Michigan: Barron wins three-way thriller

Alex Barron has won the Michigan 400 IRL IndyCar Series race after a titanic three-way dice between the Mo Nunn Racing stand-in, Sam Hornish Jr and Tomas Scheckter. Barron, who spun with 30 laps to go, caused a yellow and dropped to eighth place before storming back to win the race by half a car's length

Michigan: Barron wins three-way thriller

Hornish led for the majority of the race, proving both the competitiveness of the new Gen 4 Chevrolet engine and its durability, but leading onto the last lap he was always at a disadvantage to Barron who slungshot around the Panther Racing car on the final turn to win by 0.0121s.

For Barron this was a fairytale drive, having only recently signed on for Mo Nunn Racing as a replacement for the injured Felipe Giaffone who is recovering from a broken pelvis. Earlier in the season, Barron replaced Gil de Ferran while he recovered from back injuries.

Barron's win - in an IRL IndyCar Series record speed of 180.917 mph - conjured memories of Danny Ongais, who pulled a similar spin-and-win move at MIS in 1977, and Danny Sullivan, who did it during the 1985 Indianapolis 500. It also took the focus away from Hornish's controversial new engine and put it squarely on a racer who's made the most of limited opportunities.

"It's been a long season," said Barron, who has competed in just four of the IRL's first 10 races this season after a breakthrough run last season for the now-defunct Blair Racing. "But every time I've gotten a shot to drive - whether it's been with Roger Penske or Mo Nunn - the cars have been really strong. That's what I want to do when I go racing. I want to race with a competitive car."

As Hornish held fast to the low line during the final laps, Barron tried the outside several times. On the final lap, he made it stick, coming out of turn four with a nose ahead of Hornish and holding it to the finish.

"If the start-finish would have been any further down, I don't think I would have been able to pull it off," Barron said. "I wanted to be behind behind him coming out of two so I had the slipstream. That way I could get a jump down the backstretch and keep momentum going into three."

Hornish knew Barron would try the outside on the final lap, but he didn't try to take away the line. Instead, Hornish hugged the low groove and waited to see the results of the photo finish.

"There was not really a whole lot I could do," Hornish said. "When you pick the bottom line, there's not much you can do. There's no blocking, no moving to impede the progress of another car. I knew I had to pick my line, and the bottom was what worked for me all day."

The win was even more remarkable given Barron's save as his car careered out of control on the 164th lap. As Barron was battling with Tomas Scheckter for second behind Hornish heading into the third turn, the two cars touched lightly. Barron's Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota slid sideways into turn four, dropped down on the apron, bounced up onto the racing groove and kept going.

"Some drivers would say they're fully skilled and they pulled it all off on their own," Barron said. "There's a lot of luck involved and a little bit of skill. The car has to start rotating around to where you can save it. Sometimes when it's rotating, there's nothing you can do about it."

Barron did something about it afterward - he got mad - and it might have been the impetus behind the win. On the restart after the spin, Barron angrily motored high through one and two, passing several cars and putting himself back in contention. Five laps later, he was passing Hornish for the lead.

"I don't know whose fault the spin was, but I was screaming on the radio that it was (Scheckter's) fault," Barron said. "I was pretty upset. We came in and put some new tyres on the car and the guys tried to calm me down."

By winning, Barron pulled attention - and criticism - away from the new Chevrolet engine. Hornish's Pennzoil Panther Racing team, which had led just four laps and had a top finish of fourth before Sunday's race, was allowed to use the new Cosworth-built engine. As Hornish led 126 of the 200 laps and appeared to be poised to win, Toyota and Honda teams grew more concerned with the sudden competition.

"As a driver, it's not our problem," said Scheckter, who was critical of the new engine Saturday. "It's a problem that Honda, Toyota and Chevy have to sort out. If the IRL decides to do what they're doing, then so be it. Let's go racing."

Scheckter held on for third, just 0.6686s behind Barron. Scott Sharp was fourth, Scott Dixon fifth and Tora Takagi sixth. Dixon took the edge in IRL points standings, pulling ahead of Tony Kanaan by just one point after Kanaan finished 16th. The top three in points - Dixon, Kanaan and Gil de Ferran - are now just three points apart with six races remaining.

But Sunday's close competition - and the marvel that followed it - belonged to a guy who inexplicably spent most of the season on the bench. "We were just in the zone, really," Barron said. "We were just really fast and looking forward and trying to pick up spots on the track. It seemed like we ran side-by-side with Sam for about 4,000 laps. We just had a solid car."

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