Dario Franchitti returned to the top of the IndyCar podium in Long Beach on Sunday, beating Will Power to victory just three races into his series comeback.
The 2007 champion has rejoined the IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi Racing this year after an unsuccessful NASCAR foray in 2008.
Having qualified on the front row in Long Beach yesterday, Franchitti used sharp strategy to get ahead of poleman Power (Penske) and then controlled the second half of the race, moving into the points lead in the process.
"I didn't expect to be coming back, but I'm bloody glad I did," Franchitti said. "That time away showed me what I was missing. With unification and everything else, it all added up. Had I stayed, I'm not sure what kind of a job I could have been able to do. Things have worked out very well."
Power held the lead at the green flag, as Raphael Matos (Luczo Dragon) and Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing) muscled past Franchitti into Turn 1.
But Franchitti did not stay down in fourth for long - passing Wilson on lap four and repeating the move on Matos 10 laps later.
Ganassi then made what proved to be the winning strategy call, bringing Franchitti straight in for his first stop when Mike Conway nosed his Dreyer & Reinbold car into the Turn 1 wall.
That incident did not actually cause a yellow, but Power - whose radio had broken - believed that it would do and slowed, allowing Matos and Wilson to pass him.
"Suddenly two cars came cruising past me, and I realised it wasn't," Power said. "Then a couple of corners later it was a full-course yellow. I had no radio communication, so am I supposed to pass these cars back? Was it a full-course caution? It was a little confusing."
Power then accelerated again, and in the confusion in his wake Scott Dixon tangled with EJ Viso, sending the HVM car into the escape road with broken suspension and finally bringing out the caution.
Alternative strategies meant that it would be lap 32 before the full field had pitted, and Franchitti was able to cycle back through to the front of the pack, ahead of Danica Patrick, who had also benefited from pitting slightly earlier.
Franchitti maintained a 3s lead over Patrick through the next stint as the Andretti Green driver showed much better pace than in practice and successfully held off Power and Helio Castroneves, fresh from being acquitted in his tax evasion trial.
Another piece of exemplary pit timing then allowed Franchitti, Power, Tony Kanaan, Patrick and Dan Wheldon to make their final stops just before Conway made his second trip into the barriers of the day and brought out another yellow.
That ensured that those five drivers headed the field when everyone else had to come in during the subsequent caution.
Dixon and Ryan Briscoe emerged as the best of those who pitted under yellow, running sixth and seventh until Briscoe contrived to run into Dixon during a late safety car period. Dixon was spun and lost a lap, while Briscoe sustained nose damage and was given a 30s stop and go penalty.
"We were warming our tyres," said Briscoe. "I accelerated while he was getting on the brakes."
As Franchitti quickly managed to open up a 3-5s lead after every yellow, Power had to turn his attention to resisting Kanaan for third - the Andretti Green driver having vaulted up the order thanks to a long first stint and pitting before the crucial late yellow.
Patrick took fourth from 22nd on the grid, with Panther driver Wheldon fending off Marco Andretti to take fifth.
Castroneves claimed seventh on his comeback after his tax evasion trial, ahead of Matos, who was delayed by an additional pitstop, Robert Doornbos (Newman/Haas/Lanigan) and Alex Tagliani (Conquest).
Doornbos's team-mate Graham Rahal missed out on a top six finish when he was waved out prematurely at his final pitstop, breaking his fuel hose and bowling over a crew member, who was uninjured.
Justin Wilson was unable to repeat his superb St Petersburg performance after dropping back into the midfield following his first stop. He then got caught up in a concertina effect at the the hairpin that ended with Wilson, Mario Moraes, Hideki Mutoh, Vitor Meira and Darren Manning entangled.
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1h58m47.4658s 2. Will Power Penske + 3.3182s 3. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green + 4.0537s 4. Danica Patrick Andretti Green + 5.0742s 5. Dan Wheldon Panther + 6.5655s 6. Marco Andretti Andretti Green + 7.5900s 7. Helio Castroneves Penske + 8.6332s 8. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon + 9.4835s 9. Robert Doornbos Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 9.9583s 10. Alex Tagliani Conquest + 13.6185s 11. Ryan Hunter-Reay Vision + 15.2097s 12. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 15.8507s 13. Ryan Briscoe Penske +1m05.1013s 14. Vitor Meira Foyt + 1 lap 15. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 1 lap 16. Darren Manning Dreyer & Reinbold + 1 lap 17. Stanton Barrett 3G + 1 lap 18. Ed Carpenter Vision + 3 laps Retirements: Driver Team Laps Mario Moraes KV 71 Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green 60 Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 51 Justin Wilson Dale Coyne 24 EJ Viso HVM 16