Click above for more high-res pics from the Gainsco 300
If you've got the Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway TiVo'd and are waiting to watch it, read no further. Chances are that you haven't or aren't going to, though. Because while a spirit of camaraderie prevailed at Homestead, there wasn't a large live or television audience to witness it. Bear in mind, of course, that we're talking about American oval-track racing, whose stock-car counterpart ranks as the largest spectator sport in the country... only by those standards does a headcount of some 20,000 people in the stands count as small. By any other measure, though, the inaugural race of the reunited open-wheel series was a big success, its 26-car field ranking as the largest starting grid of any race (other than the Indy 500) either of the erstwhile separated series has had since 2003.
As was predicted, the Champ Car teams joining the IRL veterans were at a big disadvantage. The fastest IRL drivers lapped the slowest Champ Car migrant in only the 14th lap (!) going 16 mph faster (!!). The best of the Champ Car challengers, Oriol Servia, finished 12th. It's worth noting that on what basically amounted to their oval-track debut, the Champ Car drivers didn't cause or were barely even involved in any significant accidents on the track. Aside from Servia and Bruno Junqueira, both highly experienced drivers, the rest of the Champ Car challengers are being classified as rookies in the IRL, and are therefore eligible to contend for "rookie of the year" honors.
Further on up the field, Tony Kanaan (Andretti Green Racing) crashed with only eight laps to go while fighting neck-and-neck with Ganassi's Scott Dixon. But while Kanaan's teammate Marco Andretti put up a good fight, it was Dixon who ultimately claimed the checkered flag and a boom box trophy finishing half a second ahead of the young Andretti scion. (Danica Patrick finished 6th one lap behind, thanks for asking.) Next weekend, the Indy racers head across the state and up the gulf coast for the street circuit race in St. Petersburg, where the field will (literally and metaphorically) be leveled and the returning IRL drivers might find their little wing mirrors all full of experienced Champ Car contenders. Open-wheel racing is back in America, and we can't wait to see what's next.