Fernandez Fires Off First Irl IndyCar Series Win In Belterra Casino Indy 300
Adrian Fernandez took his first Indy Racing League IndyCar Series victory by holding off a charging Buddy Rice by 0.0581 of a second at the finish line in "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" at Kentucky Speedway today.
Fernandez and his No. 5 Quaker State Telmex Tecate Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone took the lead for the third and final time on lap 152, survived a caution restart on Lap 157, and held off consistent challenges form Rice, championship leader Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon through the final 49 laps to earn the closest series victory in Kentucky Speedway history.
"The key moment was around Lap 150 when we had the last pit stop under yellow," Fernandez said. "I think I was in sixth place. I knew I had a strong car and had to be very aggressive to get to the front because my car liked to be in clean air. I charged very hard on Turn 2. We were four-high or something like that and I never lifted. The car carried a lot of momentum and managed to pass everybody."
The 41-year-old driver/owner from Mexico City claimed a win in just his 10th IRL IndyCar Series start. He officially joined the series in March and ended his 10-year Champ Car World Series run. He made his first IRL start at the second race of the season Phoenix International Raceway.
"It's a fantastic feeling. A lot of work," he said. "The team has gone through a lot and it never ended up that we could win. Last week, we tested a lot of things here and it felt good. I thought I had a car that was able to fight for the win. Then, it was a matter of where we were going to set up the car for the race, whether we wanted to be aggressive with downforce or not. We were very aggressive because I didn't want to settle for second or third and it paid off."
After gaining 3.13 mph between the first and second series practice sessions yesterday, Fernandez qualified fourth. He came out of the gate strong and pressed the rear wing of race leader Kanaan and his No. 11 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone through the opening 89 laps before taking his first lead on Lap 90.
"Right from the start of the race, I didn't want to hold back. Tony was charging hard," Fernandez said. "I knew he was going to be strong, he has been all year. At that point I didn't want to just keep burning fuel. I could see that Tony was going to have a little bit more trouble in that respect because he was the guy in front and he didn't have anybody to help him draft."
Kanaan finished fifth in the race after his car lost touch with leader in closing laps. He surrenders seven points in the championship standings to Rice, who posted his third consecutive top-two finish and best career Kentucky Speedway finish. He enters the series next race at Pikes Peak International Raceway trailing Kanaan by 50 points.
"We were biding our time and he (Fernandez) had the ideal line," Rice said. "With 20 laps to go, I made my move. I made it stick and he got back around me. That was all she wrote because he was going to hang on to the bottom rail. I think it just played out the way it did and we are very happy. It's another strong finish for us.
"We just have to keep running up front and staying ahead of Tony. Obviously, he's got the same idea to hold onto his points lead. We'll just see what happens when it comes down to the Texas finale."
Wheldon (No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone) finished third and Kosuke Matsuura (No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone) finished fourth.
The fantastic finish set a new series track record for closest margin of victory and was played out in front of a series track record crowd of 61,885.
Race action returns to the track on Saturday, September 18 with the Kentucky Speedway Tripleheader Fall Classic. The event features stock car races with the American Speed Association, NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division Southeast Series and I-Power DASH Series.
Tickets are still available and can be reserved in the following ways: - By phone at 888-652-RACE - On the World Wide Web at www.kentuckyspeedway.com or tickets.com - Tickets.com outlets including all Meijer stores - In person at the Kentucky Speedway ticket offices at 2216 Dixie Hwy., Ste. 200, in Ft. Mitchell, Ky. and Fan Center in Sparta, Ky.
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