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Briscoe wins 300th for Roger Penske
Photo by Steve Burzynski, Bronco's Pitstop
Photo by Steve Burzynski, Bronco's Pitstop
June 1st 2008 - By: Mark W. Theisen

WEST ALLIS, WISCONSIN June 1, 2008: A fractured first season with Penske Racing took a huge step toward mending this afternoon at the Milwaukee Mile as Ryan Briscoe overcame weeks of frustration by edging 2008 Indianapolis 500 mile winner Scott Dixon to win the ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt 225 as the dramatic battle between the two drivers ended three lap prematurely with a spectacular accident that resulted in the contest ending under the yellow flag denying those in attendance of what would have been an exciting finish between them.

Briscoe became the 15th different driver to win a major open wheel race for owner Roger Penske, whose organization posted their 300 win in all forms of motorsports as well and thus denied Dixon from becoming just the 9th driver in history to win at Milwaukee after an Indy 500 win. The win was Briscoe’s first in the Indy Car Series.

Marco Andretti, a third generation Indy Series driver, started alongside second generation driver Graham Rahal by virtue of capturing the pole for the race yesterday with a four lap qualifying average speed of 168.079 and was in front at the end of the first lap of the race as the field remained tightly bunched.

At the end of the second lap Oriel Servia shot out of the formation and onto pit row with damage to the right front wing on his car after contact with possibly Briscoe, but the field was still so tight it was difficult to determine just who Servia hit. The contact brought out the yellow flag and after going through the pits and around to catch the field Servia was able to make his pit stop to change the front wing and he rejoined the field at the front of the field, the last car on the lead lap, yet ahead of the leaders.

The green flag came back out on lap 10 and it was still Andretti ahead Rahal but just one lap under green it was Dixon taking second from Rahal with defending race winner Tony Kanaan right behind.

Andretti’s car seemed to loose its handling as he became mired in traffic and began a free-fall through the field not to be a factor in the race until the end while Rahal stayed with the leaders as the laps wore one.

Caution number two came on lap 63 for debris on the back stretch and sent the cars to pit road where most of the teams opted only for fuel to maintain the track position that was deemed so important on a tight mile track.

Dixon’s Target Ganassi Racing team turned him out ahead of Helio Castroneves, Briscoe’s teammate at Team Penske, with Rahal, Wheldon, and Kanaan right behind.

Briscoe restarted 6th as the strength of his car began to show, coming from his 11th starting berth and losing spots initially in the contact by Servia he was with the leaders by this juncture in the race.

Rahal’s day came to an abrupt end on lap 131 when, while attempting to lap the cars of Darren Manning and Buddy Rice he slipped out of the groove and got into the loose rubber that was out of the groove and struck the wall after Manning drifted into him.

“I was just on the outside of Manning going into the turns,” said a dejected Rahal. “He previously had kind of been all over the track anyway, and I was struggling with him. It was definitely tough. I was going to hit if I didn’t move and when I moved I was in the marbles and then the wall.”

The ensuing pit stops this time produced tire changes, adjustments and fuel and once again it was Dixon out first followed by Castroneves and now Briscoe and not only the speed of his car but that of his team moved him into the top three.

One lap under the green and Briscoe took over second but Dixon was cruising well ahead building a lead of 2.0559 seconds before Briscoe began to cut in on it moving into to take his first lead in the race on lap 177.

Once in front Briscoe was able to put some distance between himself and Dixon as the latter was in a fuel conservation mode as the teams began to plan their strategy for what would be the final and penultimate pit stop of the race.

The race was ultimately won on lap 194 when Roger Penske called Briscoe into the pits, the first of the lead cars to make their stop. Despite a longer than usual stop when a lug nut on the right rear was balky Briscoe returned to the track with four new tires and the speed he gained over all the cars that stayed out for additional laps played to his advantage as the rest of the stops played out.

Dixon came to the pits 10 laps later and despite a two second quicker stop he came out behind Briscoe and when Castroneves, Wheldon, and Kanaan made their stops it was Briscoe ahead of Dixon by 4/10s of a second.

Dixon could make a run on Briscoe but each attempt was thwarted by a lapped car and that was Briscoe’s ace in the hole, he had the lead and was able to parlay those lapped cars into keeping the lead.

It seemed as though each time Dixon got a run a lapped car was in the way and as the laps wore down he was looking for a way to get around Briscoe when Andretti got into the car of Ed Carpenter on lap 223 sending both spinning and with a huge cloud of dust from the spinning cars tires Vitor Meira was blinded and hit Andretti’s car launching his car right over the wheels of Andretti’s car. The airborne car came down on all four tires but all three cars involved where significantly damaged. Hideki Mutoh was the fourth car involved but he just stopped his car to avoid contact and was able to come around to finish the race.

The major accident brought out the caution with three laps to go and with the track strewn with debris the race ended under the yellow giving Briscoe redemption from a season that had been marked with mistakes, some not his fault that had people questioning Penske on his decision to hire him in the first place.

“The car was just magic today,” said Briscoe in victory lane after jumping into the waiting arms of his crew. “We came through the field, and it felt so good. Some guys had a bit of a compromise as far as set up went, some were good at the beginning of a stint while mine was good throughout.”

Briscoe, who underwent a week of media scrutiny after a pit road incident with Danica Patrick in last week’s Indy 500, put that all behind him. “We are all race drivers and things to happen. I just put it out of my mind and all week long I was preached confidence, confidence, keep that confidence up and that along with execution and strategy gave our team the win today and I could not be happier.”

“Traffic pretty much dictated the results of the race today,” said Dixon, who lead a race high 147 laps yet came up short at the end. “Who know what would have happened had the race finished without the caution? We had played our strategy at the end and it was not the right one but I finished second and still have the points lead so things are not all that bad. It was a great day for our team despite not winning.”

“Ryan (Briscoe) was really strong all day long,” said third place finished Kanaan, “and I am always in favor of the fastest car winning the race. He deserved to win from where he started and how good he was. We did not have a car to contend for the win today so to finish third just shows how good our team is. The finish is good momentum for the team as the season goes along and we worked towards winning that championship.

Wheldon credited a conservative car set up for his fourth place finish never being able to lead a lap. “It was difficult for me to run up high today and that is where I needed to be to make a pass. Overall it was a good day.”

Castroneves, who moved over to allow his faster teammate by at one point in the race rounded out the top five. “He was much quicker than I was and when I knew I could not win it was up to him to do it for the team and he did.”

Servia came back from his early woes to finish sixth followed by Justin Wilson, E.J. Viso, Patrick, and Rice.

It was not a strong day at all for Patrick who garnered most of the media attention the past week following her contact with Briscoe at Indy. “We started with a balanced race car today and then struggled to keep it, said Patrick. “We were able to make improvements but they did not hold for the entire stint. On a good note we were able to finish the race which we have not been able to do the last two.”

None of the three drivers involved in the late crash were hurt as Andretti said, “We were racing and things like that happen. It was good hard racing fighting for positions. I just carried too much speed into the corner on that lap and I lost the front end of the car and it Ed (Carpenter) and that started it all.”

Attendance figures were not available at this writing but the crowd was way up over previous years just by looking at the depth of fullness in the stands so the upswing in interest in the series since the unification of the two open wheels series seems to have helped here as it did in Indianapolis last year.

With 26 cars in the starting field and many of the drivers having not raced on the Milwaukee Mile dire consequences were predicted but for the most part it was a clean race and the numbers of cars on the track made for interesting watching over the years past.

The series now moves on to the ultra fast Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday with Dixon 28 points ahead of Castroneves. Briscoe moved from 18th to 8th in the standings with his win today.