Tony Kanaan had good reason to think that he was about to claim his first Verizon IndyCar Series race win for Chip Ganassi Racing on Saturday night.
He'd led the Iowa Corn Indy 300 for 247 laps, and had been able to fend off attacks for the lead from both Penske's Helio Castroneves and his own team mate Scott Dixon with relative ease. As the race got to within 20 laps of the chequered flag - only about five minutes' worth of race time on the 7/8ths mile oval - there was clearly no one on the track who could match his pace.
And then Juan Pablo Montoya crashed after tangling with Ed Carpenter, setting up a nine-lap sprint finish. That should still have been no problem for Kanaan, if not for the fact that several drivers including Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden hadn't taken the opportunity to dive onto pit road for fresh tyres. Despite losing track position in the process, these cars now had significantly better speed with which to hunt down the leader who was effectively a sitting duck.
"What can I say?" shrugged Kanaan. "We had a good day. I mean, we lead 247 laps out of 300. I think we showed them what we had. At the end there sometimes strategies and gambles play out. We got played. Fair enough.
"I've won races like that, too. I lost today. It's just hard to take it. But I think to win races we got to run up front, and that's what we've been doing in the past three races. We just got to keep doing that. There's nothing I can do about it."
Kanaan insisted that he could have done little else than stay out in the circumstances: "I couldn't have done anything different unless I pitted like they did. To do that leading the race, it would have been the craziest move on earth to do it.
"I always try to look at the positives. I mean, it's not going to do me any good to dwell on the strategy last week and the strategy this week," he continued. "We dominated the last two races. For one reason or the other, we didn't win. But to win a race, you got to be up front. That's what we've been doing.
"I'm not going to say I'm extremely happy about it, but I am extremely satisfied with the way we're doing things in the team. A win is around the corner, for sure," he insisted. "[Next week] we're going to Toronto, a race that Dixon dominated last year, both doubleheaders. We have high hopes there, trying to finish the season on a high note."
Kanaan's team mate Scott Dixon started from pole but finished just behind the #10 in fourth place at the line, and he had been impressed by Kanaan's efforts during the night.
"TK ran a hell of a race," he said. "He must have led 250 laps or something. We had to work on our car a lot. We just gave them a race there for a little while, led some laps, but I burnt the front tyres off my car. Credit to the team, but we just came short there by a couple of spots."
Dixon admitted that he was rather admiring of the winning strategy adopted by Hunter-Reay and Newgarden: "Sneaky little buggers they are! he laughed. "I couldn't believe it. Good strategy and credit obviously to Andretti and Hunter-Reay taking the win there."
Less reconciled with the outcome was the third member of the Ganassi line-up, Ryan Briscoe, who had been a fixture in the top six all evening but who ended up in ninth place at the chequered flag.
"It's always good to get a top ten finish, but it's just disappointing that we fell from our starting spot of fourth down to ninth at the finish," he sighed. "The #8 NTT DATA Chevrolet felt really good throughout the race, but just there at the end we couldn't hold on after such a long stint. Like I said, a top ten finish is great but I want to win!"
Similarly frustrated were Penske pair Helio Castroneves and Will Power. Castroneves had run at the front almost all evening, but suffered when his momentum was broken as the cars on fresh tyres came screaming past him causing him to drop to a disappointing eighth position.
"We were running in the top three most of the day," he said. "Obviously, finishing in the eighth position isn't where we deserved to finish. But it was a gamble there at the end. We are leaving here with the championship lead and that is what we need to focus on moving forward."
And it was certainly better than his team mate Will Power, who had been running in fourth place at the restart only to wash up onto the marbles as Hunter-Reay came flying past, which left him far off the pace and limping to the line in 14th as the last man on the lead lap.
"It was a tough call at the end there," said Power. "Had we went with the new tyres we might have been looking pretty good. But a tough day to work hard with the Verizon Chevy doing so well, and then to finish fourteenth just wasn't where we expected to be tonight."