IndyCar's Eternal Underdogs Finally Win
Dale Coyne was a former racer in the 1980s before forming his own team in 1986, which competed in CART, Champ Car’s precursor. Coyne was an owner/driver for a few seasons before retiring from the cockpit to concentrate on ownership. Although his name is pronounced “coin,” the story of the team has been how little of it they have. As a result, the team has rarely been able to get out of even the middle of the pack. However, Coyne also has a reputation of answering the bell every season, with one or two cars, no matter what. The results were never there, but no could deny the passion wasn’t.
So the years went on with no victory, or even podiums. Coyne’s team sometimes gave a promising young driver their start, but a lot of time Coyne fielded anonymous pay drivers who disappeared as quickly as they came. In recent years though, the team was able to land veteran drivers who suddenly couldn’t find rides at the top of the sport, such as Oriol Servia, Cristiano da Matta, and Bruno Junqueira. This helped results improve, culminating in the team’s previous best performances, a second place by Junqueira in 2007.
Like Newman/Haas/Lanigan, Coyne was a former Champ Car team transitioning to IndyCar in 2008. Unlike N/H/L, there really wasn’t any success to speak of. Coyne’s two cars finished 20th and 21st in the standings. Making things worse, 2008 driver Mario Moraes took his funding to a different team. Once again though, Coyne found a way to answer the bell, but cutting to just one car, driven by Wilson.
Right away though, it was obvious Wilson’s talent on road courses was going to take this team places. At the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Wilson led a significant chunk of the race. However, he was passed on a late restart by Ryan Briscoe and ended up third. Still a great result, but bittersweet after coming so close to the win.
The team predictably struggled through the six race oval stretch. Lack of funds plus an inexperienced driver on ovals is not a good combination. This week though at Watkins Glen, everyone knew Coyne and Wilson would be a factor. They were from the start, as Wilson started second, and within a few laps got by Briscoe for the lead. Unfortunately, a late caution led to the possibility of déjà vu: Wilson in front, with Briscoe right behind ready to inhale him on the restart.
Not this time though. Wilson got a fantastic jump on the restart, and in the closing laps shocked everyone but doing what seemed impossible: pull away from a Penske. Wilson took the checkered flag, and after 25+ years of scraping by, Dale Coyne was a winner. It was a just reward for two men that have been forgotten multiple times over, and easily the best moment of what has been a disappointing and tumultuous IndyCar season.
In the end though, Coyne said it best. When asked how it felt to finally win, he simply said, “It took too long.”
It may have, but nobody can say it wasn't well earned.