#Firestone550 Notes: “Team Target” has Texas-sized trouble

Scott Dixon crashes, while Dario Franchitti is victimized by handling, grip woes

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Up to Lap 170 of last night’s Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway, Scott Dixon had looked like the class of the field. Three laps later, his race was done after losing control of his car in Turn 4 and hitting the SAFER Barrier.

The crash ended a strong night for Dixon, who led the most laps of any driver with 133. He had lost the lead to Will Power on Lap 171 and was trying to catch back up when on Lap 173, his car got loose, pinched the apron, and slid into the SAFER.

“For the last 10 laps of that final stint, I was just really fighting to hold on,” said Dixon, who finished 18th in the race but maintained second place in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship (albeit losing ground to Power, who’s now up by 36 points).

“That time there, I kind of got into the middle of a few people we were trying to lap and I was trying to get back up to Power. I turned in and the rear just started to slide, and I kind of dipped down onto the apron and shot around again.”

His teammate Dario Franchitti, who won one of the Texas Twin 275s last season, didn’t fare much better.

Franchitti qualified 2nd, but quickly fell back due to an ill-handling machine and had to come in for service on Lap 20. That knocked him one lap down and on his second pit stop of the night at Lap 66, his team disconnected the rear bar under yellow conditions.

“We lost some laps from that and then struggled without grip all night,” said Franchitti after soldiering to a 14th place finish. “We just fought as hard as we could for every single point after that.”

The troubles for both Dixon and Franchitti put an end to Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s recent run of dominance, which started with Franchitti’s victory at the Indianapolis 500 and continued one weekend ago in Detroit, where Dixon led every lap to earn his first win this season.

For a while last night, it appeared he’d have his second as well.

“I feel bad for the guys,” said Dixon. “We had a really good car and I think we had a good chance to win here tonight.”

Kanaan angered after Power’s block

A critical moment in last night’s race went down on a restart at Lap 184, which saw eventual third-place finisher Ryan Briscoe go to the outside in an attempt to grab the lead from Will Power. But as the field raced off Turn 2, Tony Kanaan attempted to make it three-wide down the backstretch by going to the inside of Power.

Unfortunately for him, the current IZOD IndyCar Series points leader came down to the inside, causing Kanaan’s front wing to break on impact with Power’s rear wheel guard. That eventually forced Kanaan into the pits to get a new wing and he never contended for the win again.

Power’s own hopes for victory would be crushed a short time later on Lap 194, when he served a drive-through penalty for blocking handed down by INDYCAR race control. After the race, he had more trouble to contend with: Kanaan himself, who had a face-to-face meeting with Power to hash out the matter.

“We have been talking about safety and that wasn’t cool,” Kanaan said about the incident, which caused him to finish 11th.

As for Power, he said he “felt bad for [Kanaan].”

“I ruined his day because he had to come in and change the front wing, and we ruined our own day by getting the penalty,” he said.

Briscoe shakes off Detroit with good run

After finishing a disappointing 16th on Belle Isle, Ryan Briscoe came back strong last night at Texas with a third-place finish. It’s been an up-and-down season so far for the Team Penske driver, but perhaps his first podium finish of the year will start him toward a better second half.

In post-race, he echoed most of the drivers’ sentiments about having to deal with the new aerodynamic package that cut the downforce on the Dallara DW12s in order to break up the packs.

“It was tough out there tonight, and it was exactly what we asked for, so no complaints,” he said. “…It was just really hard work out there tonight, unbelievably hard racing, and you need to look after the tires, work on the setup all night. Yeah, it was ‑‑ I wouldn’t say fun, but it was certainly good racing.

“I’ve never been opposed to one‑and‑a‑half mile racing. I just think we need to get the formula right, and pack racing is wrong in these cars. I would definitely come back [to Texas] with this package.”

Hard charging Hildebrand nets Top 5

Justin Wilson came from 17th starting position to win at Texas, but he wasn’t the biggest mover of the night.

That honor went to J.R. Hildebrand, who surged from 23rd at the green flag to come home fifth for Panther Racing, a five-time winner at TMS.

The California native didn’t quite have the pace to fight for the victory, but after two straight races in which he showed good speed but lacked the results at the end, he was happy to come away with a top-5 run.

“This is a place that Panther’s always done well at, so there’s always a little bit of expectation for me coming here that we can work our way up to the front and the boys will give us a good car,” said Hildebrand, who earned his second top-5 of the season (he also placed fifth at Long Beach).

“We would have liked for the car to be a little more competitive at the end of the runs, but shoot, man, we’ll take it.”

Other cool stuff

Attendance for last night’s event was 69,000, just about in line with last year’s crowd at TMS…Hall of Fame cornerback and former Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders, as well as action sports legend Travis Pastrana (who raced in the Global RallyCross Championship undercard on Saturday), took in the INDYCAR action as guests of Marco Andretti, who finished 17th…INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said that a decision on staging the August 19 event at Qingdao, China, will be made next week. He also mentioned interest from the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas (which will host Formula One’s United States Grand Prix later this year) regarding a 2013 INDYCAR event…TMS worker Richard Huggins was checked and released from the infield care center after a piece of the drivers’ intro stage fell on him. The incident slightly delayed the start of the race…Both Rubens Barrichello and Simona de Silvestro were unable to start the race. De Silvestro’s issues were due to a fuel pressure problem on her Lotus, while Barrichello’s powerplant refused to fire…