Kansas: Herta takes maiden IRL win

Bryan Herta has won round eight of the IRL IndyCar Series at Kansas Motor Speedway after staying on track as all his rivals made late splash and dash pit stops for fuel

Kansas: Herta takes maiden IRL win

Much like he has throughout his racing career, Herta carefully planned for unexpected circumstances Sunday during the Kansas Indy 300. Nearly devoid of fuel, Herta's car crossed the finish line first at Kansas Speedway, giving the Californian open-wheel racer his first oval win in 10 years and first IRL IndyCar Series win.

"I've never cried in a race car, but I cried when I crossed the finish line," said Herta, who hasn't run a complete season with one team since 1999. "It hit me so hard."

Using a lean-it-out strategy devised by crew chief Kyle Moyer, Herta covered the final 61 laps of the race without a pit stop. After it crossed the finish line, Herta's Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda sputtered to a stop, hopelessly out of fuel.

"Coming out of my last pit stop, Kyle knew exactly what we had to do to try to reach for the end," Herta said. "I think that's what made the difference. We started saving fuel from the very first lap of that last run."

The win was an impressive yet strange reprieve for Herta, who replaced Dario Franchitti two weeks ago after Franchitti elected to have back surgery. Herta, a stand-in for Franchitti in a race last month at Texas Motor Speedway, signed with a CART team when Franchitti returned for the Pikes Peak race. When Franchitti opted for back surgery, Herta was summoned once again. Two weeks later, he was celebrating his first oval win in major-league racing.

"It was so many things," Herta said. "I mean, first win on an oval, driving for (Michael Andretti), who is a good friend beyond everything else. The team effort, the way we won the race. It was such a team effort, it was almost magical."

Gil de Ferran was leading with 15 laps remaining when he was forced to pit, giving the lead to Tony Kanaan. Eight laps later, Kanaan was forced to pit, giving the lead to Herta. With Penske team-mates de Ferran and Helio Castroneves poised to take the lead if Herta stumbled, Herta began drafting Robbie Buhl, who was four laps behind, to save fuel.

"We were looking to draft off of somebody to save fuel," Herta explained. "We knew we had everybody covered if we could just save enough fuel. I was looking for somebody, and Robbie happened to be the guy I hooked up with."

Running laps nearly 10 mph slower than his closest competitors, Herta won by 7.3264 seconds. Castroneves finished second, de Ferran third and Kanaan fourth. Both Penske drivers thought Herta might not make it to the finish, but he did.

"They said, 'You're P2,'" said Castroneves, who lost fifth and sixth gears late in the race. "I was like, 'Get out of here. How is that possible?' Then they said, 'Herta's not going to make it.' I was like, 'Get out of here.'"

By finishing two positions ahead of Scott Dixon, Kanaan increased his IRL points lead over Dixon from 27 to 31 points.

The win also slowed Dixon's recent tear. He had won the pole for Sunday's race and was going for a third consecutive win. Dixon led the first 53 laps, extending his consecutive laps-led streak to 343, before fading to a sixth-place finish because of a fuel pickup issue.

"It's very frustrating to have this kind of thing happen," Dixon said. "Luckily, we were able to salvage a sixth-place finish out of it."

After all was said and done and emptied of fuel, Herta and his revived career were the toast of the paddock: "I've been the flavor of the month; I've been ground into a little smidgen of an ash. This is just kind of a funny business that way."

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