A late surge at the Milwaukee Mile gave Sebastien Bourdais a milestone win and a confidence boost on an oval track.
And to think, he wasn't quite sure what to expect from his car after qualifying.
Bourdais pulled away following a late caution in the 250-lap race on Sunday for his second IndyCar victory of the season, turning aside a brief challenge from second-place finisher Helio Castroneves to win by 2.2 seconds.
It was Bourdais' 34th career victory, tying him with Al Unser Jr. for seventh on the all-time list.
“I respect the stats because you put yourself on a very special list with very respected and great drivers. But I don't live for stats. I don't look and contemplate myself,” he said. “I just enjoy the moment, have fun with it.”
Bourdais was beaming after winning the trophy emblazoned with the words “Big Cheese.” It was his first victory at an oval since winning at Milwaukee in 2006.
“On these ovals, you can go from hero to zero and back to hero again,” Bourdais said. “When the car is right, it's so, so special.”
An unusually tight schedule on Sunday, which included a morning practice and midday qualifying before the late-afternoon race, added a different wrinkle at the Mile.
It took a little while before Bourdais started feeling good about his car.
Then he started to dominate, taking over the lead for good on Lap 188.
“We could run the bottom and make moves in traffic that no one else was doing,” Bourdais said.
He looked like he was on his way to a comfortable victory until the caution flag game out on Lap 222 when Justin Wilson's car stalled.
The yellow flag gave others brief hope — before Bourdais pulled away again. He held on when racing resumed for an 18-lap sprint to the finish.
“Today we're really starting to make progress at ovals,” Bourdais said.
Castroneves came close to spoiling the fun with a remarkable run after starting last in the 24-car field. Graham Rahal was third.
It was a relatively clean race — and far less stressful for drivers than the frantic, five-wide scrums two weeks ago at the superspeedway in Fontana. There were just three cautions on Sunday.
Bourdais led a race-high 118 laps. The KVSH Racing driver had such a big cushion late that he kept the lead even after pitting on Lap 213.
The victory allowed Bourdais to move up one spot to sixth on the driver standings. Points leader Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth but added to his lead over second place on the season leaderboard. He has a 54-point cushion after Sunday's race.
Montoya's teammate at Penske, Will Power, got knocked out in in the 131st lap after appearing to get clipped around Turn 4 by Ryan Briscoe's spinning car. Briscoe, who started second, said traffic around the third turn took away his air.
Second in the standings behind Montoya entering Sunday, Power dropped to fifth in the driver standings going into next week's race at Iowa. The wreck left Power in 22nd place at the Mile.
It's going to be more difficult for the defending series champion to repeat with four races left in the season.
“There is no question it is going to make it tough, but we will keep focused and go on to the next one,” Power said.
Scott Dixon moved up to second place. Rahal had another nice week at an oval after winning at Fontana and moved into a tie for third with Castroneves, another Penske driver.
“Our strength is not ovals. The last couple years, we've been terrible so I'm pretty shocked by the way everybody has performed,” Rahal said. “It's pretty awesome to see and I think it shows the resilience of this team.”
The powerhouse Penske team lost Power in the middle of the race, but had nice late showings from Montoya, who started eighth, and Castroneves. The veteran began at the back of the pack after being penalized for arriving at pit lane late for check-in before his qualifying run earlier Sunday.
Chevys held the top two spots and six of the top seven, with Rahal's Honda being the exception.
Pole-sitter Josef Newgarden, who also had the fastest practice speeds, finished fifth.