For a guy who waited a quarter of a century to win an open-wheel race, Dale Coyne seemed to take his breakthrough victory in stride.
When Justin Wilson crossed the finish line Sunday at Watkins Glen International, giving Coyne his long-awaited victory, the 54-year-old owner smiled broadly and raised both arms in triumph.
"You have a passion for this, and you love it, and you keep fighting and going forward," Coyne said. "When we have lean years or bad years and don't have a sponsor, it just makes you try harder, and I think that's paid off."
The triumph came in Coyne's 558th entry since 1984 as a driver-owner, and it was dominant. Wilson passed pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe early and easily held on after a late restart to win the Camping World Grand Prix by nearly 5 seconds. Wilson led 49 laps of the 60-lap race around the 11-turn, 3.4-mile circuit.
"To dominate like we did is fantastic," said Wilson, who started second and finished third in the season opener in April at St. Petersburg, Fla. "I was grinning from ear to ear on the last lap. It just felt so good to do that for Dale."
"It took too long," Coyne, three days shy of another birthday, said. "We've been trying hard. We knew Justin was a good road racer. We almost showed it at St. Pete, and we showed it here today."
It was a breakthrough, to be sure. Penske and Target Chip Ganassi drivers had won the previous eight races this season, 10 straight overall dating to last season, and 15 of 16.
It was Wilson's second IndyCar win. His first came at Detroit on Labor Day weekend last year for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, making him the only driver to break through against the Penske-Ganassi juggernaut in that span.
"We've been trying to build this team up, and we're coming," said the 30-year-old Wilson, who had four wins in five seasons in Champ Car before moving to the IndyCar Series after the two series merged. "This is my most important win in my career, winning with Dale and showing what we can do. It's a fantastic feeling."
Ganassi's Scott Dixon, a three-time winner at The Glen, was third, followed by Penske's Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti. Series points leader Dario Franchitti started fifth but was involved in an early crash and finished 15th. That dropped him into a second-place tie with Briscoe, 19 points behind Dixon.
Coyne received a warm reception on pit road, and it was easy to understand why.
"I think it's fantastic. It's great for the sport," Dixon said. "And it's cool to see some of the small teams win. I think that's probably one of the smallest teams that we have. It just shows when you have a good driver like Justin, he can definitely take it to the best."
Wilson started on the front row alongside Briscoe and had the strongest car from the outset. On the second lap, he attempted to pass Briscoe at the end of the sweeping, high-speed esses and failed. Briscoe was warned for blocking and Wilson slipped past him in the same place on the fourth lap.
Wilson caught a nice break on the first caution when Briscoe pitted for a splash of fuel. Briscoe already was committed to stop when the yellow came out and had to pit again the next time around, dropping him out of the top 10.
"We got caught out by the yellow," Briscoe said. "We went a lap further than him in the first stint. That was going to get us the lead back, but unfortunately the yellow came and we had to make two pit stops. That put us back. We had to work hard to come through the field."
Briscoe fought his way back to second behind Wilson on lap 46 but never mounted a threatening challenge for the lead.
After the final full sequence of pit stops was completed with 15 laps remaining, Wilson assumed the lead again just ahead of Briscoe.
"I was pretty surprised and happy when I came out of my last pit stop and was side-by-side with Justin coming down the hill," Briscoe said. "At first I wasn't sure if I was racing him for the lead or if I was a lap down or what was going on. I thought, 'Wow, this is pretty good, let's go.' "
And Wilson did just that before Hideki Mutoh brought out the fourth and final caution of the race with seven laps remaining to give Briscoe one final chance. But he was no match for Wilson and his sticky, red tires.
This season Firestone introduced alternate tires for all road and street course races. The tires, marked with a red line around the outer edge, have a softer tread compound for better grip.
Each team was required to use the red tires once in the race, and Wilson figured to be in great position for a chance at victory. He started up front and had two sets of the alternate tires to use. He was able to save a set when Franchitti crashed early in the 10-minute final session of qualifying on Saturday.