Ryan Briscoe lost his early lead with a sluggish pit stop on lap 47, during a pit stop under yellow for debris. That dropped him down four places and allowed Dario Franchitti, who had been running in second, to take to the front ahead of Will Power, Danica Patrick, Scott Dixon and Briscoe now in 5th. Danica in particular had been eye-catching good, surging past the likes of Dixon and Tony Kanaan during the opening stint with blistering ease. Considering that she's had a lacklustre season to date and was virtually anonymous at the Indy 500, this was an unexpected and welcome return to form.
Another caution came out on lap 57 after Takuma Sato looked to have a puncture or suspension problem that put him into the wall, the car skidding the length of the circuit before finally coming to rest. After this, there was a good 30 laps of green flag racing before the third caution of the night, caused by Simona de Silvestro making hard contact with the wall between turns 3 and 4 on lap 99.
Unusually for an IndyCar, the flames from broken fuel lines appeared to set fire to de Silvestro's car itself and resulted in a major blaze along the right hand side. The race marshalls seemed wrong footed and unaware of the urgency of the problem, taking an age to deploy hand-held extinguishers after the water supply to the hoses on the first response safety vehicle failed to operate. All the time the blaze was getting stronger and closing on the driver cockpit, and a brave marshall had to dive in to the flames to undo the safety restraints and then helped manhandle her free. It meant de Silvestro was in the flames for almost 30s, an eternity in such a situation and unacceptably poor in the 21st century safety standards.
"The safety crew should be ashamed of themselves," said HVM Racing Team Principal Keith Wiggins, while Team Stargate Worlds principal added: "I am completely speechless on what transpired after our car hit the wall. I am just glad Simona is okay despite that circus we saw."
Fortunately, for all the heart-stopping drama, de Silvestro herself was okay - her worst injuries coming on her right hand from where she had to leverage herself on the burning cockpit siding to get out of the car. "My hand is a little bit burned, I couldn't get out quickly enough," she confirmed. "The car caught on fire and it wasn't really extinguishing." No kidding.
The crash had consequences for Will Power, who had been running strongly up with the leaders all evening till this point but who found some debris from de Silvestro's wreck lodged under his car, requiring a lengthy pit stop and some touch-and-go running repairs. He tried a different fuel strategy in response, but didn't get the late yellow he needed and ended up having to make a costly late splash and go under green.
The biggest crash of the evening was on lap 129, when Helio Castroneves came up fast on the back of Mario Moraes and went to overtake on the outside. Moraes, however, wasn't aware of him and drifted up the track, leaving Castroneves no time to break and no room to get through between Moraes and the wall. The cars touched and wrecked, sliding down the track again and into the path of the hapless Bertrand Baguette who tried to squeeze through the middle but found that the gap suddenly closed before his eyes, leaving him running into the back of Castroneves' car and wrecking his own front left suspension in the process. Helio was furious was Mario and practically climbed into the Moraes' cockpit to voice his thoughts before being pulled away by the safety crew; asked later, Helio declined to repeat his comments on air, deeming them unsuitable for a network TV broadcast; we can imagine.
After pit stops, Dario Franchitti found himself behind Alex Tagliani and Will Power who were out of sync and didn't stop. Losing the clear air in the front seemed to have a seriously deleterious effect on the number 10, and he faded for the remaining laps and fell back as far as 13th at one point, finally recovering late in the evening to reclaim 5th - which, thanks to Will Power's own problems, was enough to give the Indy 500 champion the lead in the IRL championship points.
Once Tagliani and Power cleared the scene, and with Franchitti suddenly going backwards, Ryan Briscoe popped up in the lead on lap 170, with Danica Patrick still impressively strong in second ahead of her Andretti Autosports team mate Marco Andretti. These three kept the top spots for the remaining 58 laps of the race even through green flag pit stops: Patrick came in a lap earlier and briefly led the race after putting in a superb outlap, which meant Briscoe came back out behind her. But he was able to swiftly put the move on her to take the lead back and thereafter there was no more changing of position, Andretti able to hold off a big challenge from Scott Dixon for third.
Alex Lloyd had continued a strong run of form off the back of his fourth place last week in the Indy 500, but botched his pit box entry during the first round of stops and hit a tyre, dropping him down the running order which meant all his efforts went into recovering to 8th place for the rest of the evening.
Lloyd's pit stop troubles were just one of several during the evening: at a subsequent stop, Ryan Hunter-Reay almost missed his pit box, turned in too late and came in at too deep an angle, hitting the wall and having to be picked up and moved back into position by the crew. Alex Tagliani had a scare late in the race when he tried moving off before his final refuelling was complete, knocking over the hoseman and spilling fuel in the pit box - both fortunately attended to without any major problem, but Tagliani was inevitably penalized with a drivethrough for leaving with equipment attached.