Briscoe hangs on against Danica
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The lasting memory many fans will have from the Firestone 550 Saturday night wasn't that Ryan Briscoe won the race, but the driver he had to pass to win it.
That isn't fair to Briscoe, of course, but when you pass Danica Patrick to win the race, people tend to notice.
Patrick had a remarkable run at Texas Motor Speedway, probably as strong as any IndyCar Series race of her career, including the historic victory in Japan two years ago.
In the end, the night belonged to Briscoe, a man who erased some demons for Team Penske from Indy one week ago. He started on the pole Saturday and had the dominant car in a race he should have won one year ago.
But this one all came down to a 215-mph wheel-to-wheel showdown with Patrick in the closing laps. Briscoe was leading and Patrick was right behind him before both drivers came to pit road for the last time under green.
Patrick pitted one lap before Briscoe. Both drivers had a good stop, but Patrick had the momentum to go by Briscoe as he exited the pits with 36 laps to go. The TMS crowd rose to its feet and cheered wildly as Patrick edged in front of Briscoe as they passed the start-finish line.
It was the first lap she had led all season. It wouldn't last long.
Briscoe was outside and pulled even with Patrick for a lap before powering by her to take the lead for good.
"I'm surprised somebody [in the stands] didn't throw something at me," Briscoe joked.
Did he know he could get by her?
"Absolutely not," Briscoe said. "She had been running strong all night long. I knew she had a very strong car.
"I let her go by for the lead, but I got a run [the next lap] exiting Turn 4. I used the push-to-pass at the right time and drove through it. I figured if I didn't get her there, I wasn't sure I would get her at all. She did an amazing job tonight."
Quite classy statements considering Briscoe and Patrick have a history, one which many fans remember.
It was the infamous angry Patrick walk down pit road in the 2008 Indy 500 when she wanted to confront Briscoe in his car over a bumping incident.
Saturday night was a much different scenario, two drivers in the midst of a flawless night fighting aggressively, but fairly, for the top spot.
"This was probably my best, cleanest race," Patrick said. "It was the best I've had from top to bottom of not making any mistake, good in the pits and good on track. And I had a great race car."
But not enough to catch Briscoe, who won it by 1.46 seconds, an eternity for an IndyCar race at TMS.
Briscoe will take it after hitting the wall at Indy last week when he was headed for a strong finish. And he ended a bad memory of a year ago here when he led 160 laps here, but lost to teammate Helio Castroneves because of a slow final pit stop.
No one was happier for Briscoe than team owner Roger Penske, who watched a miserable Indy 500 last week for all three of his drivers.
"We didn't come to play last week, but today we did," Penske said. "Briscoe proved to me again that he's a great driver and showed the reason we brought him here. And my hat's off to Danica. She had a terrific night."
Patrick was on fire, figuratively. Unfortunately, rookie driver Simona de Silvestro was on fire, literally. Her car became a blazing inferno after she wrecked, but safety officials looked like circus clowns in trying to put out the fire and get her out.
The hose truck had a malfunction, and another safety official with a fire extinguisher took too long to start spraying the blaze. Meanwhile, de Silvestro was stuck in the seat. Another safety official finally got her out, but she suffered burns on her right hand.
"I just couldn't get out quickly enough," de Silvestro said. "It was pretty crazy. The fire wasn't going away. It was just getting worse and worse. But the guys did a good job getting me out."
Not really, but a lot of strange things happened in this race, including a rare temper tantrum by Castroneves. After getting wrecked by Mario Moraes, Castroneves ran to Moraes' car and screamed at him before Moraes could get out.
It was a night filled with unexpected moments. Patrick was a real contender, but Briscoe was a little better.
"I needed that," Briscoe said. "It was pretty miserable coming off Indy the way I did. I wanted to show that we still can contend for this championship. I knew we had to beat Danica tonight. It was good fun racing with her out there."
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at email@example.com.
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