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."

Qualifying: Scheckter takes pole

Previous article

Qualifying: Scheckter takes pole

Next article

Cheever Racing gets new Chevy engine

Cheever Racing gets new Chevy engine
Load comments
Why IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still far from over Plus

Why IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still far from over

OPINION: The 2021 IndyCar silly season has been one of the silliest for many years, as many talented drivers remain in play – with new pieces to the puzzle being added all the time. Here's what we know so far about who will end up where in 2022

Sep 15, 2021
Why IndyCar's generational shift isn't as stark as it appears Plus

Why IndyCar's generational shift isn't as stark as it appears

OPINION: The rise of two drivers racing only their second full-season IndyCar campaigns to head the points with four races to go has led to some observers doubting the credentials of the old guard. But they haven't faded away, there's merely a deeper talent pool that is helping to make this season one of the best in recent years

Aug 20, 2021
The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career Plus

The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career

Emerson Fittipaldi’s decision to go racing with his brother led to him falling out of F1, but he bloomed again on the IndyCar scene. NIGEL ROEBUCK considers a career of two halves

Formula 1
Jul 31, 2021
The lasting legacy of a fallen Indycar rookie Plus

The lasting legacy of a fallen Indycar rookie

Jeff Krosnoff was plucked out of obscurity to become a respected and highly popular professional in Japan, and then got his big break in Indycar for 1996. But a tragic accident at Toronto 25 years ago cut short a promising career and curtailed his regular team-mate Mauro Martini's passion for racing

Jul 14, 2021
The two key areas where Dixon needs to re-assert his authority Plus

The two key areas where Dixon needs to re-assert his authority

OPINION: Having been Chip Ganassi Racing's IndyCar focal point for the best part of a decade, Scott Dixon has been so far outgunned by new team-mate Alex Palou in 2021. After finishing behind the Spaniard at his traditional happy hunting ground at Mid-Ohio, Dixon has work to do to assume his traditional position in the team and the standings

Jul 6, 2021
The winners and losers of IndyCar 2021 so far Plus

The winners and losers of IndyCar 2021 so far

At the halfway point in the 2021 IndyCar Series season, we've had seven winners in eight races, spread between five teams – none of them Team Penske. In this unusual season, even by IndyCar standards, who’s excelling and who’s dragging their heels?

Jun 18, 2021
Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history Plus

Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history

Helio Castroneves’ overwhelming vivaciousness outside the cockpit belies a hardcore racer who knows how to plot his moves – and then recall it all. A day after his fourth Indy 500 win, he explained his tactics

Jun 2, 2021
How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status Plus

How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status

Helio Castroneves joined AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears with the most Indianapolis 500 wins after edging past Alex Palou on the penultimate lap of a thrilling race that validated Michael Shank's faith in the veteran Brazilian - who is discovering that there is life after Penske after all

Jun 1, 2021