ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ryan Briscoe held off Ryan Hunter-Reay to win the IndyCar Series season opener Sunday.
Briscoe, driving for Team Penske, passed Justin Wilson for the lead on a restart 14 laps from the end of the crash-filled Honda Grand Prix. The Aussie then stayed out front as Hunter-Reay, driving on the new, softer alternate tires that provide more grip, also got past Wilson and tried to chase him down.
There was one last restart on the slick 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit, but Briscoe was able to fend off a strong move by Hunter-Reay, who only got his ride with Vision Racing last Monday.
Briscoe was relieved to get to the finish of the 100-lap event after crashing out here in his two previous starts — the first with Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2005 and then last year, his first season with Roger Penske’s team.
"Finally," Briscoe said as he emerged from his No. 6 Dallara-Honda after getting his third IndyCar win. "This place has been bad to me. It feels so good to finally get to the end of this race.
"And it’s great to start off the year like this."
The same couldn’t be said for Danica Patrick, whose season got off to a tough start after crashing out early.
Patrick was running ninth in the 22-car field when rookie Raphael Matos tried to pass as the two went into one of the tightest turns on the temporary street circuit.
Both cars crashed, with Patrick’s Andretti Green Racing entry slamming hard, rear end-first into a tire barrier. Neither driver was injured.
Patrick, who has been known to blow up at drivers in similar circumstances, was calm once back in the team’s pit.
"It’s not exactly the ideal spot to pass," she said. "We were going into the fast chicane there and there’s no room, there’s no room for two people. … I was looking in my mirrors and I saw him. He just wasn’t all the way up next to me."
• FORMULA ONE — At Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Brawn GP’s Jenson Button claimed the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix, with 33 laps completed and only half the points awarded.
BMW’s Nick Heidfeld was second and Toyota’s Timo Glock was third.
It was the first race stopped because of weather since the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix, and the first distribution of half the points since the 1991 Australian Grand Prix.
• LOCAL — At Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Bullring, Justin Johnson won Saturday night’s 40-lap Super Late Models feature in the NASCAR All-American Series. Johnson held off Jeff Connors for the win.
Other winners Saturday: Eric Gunderson (USAC Midgets), Phil Goodwin (Chargers), Jack Madrid (Legends Cars), Jim Sherard (Bombers), Rachel Brown (Bandolero Young Guns) and Austin Blair (Bandorlero Bandits).