Conway bags second Toronto win thanks to pit gamble, great restart (VIDEO)

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TORONTO – A race otherwise dominated by the Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing squads saw the single-car Ed Carpenter Racing steal a win in Toronto. Mike Conway won his second, and ECR’s third race of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season in the second of Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader races.

Perhaps it was fitting that tire strategy played a key part in Firestone’s 250th career victory in IndyCars.

Conway’s call to move the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet onto dry weather Firestone slicks on Lap 44, just prior to a caution flag, proved the deciding factor as the quiet but talented Englishman took control of the race in the waning stages when the previously damp track began to dry.

Conway started 11th in the race and was in fifth at the point of the second-to-last restart on Lap 49. But as he was on the dries with the top four in front of him – Justin Wilson, Josef Newgarden, Carlos Huertas and Luca Filippi – still gambling on wet weather tires and further cautions, Conway passed them all by Lap 51.

The ultimate winning move came when Conway passed Wilson exiting Turn 6, the sweeping right-hander. A caution on Lap 51 for a multi-car incident at Turn 3 stopped the race once again.

“I knew as soon as I could see part of a dry line I’d come in,” Conway told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast in victory lane. “From there we just took off. I knew we had to cover it. We had good fun out there.”

The race had one final restart after INDYCAR – which opted to utilize a timed race of 80 minutes instead of the scheduled 65 laps, as there was another scheduled support race just after 6 p.m. ET at the Exhibition Place street circuit – threw a red flag following the Lap 51 incident, which began following contact between Huertas and Charlie Kimball.

After the restart, which occurred on Lap 54, Conway streaked away from the rest of the field to the victory.

Despite the win, Conway’s team owner Ed Carpenter wasn’t a fan of the red flag call.

“I can’t say that I like it,” Carpenter told NBCSN. “It worked out. But how many times are you gonna go red. You don’t seem to know what’s going on as a competitor.”

Another of the drivers that had switched onto dries, Tony Kanaan, made it up to second in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, with Team Penske’s Will Power coming home third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Both races featured all-Chevrolet podium sweeps.

Kimball, who survived the Turn 3 fracas, finished fourth in the No. 83 Levemir FlexTouch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Takuma Sato scored a desperately needed fifth place in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda. Sato broke a string of nine consecutive races finishing 18th or worse.

The four who gambled on wets fell to 10th or worse. Wilson was 10th, Newgarden 13th, Huertas 15th and Filippi 16th – the latter earning a 30-second penalty post-race for doing work in a closed pit.

Points leader Helio Castroneves struggled home to 12th and suffered late race wing damage. He’ll retain the points lead, but Power has closed after this result.

Meanwhile race one winner Sebastien Bourdais failed to make much headway from 10th on the grid, and ended ninth in race two.

Podcast: James Hinchcliffe might find a silver lining in disguise at Indy after ‘an emotional roller coaster’

Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
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INDIANAPOLIS – No one could blame James Hinchcliffe for going incognito at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and he might do exactly that on the eve of the Indianapolis 500.

But it won’t be because the SPM driver is bummed about missing the biggest race of the IndyCar season. Actually, it’s because the crushing disappointment of getting bumped from the field a week ago might have a silver lining.

“I’ve heard all these stories from way back when to the present day of what it’s like just outside the speedway on Saturday night before the race,” Hinchcliffe said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that was recorded and released Saturday. “Up Georgetown (Road), in the Coke Lot, you hear all these crazy stories about all these crazy parties and the rest of it.

“And honestly, we’re always isolated in our little bubble inside the speedway in the drivers lot. Part of me is tempted to dress up in disguise and just venture out there and see what it’s all about. I’m very tempted to do that and maybe document some of the exploits out there.”

And if Hinchcliffe lingers well into the night? Well, it’s not as if he has a 500-mile race to worry about Sunday.

“I know the (track’s) cannon is going to go off at 6 a.m. (Sunday) and wake us up, but I have fewer responsibilities tomorrow than most of my colleagues,” the Canadian said with a laugh.

Of course, it still has been one of the longer weeks in the life of a 31-year-old who is ranked fifth in the points standing and seemed on track for a career season. Before Indy, Hinchcliffe’s average finish in the first five races was 5.8, including a third at Barber Motorsports Park.

But the momentum screeched to a halt when his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was knocked out of the field in the closing hour of the opening day of qualifying at the Brickyard last Saturday.

Hinchcliffe gamely accepted the outcome with a series of graceful interviews shortly afterward and has maintained a brave face during a week of promotional appearances

“It’s been an up and down week,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. The term good days and bad days doesn’t even apply. You have good hours and bad hours.

“The busier I’m keeping myself, the better I’m feeling. There were times you have that little driver tantrum in your head like, ‘I don’t want to do any of this stuff because I’m in a bad mood! And blah, blah blah.’ But talking about it helps you get over it, and staying busy takes your mind off it a little bit.”

Still, there is no escaping the reality of when the green flag falls on the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“Sunday is probably going to suck,” he said. “There’s no way around that. The start of the race is really going to suck. Then when I see how hard it is out there, I might think it sucks a little less.”

It has been easier to swallow because of “fan support that has just been completely overwhelming,” and Hinchcliffe of course has a perspective about Indianapolis that few have after a near-fatal practice crash in 2015 (“(Missing the race) actually wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”).

His comeback from the brush with death brought his team closer together, and he’s hoping the latest spate of adversity will do the same.

“One of the hardest parts was just being back with the crew right afterward, getting back to the garage and seeing a group of like 10 grown men literally brought to tears over what just happened,” said Hinchcliffe, whose team misjudged the amount of time left in the session after a tire vibration problem quickly ended what would be his final attempt. “It shows you how much this race means. If we had a really bad crash at Detroit on Saturday morning and couldn’t get the car fixed in time for Sunday. We’d all be like, ‘Man that really sucks. We’ll fix the car and come back next week.’

“But not getting to start Indy, man, is just such a gut punch for these guys and for all of us. But at the same time, it brought us closer as a group. There were mistakes made that we’re going to learn from. There’s no doubt that we come back as a stronger unit because of this. Emotionally, from a preparation point of view, from an execution point of view.”

There was a jolt of positivity from a second-place finish in a pit stop competition Friday. Hinchcliffe’s team, which has posted the fastest pit stop in two races this season, fell to Scott Dixon’s team in the final after pulling out a surprise victory over Will Power’s crew from the non-preferred right lane in the semifinals.

“Even if we beat Dixon in the finals, it wouldn’t have felt as good as that win did,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was such an awesome performance. The guys have been killing it in the pits. It’s definitely a point of pride for us.

“It was fun to get back in the car and do something for the fans and do something for the boys. We won a check at the end of the day. Add it to the beer fund and go have a fun Sunday night.”

Other topics discussed in the podcast:

–How and why he became a popular star by learning how to showcase his affable personality early in his career;

–Why the IndyCar Series needs a driver to play the villain role;

–An expanded explanation of why he believes the Indianapolis 500 should be separate from the championship;

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or play the Art19 embed below: