Rain-shortened race crowns Munoz

ByJohn Oreovicz Via <a Href="http://espn.go.com/" Title="espn" Class="espn_sc_byline">espn </a>
July 20, 2016, 3:40 AM

&#151; -- DETROIT -- Sometimes, it seems that if the Verizon IndyCar Series didn't have bad luck, it wouldn't have any luck at all.

As the latest case in point, heavy showers and lightning ended Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit after 47 of the scheduled 70 laps, with Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz at the front of the field.

No disrespect to Munoz and his team -- because they played the conditions to perfection to hold a 30-second lead when the red flag came out with roughly 30 minutes of racing remaining to be completed.

But once again, an IndyCar event ended with a result that bore little or no resemblance to how the race would likely have ended under normal circumstances. And once again, we are left to try to explain how a relative no-name who started 20th in a 23-car field managed to triumph over the pedigreed stars of the IndyCar Series.

Munoz was practically apologetic after he bested his teammate,  Marco Andretti, in an Andretti Autosport 1-2 finish.

"It feels OK," the 23-year old Colombian said. "I wanted to win running 100 percent of the laps, but we were very comfortable.

"I feel really happy for my crew. Racing is racing, and this is what happens with the weather. The team did a great job with the strategy, and this is a great 1-2 result."

Munoz probably needs to buy Andretti a beer because he learned from Marco's aggressive decision to switch to slick tires early in the race and was able to make his own tire change at exactly the right time.

"Marco set the tone for the rest of the race for the whole field," winning team owner Michael Andretti, Marco's father, said. "Everybody was watching him the rest of the time, and actually, at the end, that's what helped Carlos -- because he came in later. He was four laps ahead of Marco on fuel, and in the end, that was the difference."

Marco Andretti overruled his team to make the crucial decision to swap out rain tires for the slicks he wanted on Lap 9. By the 15th lap, he was in the lead, which he held until Lap 40, when he had to pit for fuel.

At that point, most of the field had already pitted to take on wet tires, expecting imminent rain. Munoz, still on slicks, was 8 to 10 seconds a lap faster than the drivers on wets.

When the expected rain finally came, it was in buckets, and IndyCar had little choice but to throw the red flag. Conditions looked unlikely to improve, so the race was called.

In just two laps, Munoz extended his lead from 22 to 30 seconds, so he was definitely quick at the end when it counted.

"A win is a win," he said. "I'm happier for my crew than I am for myself. I want to win in normal conditions, but it was the same for everyone, and that's how IndyCar is.

"We knew race would be like that -- rain, dry, rain, dry -- and we made a good call. When you start in the back, you have to gamble. The first win of my IndyCar career feels good."

Andretti was disappointed to come home second in claiming the 19th podium finish of his IndyCar career. Only two of those podiums have been race wins.

"To me, it wasn't really a gamble," Andretti said of stopping early. "I knew the track was there, and it seemed like a no-brainer as long as I could keep it off the fence, which we were able to do.

"But it was a blessing and a curse because Carlos was able to stop a couple laps after me, and that was the difference," he added. "We didn't really want to come in, but I needed some fuel. I knew whoever stayed out was going to beat me, but it was good fun, and I'm glad for an Andretti Autosport 1-2."

No one was happier to score a decent result than Michael Andretti, who has endured a horrid season to date, as his team struggled to extract speed out of Honda's new aero kit.

Munoz's victory Saturday was just the second in seven races this year for Honda, and both came in races compromised by the weather. James Hinchcliffe scored Honda's other win at NOLA Motorsports Park.

"It feels really good," Michael Andretti said. "It's been a really tough time, and you start wondering, 'Are we even going to get a win this year?' So it really feels good to get that monkey off our back."

"We have a lot going," he added. "We're pushing hard, Honda is pushing hard, and I think we're going to get a lot more competitive."

If there might be a sliver lining to the clouds that washed out IndyCar's hopes for a clean finish Saturday, it's that there is another 70-lap race scheduled for Sunday. But typical of the IndyCar Series' luck, the Sunday forecast is even worse than Saturday's, with more heavy rain and a predicted high temperature of just 51 degrees.

That frigid forecast isn't dampening Michael Andretti's spirits after the brightest day of his 2015 season.

"We haven't had much luck this year, so it's nice to get some," he said. "Now we've got to go do it all over again tomorrow."

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