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.

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”