IndyCar Flashback: 2011 Kentucky Indy 300

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Thank You to everyone who participated in this week’s Fan Vote. The winner and subject of IndyCar Flashback’s Oval edition “Cinderella Story” is the 2011 Kentucky Indy 300. Read about the even ts that day and what has happened to some of the big names from the race here.

Race Recap

Prior to race day for the 2011 Kentucky Indy 300, fortune had turned in favor of Will Power. Four straight top fives, including wins at Baltimore and Sonoma, gave the Penske driver an 11-point edge over Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti in the points standings. Power’s hot streak on the road courses continued on the 1.5-mile oval, when he won pole for the 200-lap race. Franchitti would start 11th.

From pole, the points leader led the first 48 laps of the race but ran into trouble shortly thereafter. Slight contact with Ana Beatriz on pit road during his first stop lost the lead for Power. Franchitti took advantage, as the three-time champion would inherit the lead of the race and the championship standings.

Issues continued to plague Power and Penske. After pitting during the first caution of the day on Lap 79 for debris, Power’s team still was unable to fully remedy the damage done from the earlier contact with Beatriz. Power continued on after multiple trips to pit road and despite remaining on the lead lap, would not make his way back to the front of the field.

Taking advantage of the issues that hampered Power’s effort to become champion, Franchitti dominated the middle portion of the race, pacing the field from Lap 50 to 187. The action during the race continued to be fast paced, as the yellow flag only flew twice more during the day. With less than 20 laps to go, Franchitti’s biggest challenge of the race came from Sarah Fisher Racing’s Ed Carpenter.

On Lap 188, Carpenter made his way to the lead after starting fourth, as he and Franchitti swapped the top spot four times over the next eight circuits. Carpenter finally took the lead for the final time with six laps to go and held on to win by .0098 seconds, the closest finish in the history of the track.

After two consecutive runner-up finishes at Kentucky, Carpenter earned not only his first career win, but the first for Sarah Fisher Racing, a team the  former driver had run since 2008. Fisher had stepped away from driving in 2010 after a 12-year career in the series.

Despite the heartbreak of a narrow loss, Franchitti’s runner-up finish and Power’s 18th-place effort gave the former an 18-point advantage heading into the final race of the season at Las Vegas two weeks later.

Ed Carpenter edges Dario Franchitti to win the 2011 Kentucky Indy 300

Analysis

Another exciting finish on a 1.5-mile oval would be the highlight of the day. The race’s lasting impact more than six years later would run much deeper than the photo finish between Carpenter and Franchitti. Take a look at how things would play out after that day for some of the race’s key players.

Ed Carpenter

In 2012, Carpenter moved on from Sarah Fisher Racing and began Ed Carpenter Racing. Currently, the Indiana native remains the only owner-driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The first season in operation ended strong for the fledgling team, as Carpenter would again edge out Franchitti for a victory. This time Carpenter would do so in the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

After a 2013 season that saw Carpenter win pole and lead the most laps in the 97th Indianapolis 500, he would relinquish driving duties on the road and street courses, participating only in oval events. Carpenter has utilized the spot for drivers Mike Conway, Luca Filippi, Spencer Pigot and Jordan King (the current road and street course driver for the car) since 2014. Carpenter also added a win at Texas Motor Speedway in 2014 after winning a second consecutive pole for the Indianapolis 500 earlier in the season.

Sarah Fisher Racing 

After Carpenter moved on from Sarah Fisher Racing for 2012, the team hired 2011 Indy Lights Champion Josef Newgarden. Newgarden earned Rookie of the Year honors for the team in 2012. After the 2014 season, Fisher and Carpenter’s teams merged to become Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing. Newgarden would earn their first two wins at Barber Motorsports Park and Toronto in 2015. In 2016, Fisher and business partner Wink Hartman stepped away and Carpenter regained full control of the team. Fisher remains heavily involved in the Verizon IndyCar Series, primarily as the pace car driver, a role she has held since 2016.

Dario Franchitti

A third Indianapolis 500 in 2012 victory followed Franchitti’s championship reign , but the Scotland native was largely unable to replicate the success of the previous few years. A year after the thrilling victory, Franchitti was severely injured in a last lap crash at the Houston street race. The injuries forced him to step away from racing, but the legendary driver remains involved with Chip Ganassi Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Will Power

The second championship heartbreak in as many years gave way to an even hungrier Will Power for 2012. Three straight wins had the driver on course to break the string of misfortune, but a crash at the finale in Fontana allowed Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay to win the championship. Power then won three of the final five races in 2013 to finish fourth in the final points standings. The next year, Power won three races and earned his first career championship. Power’s consistency has continued since his lone title in 2014, with points finishes of third, second and fifth in the following three seasons.

Other Notes

Although the 2011 Kentucky Indy 300 was scheduled to be the penultimate race in the IndyCar Series Season, tragedy struck two weeks later at Las Vegas.

A 15-car crash on Lap 11 at the season finale in Las Vegas claimed the life of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon. Following the announcement of Wheldon’s passing, the race was cancelled and points reverted back to the previous race. Franchitti earned his third straight and fourth career title, but under tragic circumstances following the death of his former teammate.

The 2011 Kentucky Indy 300 also marked the end of several eras. The race would be recorded as the last event in the IndyCar Series for Danica Patrick, who was set to move full-time to NASCAR for 2012. Patrick made a shocking announcement in November of 2017, revealing she will make her return to the Verizon IndyCar Series for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 this May. The 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year announced that it will be her last race.

The 2011 race also be the final time the series would race at Kentucky Speedway, as the track was removed from the schedule for 2012. Also of note, the race would be the last for the Dallara IR05 chassis and normally-aspirated V8 engines.

For 2012, the series began running an all-new Dallara chassis, later renamed the DW12 in honor of Wheldon, who had tested the new chassis. The normally-aspirated V8s would be replaced by 2.2-liter V6 turbocharged engines, and would see Chevrolet join Honda as an engine supplier for the series.

Although there are many layers to the legacy of the 2011 Kentucky Indy 300, the primary focus of the race will be the breakthrough victory for a long-time IndyCar Series driver and his team owner.

Images Courtesy of INDYCAR Media 

Spencer Neff

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