Ryan Briscoe held off Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon and barely slipped through a late-race crash to win Sunday's IndyCar Series race at the Milwaukee Mile.
A week after an embarrassing pit lane accident that took out fan favorite Danica Patrick at Indy, Briscoe redeemed himself with his first victory for Team Penske.
"It's huge," the 22-year-old Australian said. "It feels so good to get the win. The car was just magic today. We just came through the field."
It appeared for most of the 225-lap race that Dixon would run away to another victory, but Briscoe caught the leader and passed him on lap 177. All the drivers up front made green-flag stops before the finish, but Briscoe came out of the fuel stops back out front on lap 207 and stayed there despite heavy pressure from Dixon in the closing laps.
With four laps to go, the lapped cars of pole-winner Marco Andretti and Ed Carpenter came together in heavy traffic, sending both into the wall. Vitor Meira, who started last after crashing Saturday in qualifying, ran over Andretti's car, flying into the air and then hitting the wall just as Briscoe drove past. There were no injuries.
The youngster couldn't help but think the bad luck that's been trailing him this season was about to strike again.
"A million things went through my mind when I saw all that smoke. With a couple of laps to go, I knew how to keep Dixon behind me. I think I'd have been in tears if I didn't get through."
Asked how close he came to hitting Meira's car in the smoke and debris from the accident, Briscoe said, "I think it was less than a foot."
Dixon, who led a race-high 147 laps to Briscoe's 36, was also happy to get through the accident without damage and was pleased with his runner-up finish.
"Briscoe, you've got to give him credit," the New Zealander said. "He drove the wheels off that thing. He could really take advantage of the high line when I tried a couple of times and nearly ended up in the fence. It was the most fun I've had in a long time, to be honest. It was a hell of a race toward the end."
All the top cars made it through the melee without damage, but the race ended under caution with two-time defending race winner Tony Kanaan third, followed by Dan Wheldon and Briscoe's teammate Helio Castroneves.
Asked if he could have caught Briscoe in the last few laps if the caution had not come out, Dixon shrugged.
"I think it was just going to come down to how you hit traffic," he said. "With three laps more, who knows what was going to happen."
Oriol Servia, one of the drivers making the transition from the defunct Champ Car World Series into the newly unified IndyCar Series, sustained damage on the second lap when he banged off of Briscoe's rear wing. The Spaniard pitted under the ensuing caution flag for a new nose and came back from a lap down to finish sixth, the last driver on the lead lap.
Patrick was never in contention, finishing a lap down in ninth.
Briscoe, who lost his ride after a season with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2005, got another chance with Roger Penske's team this year and crashed in three of the first five races, falling all the way to 19th in the points.
But he came back Sunday to give Penske his 300th victory.
"This will help in the points and, hopefully, we can just keep getting some front-running positions in the rest of the championship," Briscoe said.
He dedicated the win to former Penske driver Rick Mears, a four-time Indy winner who is now a consultant for the team. Mears was honored before the race on the 30th anniversary of his first win.
"I can't tell you how special it is to win my first IndyCar race on the 30th anniversary of Rick's first win," Briscoe said. "I wouldn't have won it without his advice here."
Penske said he was proud of his new driver, the 15th different winner for the team in IndyCar racing.
"I think, today, he really got the monkey off his back," the owner said. "We knew how good he was. From the standpoint of his confidence, this is exactly what he need to break ice."
Source: AP News