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Texas: Rahal takes Firestone 600 in closest finish

Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe staged the closest recorded finish at Texas Motor Speedway to bring June's Firestone 600 to a dramatic climax in late August.
Verizon IndyCar Series fans waited 76 days for the Firestone 600 to be completed at Texas Motor Speedway, but it was definitely worth the wait.

Graham Rahal passed James Hinchcliffe coming out of the last turn of the last lap and held on for the win by 0.0080 of a second - the closest finish in the 20-year history of the 1.455-mile oval and the fifth-closest finish of any Indycar race in history.

"I didn't want to go through this year without a win," Rahal said. "On that last yellow, I was telling myself this could be my chance, you'd better get it done. We're just lucky it all worked out."

The nail-biting finish climaxed an evening of thrilling racing as the event - suspended by rain after 71 laps on 12 June - was completed under the lights at TMS. Eight drivers swapped the lead 14 times throughout the 248 laps, including the June portion, with Hinchcliffe setting the pace for 188 laps in the #5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

The Canadian and Rahal led the field to the green flag on the final restart on lap 240, with Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud the only other lead-lap cars giving chase. On fresher tyres after making pit-stops during the last caution period, championship leader Pagenaud and Kanaan each made bids for the lead that Hinchcliffe denied - often with the help of a push from behind by fellow Honda driver Rahal.

At one point on lap 244, the top four cars ran side-by-side but, on the final lap, Rahal ducked inside of Hinchcliffe in turns three and four and pulled enough of an advantage to hold on by the narrowest of margins for his fourth career victory and first since winning at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August 2015.

"I knew I was going to have to try to fake Hinch to the top side because there was only one way to actually clear him, which was to the bottom," said Rahal, the 14th driver to win an Indycar race by leading only the last lap and the first to do it since Hinchcliffe himself did it in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2013. "I was just very lucky it worked and I have to thank Hinch a lot because he gave me some good room at the bottom and it didn't end up in tears."

Hinchcliffe wasn't consoled by his best finish of the season and best since he won at NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015.

"When we cleared Tony and it was just me and Graham coming down to the chequered, I thought the momentum is on the outside," he said, "I feel like I've kind of seen it here ten times before in races in years past, and I thought we were still going to be able to do it.

"But, man, he rolled through the centre of [turns] three and four with a whole lot of speed. I hadn't been next to a car all night that cleared me that quickly. That was the time to make that move. It's just tough having a car like that and leading that many laps, but not the one that counted."

Kanaan wound up third, the 76th podium finish of his 19-year Indy car career, putting him eleventh on the all-time list, while Pagenaud finished fourth, upping his points advantage to 28 over Penske team-mate Will Power, who finished eighth, with two races remaining.

"Wow, that was exciting!" Pagenaud said. "I don't think I have any breath left. I thought we were going to get it, but when it went four wide I got touched and pushed me into [Hinchcliffe] and I had to back out of it or there was going to be a big wreck."

The race restarted with 20 of the 22 cars competing. Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly crashed on lap 42 in June and were ruled ineligible for the completion because their cars could not have been repaired that day.

With the IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen coming up on 4 September and only the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on 18 September remaining on the schedule after that, nine drivers - Pagenaud, Power, Kanaan, Castroneves, Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Rahal, Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz - remain mathematically alive for the 2016 championship.



Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Graham Rahal celebrates victory in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway   (image credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens)
Firestone tyres during Indianapolis test   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Ed Jones - Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
James Hinchcliffe - Schmidt Peterson Motorsports   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Carlos Munoz celebrates his first IndyCar pole at Texas Motor Speedway
Alexander Rossi - Andretti Autosport
James Hinchcliffe - Schmidt Peterson [Credit: IndyCar]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske Chevrolet [credit: IndyCar/Bret Kelly]
Scott Dixon - Chip Ganassi [credit: IndyCar Series]
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6 celebrates his victory Sunday, March 13, 2016 after winning the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Florida. It is the second year in a row Montoya has won this race. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6 celebrates his victory Sunday, March 13, 2016 after winning the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Florida. It is the second year in a row Montoya has won this race. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6 takes the chequered flag to victory Sunday, March 13, 2016 during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Florida. It is the second year in a row Montoya has won this race. (Photo by Sam Cobb/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6 races to victory Sunday, March 13, 2016 during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Florida. It is the second year in a row Montoya has won this race. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates his second successive victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates his second successive victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher for IndyCar Media)
Simon Pagenaud on track during the 2016 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya navigates the Turns 11-12 chicane during the 2016 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)
Multi-car incident during the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg on March 13 2016 (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)

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