Aug 19, 2014, 1:31 PM EST
As the 2006 IRL IndyCar Series season entered its final stages, a tight championship battle was ensuing between Team Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves and Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon.
But in the penultimate race of the year at Sonoma Raceway, their ongoing pursuit of the IRL title was overshadowed as third-generation driver Marco Andretti notched his first career IndyCar win on the technical Northern California road course.
It took some risk and luck for the son of Michael and grandson of Mario to break through and become the youngest driver ever to win a major American open-wheel event.
On Lap 44, Andretti pitted his No. 26 Andretti Green Racing Honda and then chose to stay on track when a caution came out at Lap 51. That forced the then-19-year-old driver to save fuel later on in the closing laps of the race.
A win for Andretti was very much in doubt, but with less than 10 laps left and AGR teammate Dario Franchitti closing in on him, another AGR driver, Bryan Herta, spun out at Turn 7 to trigger a caution.
That helped ease Andretti’s fuel issues, and he was able to hold off Franchitti in the end to secure his inaugural victory.
“I knew that Dario [Franchitti] is normally the king of saving fuel,” Andretti said. “After he got by Tony [Kanaan], I knew it definitely wasn’t over, and he would push me hard during the final laps.
“I had to run some pretty fast laps at the end, but we just needed to stay consistent, save the tires and fuel, and it all worked out.”
Meanwhile, some of his fellow competitors wondered if Herta had done his team a solid with his late spin.
“There’s no doubt he spun on purpose,” Wheldon said after the race according to ESPN’s John Oreovicz. “Bryan definitely took one for the team today and that’s not how any race should be decided.”
For his part, Herta denied the accusations, maintaining that he simply got on the throttle too early going into Turn 7 before looping his No. 7 Honda around.
While that debate raged, Castroneves’ fifth-place finish enabled him to take a one-point lead over Hornish going into the season finale at Chicagoland Speedway.
In the Windy City, however, it was Hornish who drove away with his third IRL crown. Wheldon won that race, with teammate Dixon in second, Hornish in third, and Castroneves in fourth.
But the result brought Hornish and Wheldon into a tie atop the standings, and Hornish claimed the title via tiebreaker – his four race wins trumping Wheldon’s two.
As for Andretti, he’d have to wait until 2011 before he added his second IndyCar race win at Iowa Speedway.
The IndyCars return to Sonoma Raceway this Sunday for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for your online and mobile devices.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:30 PM EST
When he went looking for a new crew chief to replace the soon-to-be departing Steve Letarte, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ultimately didn’t have to look very far.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Kasey Kahne looks for success with new crew chief… and another Super Bowl for his Seahawks.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:30 PM EST
Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway was arrested last week and charged with indecent exposure and lewdness.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:09 PM EST
Conor Daly finally set for an IndyCar test this offseason, with SPM.
Jan 29, 2015, 6:33 PM EST
After coming so close last season, Ryan Newman is ready to fight for the Sprint Cup championship in 2015 — and he’s bringing his brass knuckles to give him a hand.
Jan 29, 2015, 6:01 PM EST
Car owner Rick Hendrick said he consulted with Jeff Gordon about if to retire the No. 24 after this season.
Jan 29, 2015, 5:42 PM EST
One week after announcing he was retiring after the 2015 season, Jeff Gordon told NASCAR America that he wants to win his final Daytona 500 and also walk away with his fifth career Sprint Cup championship.
Jan 29, 2015, 4:42 PM EST
IndyCar’s Brasilia, Brazil race set for March 8 has been canceled.
Jan 29, 2015, 4:35 PM EST
Jimmie Johnson will again embark on a quest for his seventh Cup title, but he acknowledged and embraced Thursday he’s not the story at Hendrick Motorsports for 2015.
Rick Hendrick: No pressure on Jeff Gordon in final season, he just has to win 14 races and championship
Jan 29, 2015, 4:12 PM EST
There’s nothing like putting a little pressure on a guy, especially in his final season. Team owner Rick Hendrick expects Jeff Gordon to win 14 races and the championship in 2015!
Jan 29, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
Today’s NASCAR AMERICA runs for an hour and has a heavy No. 24 theme.
Jan 29, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
Ganassi, Sabates praise McMurray’s start to 2015.
Jan 29, 2015, 2:41 PM EST
Although he grew up a Jeff Gordon fan and was counseled by Gordon on his future, Kyle Larson will watch someone else drive the No. 24.
Jan 29, 2015, 2:35 PM EST
Fresh off a team win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Kyle Larson not only is keeping time better, he says it’s also time to win some races and contend for the Sprint Cup championship in 2015.
Jan 29, 2015, 1:52 PM EST
The 2014 Xfinity Series champion is announced as Jeff Gordon’s successor a day before his father, Bill Elliott, is inducted in the Hall of Fame.
Jan 29, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
British youngster will combine this role with a full season in GP2 with DAMS.
Jan 29, 2015, 12:10 PM EST
The 2014 Xfinity Series champion will make his Sprint Cup debut in March before moving full time to NASCAR’s premier series in 2016.
Dover Motorsports Inc. releases earnings report, sets sale of Nashville Superspeedway for end of February
Jan 29, 2015, 11:51 AM EST
Dover Motorsports Inc., one of only two independent track ownership groups in NASCAR, released its fourth quarter and yearly earnings report on Thursday. That included significant news on the pending sale of the DMI-owned Nashville Superspeedway.
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