Long day at Long Beach for many

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Let's not take away from Mike Conway's achievement of winning the 40th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The Englishman scored a worthy tactical victory in his second race for Ed Carpenter Racing, taking the flag ahead of Team Penske's Will Power to validate owner/driver Carpenter's decision to concentrate on the Verizon IndyCar Series' oval races while yielding the seat of the No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet to a road racing specialist like Conway for tracks like Long Beach.

In fact, you could almost call Conway a Long Beach specialist. Two of his three career Indy car race wins have come at the seaside street circuit, including his initial triumph while driving for Andretti Autosport in 2011.

But as compelling as the Conway/Carpenter storyline is, at least a third of the 23 drivers in the field could claim that they could or should have come away with victory in the IndyCar Series' most prestigious street race.

Front and center were Andretti drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, who thanks to a misjudgment by Hunter-Reay managed to turn a potential 1-2 finish into a pair of wrecked race cars.

Hunter-Reay led 51 of the first 53 laps from pole position, but when Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing got Josef Newgarden out of the pits in front of him on the 55th tour, RHR got a little impatient and the 2012 IndyCar Series champion made a mistake befitting a rookie.

Determined to retake the lead from the younger American before Newgarden's tires got up to temperature, Hunter-Reay dived to the inside at Turn 4 and promptly drilled the SFHR car into the concrete wall. Hinchcliffe slammed into both of them, and several other cars got swept in as well.

"Newgarden came out of the pits on red tires; I was on blacks," Hunter-Reay explained. "I knew my only opportunity to get by was in the next few corners or he would have the advantage, so I went for it when I had an opportunity, especially because he was on cold tires. I knew I had to go and time was of the essence.

"In hindsight, maybe I could have waited a couple corners more, you never know," he added. "You make decisions as a racing driver in split seconds, so you go for it."

This particular split-second decision was wrong, because not only did it violate the cardinal rule of "Thou shalt not wreck your teammate," but Newgarden was also flying the Honda flag.

"That shouldn't happen in front," Newgarden said. "You shouldn't have incidents like that when you run up front clean all day. I feel bad for Honda -- three Hondas at the top doing a great job.

"It's a pretty unfair one all around. I tried to give Hunter-Reay a little room in case he came in there too hot and put a wing in, but the next thing I knew I was in the wall. After that, I was just getting plowed into by everyone."

Hinchcliffe was perhaps the unluckiest driver to get swept in. After dropping from second to fifth at the start, he had clawed his way back to second only to find himself in the wall and nursing a sprained wrist.

"I feel bad for everyone involved. It just sucks to throw away such a strong race," Hinchcliffe said. "I guess at the end of the day, patience is a virtue. Someone wasn't very virtuous today, and it cost both of us -- and this team -- a lot."

That was a message shared by team owner Michael Andretti, who was understandably rather glum when he debriefed with father Mario Andretti and Hunter-Reay about an hour after the race.

Andretti's only consolation was seeing rookie Carlos Munoz claim third place.

"I'm really proud of Carlos's weekend," Michael said. "But when you give up a potential first and second like that, it's frustrating. This is Honda's backyard. It's a real important race for them. We had them handled, and then Chevy finishes 1-2.

"There's nothing you can say to James," Andretti added. "He was just a victim. I'm sure he's really upset, and rightfully so. I told Ryan he needed more patience. You gotta take the points when you can get them, and we didn't."

All that drama left Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon and Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson at the front of the field when racing resumed on Lap 63 of 80. Both of those drivers, along with Team Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya, had been caught out by the pits being closed when the first caution of the race flew on lap 27.

Now they led, but they would need a lot of yellow flag laps to make the finish without refueling. They got their wish when Graham Rahal spun a few laps later, but it wasn't enough as Dixon pitted from the lead with two laps to go. He finished 12th.

"It was a long shot anyway," Dixon said with a shrug. "I think we had another lap, but I didn't want to run out of fuel in front of the whole field and cause a big accident.

"They come and go, man. I think today we didn't really deserve it anyway. We just had so many mistakes."

By that time, Wilson was already long gone, pushed into the wall by an apologetic Dixon entering Turn 8 in an unusual incident on Lap 65. It was a rough day in general for Wilson, who earlier had been spun out by Rahal at the hairpin.

"I had a couple of looks and got squeezed on the outside at Turn 1, and I was like, 'Hang on a minute,'" Wilson said. "I did the old switchback out of 6 climbing the hill to 7 and 8. Scott had the inside but he wanted the outside as well, and I got sandwiched between him and the wall."

Power would have been in position to take the lead when Dixon pulled in with two laps to go, but he had been passed by Conway in Turn 1 on Lap 65.

"I regret not using that push-to-pass on that last restart," Power said. "I thought I'd save it and get Mike later, but he was quick and a deserving winner."

Power really couldn't complain about finishing second, because he had emerged without a penalty after bumping Schmidt Peterson Racing's Simon Pagenaud into a tire wall on Lap 32 shortly after a restart.

Despite rebounding to finish fifth, Pagenaud was animated and angry when he confronted Power after the race.

"Our day was ruined by Will Power, and it's unfortunate because it was dirty driving on his part," fumed the Frenchman. "I'm satisfied with fifth considering the spin and everything else we had to deal with today."

"He should be angry. I'd be the same," Power responded. "I don't like to be raced like that, and I'm surprised I didn't get a penalty. But I honestly thought he had a flat tire or something because he was really slow and I didn't understand why."

That makes seven drivers other than actual winner Conway who were legitimately in position to win the Long Beach Grand Prix. Yet the thoughtful Englishman walked away with the trophy for the second time in four years.

Carpenter had to swallow his pride to step out of the car for the IndyCar Series' non-oval races, but it's already looking like a smart decision.

"Mike's a two-time winner at Long Beach, and it's a big race," said the quietly jubilant team owner. "We've got a great team and a good group of people, so I knew we were going to have a race win coming this year.

"I thought the car was better than me at these tracks," Carpenter added. "I wish I could have been in a position to help our team win every race, but we're trying to grow our business and we wanted to put someone in to help us get more wins.

"Mike did that today."