Aug 19, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT
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.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:44 PM EDT
Honda set to take the wraps off its superspeedway oval challenger this Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT
NBCSN’s Townsend Bell looks back at the instant classic that was Barber, for MotorSportsTalk.
Apr 27, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Munoz, Andretti end sixth and 10th, adding to RHR’s fifth place, to give Andretti Autosport a triple top-10 at Barber.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:43 AM EDT
Williams has a down financial year in 2014 but should be much better off in 2015.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:12 AM EDT
Power ends P4 at Barber despite drive-through penalty early in the race.
Apr 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Watch the pair of Indy Lights races from Barber at midnight ET.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:49 PM EDT
It was Ron Capps’ Day in Baytown, Texas.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:24 PM EDT
Newgarden rolls out the thank you mat after scoring his elusive first IndyCar victory.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Ryan Hunter-Reay not satisfied with first top-five finish of 2015.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:42 PM EDT
Penske pair still 1-2 after tough afternoon in Barber.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT
Graham Rahal comes up short in best performance in a year.
Apr 26, 2015, 5:37 PM EDT
Newgarden scores first career win at Barber.
Apr 26, 2015, 4:43 PM EDT
We’re halfway at Barber, with Graham Rahal the leader at Lap 45 and pit stops underway.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Meeke becomes the first British driver to win in the WRC in 13 years.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:29 PM EDT
Results from the Indy Lights’ series second race at Barber Motorsports Park
Apr 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Watch the fourth round of the IndyCar season, from Barber Motorsports Park, at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Apr 26, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Lotus youngster beats Nyck de Vries in a truncated second race of the Formula Renault 3.5 season.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
What to watch for ahead of Round 4 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Marquez undergoes minor surgery on his left hand, and is in doubt for next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.
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