That left Franchitti in the sights of Sato, with whom he famously tangled on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500 in May. This week, it was Sato who got his revenge for that clash when he pulled off a picture-perfect pass on Franchitti at the start of lap 37, Franchitti seemingly having problems activating his push-to-pass boost as a defensive measure. Despite a reboot of the system apparently fixing the problem, Franchitti was conspicuously not able to match the top pace of the cars around him for the rest of the afternoon, soon succumbing to a move from his junior team mate Graham Rahal and finally having to settle for a somewhat underwhelming sixth place by the chequered flag.
"Not a good day," admitted Franchitti afterwards. "We missed something on the setup. The Target car was not bad on new tyres but we had a massive imbalance there. I'm pretty sure I know what we missed so we'll gather it up and head to Mid-Ohio in a few weeks."
Tagliani continued to lead comfortably ahead of Castoneves through to the next round of pit stops around lap 50. Castroneves pitted first and had the perfect stop and a blistering outlap, while Tagliani's was slightly slower and as a result he emerged back onto the track just behind the Penske car. Moreover, the final set of mostly-scrubbed tyres didn't seem to suit the Canadian and his performance fell off steeply, making it easy for Sato to take second place from him shortly after with a beautifully smooth move down the inside of the hairpin.
"When we put on the second set of tyres that were a little old, I don't think we had as much speed as the other guys and it was hurting us," admitted Tagliani, but preferring to look on the bright side at the huge strides the Bryan Herta Autosport had made this week: "I'm very, very proud of the team. Everybody did fantastic. We had a pretty good car early in the race. It was the perfect timing to save fuel and the balance of the car was very good."
He added, "We're competitive and I could not ask for more. If we keep doing it every race, then I'll be happy."
Before that round of pit stops, Will Power had already moved up to sixth place by a combination of patience, prudent applications of push-to-pass, and a top-notch pit strategy made possible by his ability to stretch a tank of gas further than anyone else. He gained two more positions by passing Rahal and Franchitti with his final visit to pit lane, although Penske Racing president Tim Cindric admitted that they had intentionally cut it fine on the fuel to gain those two spots and that were relying on Power being able to make the short-fill tactic pay off. He did, and by the end was able to gain another position by passing the waning Tagliani to finish in third position ahead of Graham Rahal.
"It was definitely an enjoyable drive, [but] I couldn't catch those guys at the end," he admitted. "I think if we started 17th and there was going to be no yellows, and we thought we'd end up third, we'd take that for sure. Man, good day. We're definitely tightening up the championship."
With the field finally getting string out and the positions now looking set, the focus turned to the increasingly tense battle for the lead between Castroneves and Sato: Takuma appeared to have the raw pace and was all over the back of the #3 car, but Helio had eschewed any use of his push-to-pass button in the first half of the race and that gave him a bucket full of boosts to play with now. Anytime Sato got a run and tried to apply his own push-to-pass, Castroneves could parry it.
As the laps counted down, it was clear that it would take a trademark Sato banzai move to make anything happen. But Sato's car owner Bobby Rahal was onto his driver over the team radio, coaching him through the corners and imploring the Japanese former F1 driver to bring the car home in one piece and that finishing second was infinitely better than risking it all and not finishing.
Rahal also came up with the quote of the day as he watched Castroneves steadfastly defend his lead over those closing laps: "Helio is tough," Rahal told TV reporters. "He starts blocking when he picks up his rental car at the airport."
Sato got the message about the finish being more important than the win, and as his push-to-pass expired on the final lap he conceded defeat and cruised over the finish line 0.8367s behind a jubilant race-winner.