FORT WORTH, Texas – Frustration and exasperation summed up Robert Wickens’ feelings following his early departure from the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night.
The Verizon IndyCar Series rookie had one of the fastest cars in the race, led 31 laps and was running a strong third when his No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda touched the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter entering Turn 3 on Lap 173. The collision sent both cars into the SAFER Barrier on the outside wall. Both drivers were unhurt but their race was over.
Carpenter shouldered the blame for the incident, but Wickens was upset that he was in the predicament at all.
"We shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place, but it just sucks," Wickens said. "We had such a good car."
The 29-year-old from Guelph, Ontario, Canada started the race in fourth and took the lead for the first time on Lap 95. He stretched out a healthy margin over the stint but relinquished the lead when he made his second pit stop of the race on Lap 131.
The Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings leader was focused on managing his fuel and tires as the 248 laps began to wind down on the 1.5-mile oval.
“That was my mindset,” he said. “I was getting great fuel mileage and the tires were holding on and we had a great race car.”
Wickens lightly brushed the wall trying to lap Zachary Claman De Melo, dropping him to third place and behind Carpenter, who was a lap down. Trying to get past Carpenter, Wickens made a move inside going into Turn 3. But neither came out the other side.
Wickens felt that he had the proper line to make the pass and was displeased with lapped cars racing him so hard.
“I feel like I was more than enough alongside him, and he just didn’t give me room and we both went out,” Wickens said. “When you're driving around slower cars, they're getting blue flags every time at start/finish,” referring to the request that a car cede its position on track, though it’s not an INDYCAR mandate unless a car is at least a lap down to the entire field.
“They're getting blue flags and they ignore every single one of them.”
Carpenter said he apologized to Wickens inside the infield care center, where both were checked and cleared by the INDYCAR medical staff.
"It was a mistake,” said Carpenter, the team owner/driver fresh off a second-place finish in the Indianapolis 500. “I knew Robbie was coming. I thought I could close the door, but it was a big mistake on my part. We were having a bad day, we just didn't have it this weekend. We just could never get the balance right where it needed to be.
“I made it worse by making a mistake like that, so my apologies to him. I know it doesn't mean much now. I feel bad for those guys.”
With his first DNF since the season opener at St. Petersburg, when he collided with Alexander Rossi while leading, Wickens slipped to seventh in the point standings after nine races – though he holds a massive 97-point advantage in the race for rookie of the year.
“We had a great car and you have to bring it home,” he said. “I don’t know if there is something that I could have done differently or the team or anyone. All I learned is when you are on the inside of someone, don’t fully trust the spotters. I guess (Carpenter) wasn’t told I was there.”
Wickens and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field are back in action from June 22-24 in the KOHLER Grand Prix from the Road America permanent road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The race airs live at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday, June 24 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.