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.
''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.