. At one point on Lap 244, the top four cars ran side by side.
On the final lap, Rahal ducked inside of Hinchcliffe in Turns 3 and 4 and pulled enough of an advantage to hold on by the narrowest of margins for his fourth career victory and first since winning at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August 2015.
"I knew I was going to have to try to fake Hinch to the top side because there was only one way to actually clear him, which was to the bottom," said Rahal, the 14th driver to win an Indy car race by leading only the last lap and the first to do it since Hinchcliffe at Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2013. "I was just very lucky it worked and I have to thank Hinch a lot because he gave me some good room at the bottom and it didn't end up in tears."
Hinchcliffe wasn't consoled by his best finish of the season and best since he won at NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015.
"When we cleared Tony and it was just me and Graham coming down to the checkered, I thought the momentum is on the outside. I feel like I've kind of seen it here 10 times before in races in years past, and I thought we were still going to be able to do it.
"But, man, he rolled through the center of (Turns) 3 and 4 with a whole lot of speed. I hadn't been next to a car all night that cleared me that quickly. That was the time to make that move. It's just tough having a car like that and leading that many laps, but not the one that counted."
Kanaan wound up third, the 76th podium finish of his 19-year Indy car career (11th on the all-time list). Pagenaud finished fourth, upping his points advantage to 28 over teammate Will Power, who finished eighth, with two races remaining.
"Wow, that was exciting!" Pagenaud said. "I don't think I have any breath left. I thought we were going to get it, but when it went four wide I got touched and pushed me into (Hinchcliffe) and I had to back out of it or there was going to be a big wreck."
The race restarted with 20 of the 22 cars competing. Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly crashed on Lap 42 in June and were ruled ineligible for the completion because their cars could not have been repaired that day.
With the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (Sept. 4) and the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sept. 18) remaining on the schedule, nine drivers remain mathematically alive for the 2016 championship: Pagenaud, Power, Kanaan, Castroneves, Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Rahal, Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz.
Coverage of the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen begins at 2 p.m. ET Sept. 4 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Police officer heroes serve as co-grand marshals
The co-grand marshals for the resumption of the Firestone 600 headlined "Back The Blue Night" at Texas Motor Speedway to honor law enforcement and first responders.
Matt Pearce of the Fort Worth Police Department and Jorge Barrientos of the Dallas Police Department, both injured in shootings this year, issued the command for the cars to refire their engines and continue the race suspended June 12 by rain.
Pearce was shot in the cheek, arm, chest and leg March 15 while pursuing a fugitive in western Fort Worth. The 36-year-old also sustained a bruised heart and fractured femur and spent two months in the hospital.
Barrientos was shot in the hand and received shrapnel wounds in the chest when a sniper opened fire on police working traffic control during a peaceful protest July 7. Despite the wounds, he continued providing help to his fallen partners. Three of the five officers who died that night were from his unit.
The two heroes received rousing ovations when introduced during the INDYCAR drivers' meeting before the race. Both officers were appreciative of the support from INDYCAR and Texas Motor Speedway.
"It's been good," Barrientos said. "We love the support, really appreciate them seeking us out and inviting us out here. It's been a good experience, an awesome experience to come out here and enjoy this. It lets you know, as an officer, as part of the community, not only does the community and the citizens but the companies and industries love to show that support, too."
Pearce echoed his fellow officer's sentiments.
"We've had nothing but support since the day I got hurt," Pearce said. "We had people calling and asking how they could support us when, at one point, we weren't even sure if I was going to make it, so we weren't sure where to go.
"But we've been flooded with support," Pearce added. "We've been very well taken care of. INDYCAR and Texas Motor Speedway stepping in and doing that with force as well, it makes it that much easier to go out and do our jobs every day when we have a hard job to do."
Pearce is very familiar with motorsports and Texas Motor Speedway, having served off-duty at the track the previous five years. He was looking forward to enjoying a better seat for the race this time.
"Normally I'm out here because normally I work up here," Pearce said. "This would've been my sixth season being up here. I love being here.
"I'm very choosey about what off-duty part-times I work. This is one that I love coming up to, so to be able to sit down as a race fan and as a motorsports fan is fantastic. This is like a dream come true for me."VICS PR