LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Jimmy Vasser forgot about Michael Andretti, and it might have cost him a win.
"I never thought about Michael and Max (Papis) being in the equation for the lead," Vasser said Sunday after finishing second to Andretti in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Vasser's confusion came about because Andretti and Papis, coming from the back half of the 20-car field, took a chance on staying on track when the other leaders pitted and made the strategy work.
When the Andretti and Papis made their final stops, two laps after the other front-runners, Vasser was shocked to find himself still in third place.
"I was thinking of Kenny (Brack) and a few other guys. Those were the ones I was concerned about," Vasser explained. "So we assumed we were going to pick up the pace car and be in the lead. I slowed a little to save fuel, but I should have hustled the car up to the pace car. I should have known better.
"They just had the strategy right today," he added. "It goes to show that sometimes the fastest car doesn't always win."
Perhaps the only one not surprised when Andretti found himself out front after the final pit stops was the leader.
"Before I went in, I was cranking out some of the fastest laps of the race," Andretti said. "Jimmy said he didn't hustle enough, but the pit stop was good and clean and I think I could have beat him out anyway."
Vasser did manage to get past Papis, but he couldn't quite catch Andretti, finishing 0.466-seconds -- about five car-lengths -- behind the Honda-powered Reynard.
It was the first 1-2 sweep for the U.S. in the CART FedEx Series since Vancouver in 1996 -- when Andretti beat Bobby Rahal, now Vasser's boss.
Andretti, who had to go to a backup car after crashing in Saturday's qualifying and starting the race 15th, said he knew Vasser was stalking him at the end and that he couldn't afford a mistake.
"I just knew I was driving as hard as I could drive," the second-generation Champ car star said.
As for the pit strategy that made the difference, Andretti said, "When you're in the back, you've got nothing to lose. It's all a gamble, but yet in the end we had a race car to do it. I was running with Jimmy at the end and he had one of the fastest cars out there.
"We just needed a little luck and we finally got some."
Papis held on for third, followed by Brack and Michel Jourdain, Vasser's new teammate.
Now the oldest driver in the Champ car series at 39, the win extended Andretti's record as CART's career victory leader to 42 and was his first since July of 2001 in Toronto.
It was his second win in the streets of Long Beach. The first came in 1986 and was also Andretti's first CART victory.
This one didn't look possible in the early going on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn downtown circuit until Team Motorola took a calculated gamble by keeping him on track while most of the leaders pitted on lap 33 of the 90-lap event.
Andretti slipped back into the field when he pitted under green on lap 47. He retook the top spot for good when Vasser and all the other lead-lap cars, except Papis, made their final stops on lap 62.
Both Andretti and Papis took advantage of the fifth of six caution flags in the race to make their final stops on lap 64.
Papis was two seconds behind Andretti and 34 seconds ahead of Vasser before the caution waved and, with Vasser slow to get to the pace car under the yellow flag, both leaders came back onto the track at the front.
"About mid-race I was thinking that if things fell a certain way we should be in good shape," Andretti said. "That's just what happened."
Cristiano da Matta, going for a record-tying fourth straight victory, started second and took the lead from pole-winner Vasser on the first turn of the race.
He led the first 31 laps and appeared to have the fastest car in the 20-car field. On his second pit stop, the Brazilian ran into a problem, getting hit by Adrian Fernandez as he left his pit.
"It was a big mistake to let this one get away," da Matta said. "I saw Adrian coming in as I was merging in from my pit box. I didn't expect him to brake and turn in so quickly. I don't blame him and I also don't think I did anything wrong."
Da Matta's car had to be pushed back into his pit and restarted and he never got back into contention, finishing eighth. Fernandez also continued and wound up 10th.
Heading into the third race of the season, April 27 in Motegi, Japan, Da Matta still led the standings by five points over Andretti and Jourdain, with Dario Franchitti -- ninth Sunday -- seven behind.
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