Qualifying 23rd for Race 2 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, the No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink entry driven by Jack Hawksworth didn't catch the attention of NBCSN chief announcer Leigh Diffey nor analysts Paul Tracy and Steve Matchett in the early stages of the 90-lap race.
But much like Race 1 -- in which Hawksworth qualified 21st and drove to a then-career-high sixth-place finish -- the effort stood out in the final 15 laps.
The Verizon IndyCar Series rookie rose into the top five and impressively defended his position against veteran drivers in the final 10 laps to claim his first podium finish. The combined 35 positions gained were a high among the 23 drivers in the doubleheader on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit.
"I'm really happy for the whole team," said Hawksworth, who had produced four top-10 qualifying efforts in the previous eight races with a high of second for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. "We've come so close to a result like this so many times with great qualifying runs but it just hasn't happened. (The crew) did a fantastic job and thoroughly deserved it."
Added team co-owner Bryan Herta: "Teamwork, strategy, the guys were great in the pits and Jack on the track. This is the kind of execution we need to try to achieve every weekend."
Hawksworth noted that following seven consecutive weekends of on-track activity, the team returned to its Indianapolis base and didn't participate in testing at either Iowa Speedway, Pocono Raceway or the Milwaukee Mile as many others did.
"Every race requires a lot of preparation," he said. "I think the thing between Texas (June 7) and Houston, it was the only gap we've had in the season, so it gave us a little bit of time just to prep the car, spend a little bit of money on it, and the team, all of us to kind of go back to base and kind of reset because obviously it's a long season and it's been kind of hectic since the beginning.
"A lot of prep from the guys, who did a fantastic job, and from my side just continued to work with the team and get ready in the best way possible. It was tricky because we expected to come in and be faster in qualifying, we expected to start further up the grid and it didn't happen, and we just keep sticking on it and the team did a great job on pit wall and I did the best I could out there, so I think that's a good result for what we put in."
Over the two races, Marco Andretti advanced a total 15 positions (finished eighth in Race 1 and ninth in Race 2), while Juan Pablo Montoya also earned his first podium finish of the season in Race 1 when he gained nine positions relative to his starting spot. He picked up seven position in finishing seventh in Race 2.
Carlos Huertas moved up 18 positions in winning Race 1, while Ryan Hunter-Reay advanced 15 spots in placing sixth in Race 2.