Rookie Huertas surprise winner of race 1 in Houston

 

The Sports Network

Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Rookie Carlos Huertas pulled off a stunning upset in Saturday's Race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend doubleheader, leading a Colombian sweep of the podium.

Having rained before the start and therefore forcing a slight delay, IndyCar Series officials turned this scheduled 90-lap race at Houston's NRG Park into a timed event of 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Huertas, who hails from Bogota, Colombia and drives the No. 18 car for Dale Coyne Racing, was one of several drivers who opted not to pit during a late- race round of stops. His teammate, Justin Wilson, did not pit as well and took over the lead for the restart. Wilson was forced to pit for fuel with seven minutes to go (seven laps left), allowing Huertas to grab the top spot.

Huertas then benefited from a caution for an incident involving Sebastian Saavedra with four minutes remaining. Officials had planned on a one-lap shootout to the finish, but just before the restart, fourth-place runner Graham Rahal slammed into the back of third-place Tony Kanaan, putting Kanaan into the barrier.

The race ended under caution, with 23-year-old Huertas scoring his maiden IndyCar win in his just his ninth career start. He also became the seventh different winner in the first nine races this season.

"The races are so long, but you always have a chance to win if you do the right things at the right time," said Huertas, who drove the final 39 laps around this 1.683-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit without a pit stop. "Today was really tough. I was really struggling. I had no pace in the first half of the race. But I reminded myself just to stay calm and do what you have to do and I did that. The team called it perfectly with the fuel, and it's a great day."

Huertas started this race in 19th. His seven laps led were the first in his IndyCar career.

"The kid has been getting better all year, and he showed a lot today," team owner Dale Coyne said.

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya finished second, his best finish since returning to the series following the 2013 season.

"We were forced to do something different [fuel strategy], and it paid off," Montoya said. "We did a timed race and with 35 minutes to go, I'm counting laps and thinking, 'We can make it. Why are they not stopping?' Our [car] was very good. I thought we had a chance to win, but at the end, the tires went off."

Montoya's fellow countryman, Carlos Munoz, also a rookie this year, placed third. Munoz had crossed the finish line in fourth, one spot behind Rahal, but officials assessed a 30-second penalty to Rahal for avoidable contact with Kanaan, who ended up finishing 13th. Rahal dropped to 11th place.

"I finished third, so what can I say, but it's good points for the championship," Munoz said. "Now we have to focus on tomorrow."

Sebastien Bourdais finished a season-best fourth, followed by James Hinchcliffe, who led a race-high 32 laps before he pitted from the top position during the last round of stops.

Championship points leader Will Power started 18th and made it up into the top-10 just before he spun out after hitting a wet spot on the circuit and then plowed into the tire barrier on lap 58. Power finished one lap down in 14th. His lead was trimmed from 39 points to 33 over second-place and Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, who finished ninth.

"Hard day today, but if we could have hung in there a little longer we could have been in good shape," Power said. "I made a mistake there and I feel bad for the [team] after I went into the wall. That's racing. We'll try it again tomorrow and go for a better result."

Rookie Jack Hawksworth, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti finished sixth through eighth, respectively. Wilson completed the top-10.

The start of Sunday's Race 2 in Houston is scheduled for 3:50 p.m. ET. Qualifying for the event is slated for 11 a.m. ET.

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