LEXINGTON, Ohio – Even before the start of Sunday's IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio, the 27 drivers on the grid were reminded to be aware of problem areas on the narrow, sinewy track.
As it turned out, there were very few problems in a relatively clean race.
Brian Barnhart, IndyCar's president of competition and racing operations, met with drivers Sunday morning to discuss concerns about restarts on the long backstretch at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and also lane usage as cars enter the compact pit area.
"This is a difficult track to overtake other cars. Between turns 5 and 9, it is very much 'follow the car ahead,'" Barnhart said. "We've got to make an effort to keep the passing lane open or this event will be completely about track position and we will not be an entertaining event to watch."
He added, "I cannot stress enough the need for awareness and good decisions in pit lane."
Drivers had already expressed their worries about the tightness of the track. Mid-Ohio has long had the reputation of being a layout where it's difficult to pass; a good qualifying run usually means a high finish because it's so hard for cars to make up ground.
At the same time, they said they'd try to make the best of the situation.
"It's not the type of racetrack where you're going from sixth to first gear," said Ryan Hunter-Reay, who qualified fifth and finished 24th. "We should be able to run two-wide."
Pole-winner and eventual winner Scott Dixon said he believed there's a trade-off on a course such as Mid-Ohio.
"This track has a little better flow to it as far as there's not big, massive braking areas too often," he said. "Even the back section is a lot of single-file. It's a little easier to judge your braking distances in corners with the layout of the circuit being a permanent road course. The grip, even though it's slippery out there at the moment, it's generally easier to read."
Dario Franchitti said all of the drivers were aware of the dangers, particularly in the pit area.
"The pit lane here is massively tight. It's almost too tight," he said. "Even parking the car on the marks in the pit boxes is difficult. Pit lane is very tricky."
WILSON UPDATE: Justin Wilson was flown by helicopter Sunday to Indianapolis, where he was scheduled to meet with Dr. Terry Trammell, an orthopedic consultant to IndyCar
The driver of the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry broke a vertebra during an early qualifying run on Saturday. He was awake and aware when transported to a nearby hospital.
Simon Pagenaud took Wilson's place in the No. 22, qualifying 18th and finishing 13th.
DRY RUN: Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third in the Mid-Ohio 200, but reached for water to celebrate.
"I didn't have any drink bottle and that's tough because it was a physical race and you don't realize how much you depend on that thing," he said.
Hunter-Reay was put on probation by IndyCar through the rest of 2011 for "initiating avoidable contact."
He joked that not having anything to drink was part of his penalty.
"It was a good day apart from the drink bottle not working in the car — which I think was part of my probation," he cracked.
GOING THE WRONG WAY: Ed Carpenter qualified last in the 27-car field and ended up finishing 22nd.
He sounded as down as could be about the future for the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Racing car.
"This is not how we felt it was going to go, especially after testing here," he said after qualifying. "We're further behind than we've been all weekend. This is definitely not the direction we want to be going. We're going to have to figure out a way to do a lot better."
NOT THIS TIME: In the 27 open-wheel races held at Mid-Ohio since 1980, Team Penske had won seven times.
Yet Penske had a weekend to forget.
The team had a four-race IndyCar streak of Mid-Ohio pole positions end when Ryan Briscoe qualified second, Will Power fourth and Helio Castroneves 15th.
Sunday was even worse. Power finished 14th, Briscoe 16th and Castroneves 19th. Power led laps 57 and 58 before fading.
"I feel really bad for my guys," said Castroneves. "To work so hard and finish 19th is really tough."
PIT STOPS: During the prerace driver introductions, it was clear that the biggest, loudest cheer was for Graham Rahal, who lives in New Albany and is the son of ex-Indy 500 winner and current team owner Bobby Rahal. He ended up 24th. ... Dixon's last IndyCar win was at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2010. ... Dixon has led laps in his last five starts at Mid-Ohio. ... Franchitti has finished in the top three in his last four starts at Mid-Ohio. ... Takuma Sato's fourth-place finish was the best of his IndyCar career.