Patrick Carpentier pulled out of a riveting three-car draft coming off the final turn of the final lap to earn his first career FedEx Championship Series victory in an exhilarating Harrah's 500 at Michigan International Speedway.

Carpentier, racing for the Players Forsythe team, and involved in a three-car battle with Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green and Michel Jourdain Jr of Herdez Bettenhausen entering the 250th and final lap, watched as Franchitti took the lead off the first turn and held it down the back straightaway.

As the lead group headed into turn three, Carpentier's team-mate, Alex Tagliani, who was one lap down, caught the draft and moved ahead of the threesome, before moving in front of Carpentier as the trio came off the final turn, allowing the other Players car to draft across the start/finish line ahead of his two adversaries - and into victory circle for the first time in his five-year FedEx Championship Series career.

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''We were close and, when we were second on the last restart, there was the same car behind us as when we were in Detroit, and that was Dario,'' an elated Carpentier recalled, ''I said, 'Not this time!' - I was hoping to be close enough at the end and, in the last few laps, we were battling hard.

''Then 'Tag' came in - and I wasn't expecting that. I said, 'What is he doing?' But then I was pretty happy. That's what teams are all about.

Carpentier's victory was his first race triumph since capturing a 1996 Toyota Atlantic event at Laguna Seca Raceway en route to that series championship. It came in his 79th career CART start and was the fifth podium finish of his six-year FedEx Championship Series career. His previous career-best result had been second three times, at Gateway International Raceway in 1997 and 2000 and Vancouver in 1999. The Canadian also became the eighth different winner in ten completed FedEx Championship Series events this season and, from the 21st starting position, established a CART record as coming from the deepest point on the grid from which anyone has driven to victory on a superspeedway.

''I think it is fantastic racing here. Last year we had a blast. Nobody knows until the end who is going to win the race. It's fun racing. I was really happy. I was crying on the lap coming into the pits and I managed to stall it on the back straight. I never thought I was going to win this one. You need everything to win the race, and everything worked out for us today. I was extremely happy. The engine was as strong on the last lap as it was on the first lap. It's a relief for everyone on the team. I signed a contract last week, but I think this is even better than that.''

Franchitti and Jourdain Jr finished in a virtual dead heat for second place, 0.243secs behind the winner. The position was eventually awarded to Franchitti in a photo finish, but third spot still allowed Jourdain Jr to take the first podium finish of his six-year FedEx Championship Series career.

''It was an eventful day because, for the first time in my career, I started last because of the way they decided qualifying,'' the Scot said, remembering that the grid had been decided on Saturday morning practice times - when he had a problem with his Team KOOL Green car, ''I was really lucky to not go a lap down. At one point, [leader] Memo [Gidley] was right next to me.

''My guys did a great job in the pits all day. It all came down to the last segment from the yellow. I didn't think I had enough, and Bryan [Herta] was especially strong. I was noting that, if I could stay flat in turns three and four, I could pass Michel [Jourdain] before the start/finish line. It's just unfortunate that 'Tag' got up there. Not to take anything away from Pat, he did a great job, but I'm going to have a word with 'Tag.' I feel great for Pat, we started the series at the same time. It's great to see him up here.''

The event was typical of recent CART competition at Michigan International Speedway, featuring an amazing 60 official lead changes among eleven drivers at the start/finish line - and an unofficial 167 intra-lap lead swaps around the race track.

''What an unbelievable race!'' Jourdain beamed, ''The Herdez Bettenhausen team did a great job all day. We didn't lose positions - we gained positions. On the last lap, I was sure that it was going to be Dario and I. Pat was there the whole time, but then Alex [Tagliani] appeared from nowhere. I didn't take Dario out by a miracle. I thought we were going to hit each other, but we didn't.

''I think we should both get points for second. It was really hard. I'm sure each one of us had a couple of times where we were going straight into the wall. It was so hard to run. But that's why we get paid, and we have to do it. All the drivers did a great job, and it was really safe. It was an exciting race.''

The unlikely finish overshadowed a dominant performance by Team Rahal drivers Kenny Brack and Max Papis, who combined to lead 138 laps, including a race-high 83 by Papis. But, with just 17 laps remaining, the two made side-to-side contact while coming off of turn four, after Papis had been passed by Bryan Herta's Indeck-backed car, causing the Italian to move involuntarily up the track, where he tagged Brack's machine.

The Swede spun into the outside wall, all but destroying his Shell car, while Papis, having somehow managed to avoid being hit by any of the chasing pack, eventually spun against the inside barrier, taking one side off his Miller Lite machine. Neither driver was injured, but the incident relegated them to finishes of 17th and 16th, respectively.

Despite going scoreless for the second race in a row, however, Brack maintained the FedEx Championship Series championship lead with 84 points, three ahead of second-place Franchitti. Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves stands third with 75 points following an eighth-place finish Sunday.

Franchitti's performance was his third podium result of the season, including a victory at Cleveland, and his third top-five finish in five career starts at Michigan Speedway. He scored championship points for the eighth time in ten events this season.

Cristiano da Matta (Newman-Haas Racing) finished fourth, his best result since finishing second at Long Beach in round two, but had to put in a strong performance after jacking problems caused delays at each of his pit-stops. Fifth place went to Herta, who logged his best oval finish since fourth at Rio de Janeiro in 1998.

Tagliani's effort in helping his team-mate at the death was rewarded with a sixth place finish to add to the second spot he earned last time out in Toronto. With both its drivers finishing in the top order, things are suddenly looking up for the Players Forsythe team, which struggled to record a points-paying finish earlier in the year.

Paul Tracy recovered from another nightmare weekend to take seventh place, despite going a lap down early on when the Team KOOL Green pit crew experienced a problem siting the fuel hose on his car. The Canadian, racing on probation following multiple contact in Toronto then put in a steady drive to stay in touch with the midfield, earning himself a rare points finish.

Championship aspirant Castroneves had to be content with eighth spot after the Penske team proved not to be on the pace at Michigan. Aware that points mean prizes at the end of the day, the Brazilian drove a sensible race to finish just behind Tracy. This was more than team-mate, and reigning CART champion, Gil de Ferran could manage, as his car cried enough on lap 98, bringing out the first caution of the day as it struggled onto the infield trailing fluids.

de Ferran accompanied Toronto podium finisher Adrian Fernandez on the sidelines, the Mexican having been forced out by mechanical problems as early as the 15th lap, and the pair were later joined by Jimmy Vasser, Fernandez' team-mate Shinji Nakano, and Mo Nunn twins Tony Kanaan and Alex Zanardi, who all retired before the two Rahal cars crashed out. Michael Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi also dropped out, the Brazilian making heavy contact with the wall - to compound an earlier spin in pit-lane - and had to be helped, limping, away from the wreck.

Towards the tail of the field, Memo Gidley will feel aggrieved not to have had at least a shot at victory, the Target Chip Ganassi driver having run with the leaders until a 4mph infraction when making a late stop forced a drive-through penalty that dropped him out of the points.

Those left at the front will have had little sympathy for CART's new 'supersub', as they had their hands full enough without one more car remaining in contention. In the end, the Harrah's 500 cards fell Carpentier's way, as CART bade farewell to Michigan and, one suspects, perhaps the most exciting event of any season.