Texas: Little Al rolls back the years

Al Unser Jr wasn't sure of anything until he watched in his mirrors as Tony Kanaan's car ducked behind his on the final turn of the final lap. Only then did he sigh with the knowledge that he was about to win

Texas: Little Al rolls back the years

Unser held off Kanaan's charge on a one-lap shootout to the finish Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway to win the Bombardier 500, the fifth race of the IRL IndyCar Series season. The victory was Unser's third in the Indy Racing League and the 34th Indy-style win in his career.

It also served as payback for two close IRL races he didn't win. Last September, Unser finished second to Sam Hornish Jr. at Chicagoland Speedway by 0.0024 seconds. A year ago, Jeff Ward clipped him at the finish line to win by 0.0111 seconds. Unser won by 0.0810 seconds, the eighth-closest margin of victory in IRL's eight seasons.

"Texas is one of the racetracks where we came up inches short of a victory," Unser said. "What can I say? We've been trying very, very hard at all of the IRL races in the last couple of years. I was introduced to Texas Motor Speedway in 2000. It was a great place then and it's a great place now. It took three years for us to finally win here, but I love this place."

With nine laps to go, a controversial move by Tora Takagi sent two cars - team-mate Felipe Giaffone's and Scott Sharp's - into the wall as they battled for third place. The mess was cleaned up in time for a green-white-checker finish.

As Unser and Kanaan raced into the first and second turns, Kanaan pulled even with Unser by taking the outside line. They raced side-by-side down the backstretch before Unser powered away heading into the third turn.

"It was just a case of standing on the gas and doing our upshifts right," Unser said of the final restart. "He got a run and pulled out beside me. The only reason he could do that was because he got the draft. When we got down into the third turn, it wasn't Al vs Tony, but Toyota vs Honda. Toyota won."

Kanaan gave it everything he had on the final lap, but couldn't find the momentum to stay with him along the outside on the final turn.

"Had the last 10 laps been green, I don't think I would have been trying what I did," Kanaan said. "I would sit behind Al because I was trying to find a way to get around him, then maybe try the last lap. What I had, you saw."

Despite taking criticism for dropping below the white line and onto the apron before making contact with Sharp, Takagi somehow saved his sliding car, then held on to finish third.

"I was already inside within the track," Takagi said. "I was trying to come down to avoid Scott. That's why I was inside the white line."

While others expected the IRL to penalise Takagi for the move, Unser celebrated a comeback. He's now second in the IRL points standings and - at age 40 - looking at a major resurgence in his career.

"We're a contender for the championship, but this season ain't half over yet," Unser said. "If we're in P2, there's a long way to go. I'm just proud of what these guys have accomplished so far."

The race was moving along at record pace before leader Tomas Scheckter was involved in two incidents. First, he pulled away from the pits with the fuel hose still attached to the car, spilling fuel that ignited on fueller Andy Natalie. Then, with 27 laps left, something broke in the rear of Scheckter's car and sent him skidding into the wall.

"We had a dominating car tonight, but I'm sick of dominating," said Scheckter, who led the most laps two weeks ago at the Indy 500 and led 145 of the 200 laps on Saturday night. "I want to win one of these races that we lead and have the car to beat."

In the end, though, it was a familiar face with new power putting himself back in front.

"This is just as important as all the others behind me," Unser said. "Maybe even more so."

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