Castroneves Wins, Race Tightens At Kentucky

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 4 2010

Helio Castroneves celebrates his good fortune and good fuel mileage at Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Helio Castroneves now knows both sides of what it’s like to play the fuel at Kentucky Speedway.

Denied a victory on the 1.5-mile oval when he ran out of fuel heading to the checkered flag in 2008, Castroneves collaborated with Team Penske president Tim Cindric on an ethanol-stingy strategy that won the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Kentucky Indy 300 Saturday night.

Castroneves rebounded from an early-race pit stop error to emerge with a 13.1597-second victory over pole-sitter Ed Carpenter, who matched his career-best finish for the second consecutive year in Sparta, Ken.

Dan Wheldon, who is Carpenter’s Panther/Vision Racing teammate, finished third. Andretti Autosport’s Tony Kanaan charged from 26th in the 27-car field to a fourth-place run while two-time/reigning series champion and points-runnerup Dario Franchitti was fifth.

Meanwhile, championship leader Will Power finished eighth and dropped another six points to Franchitti. Power, who is Castroneves’ Team Penske teammate, has a 17-point advantage (552-535) over Franchitti, of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with two races remaining.

The series will resume with the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi on Sept. 19. Franchitti ran second to race-winner Scott Dixon last year en route to his second title. The Scotsman finished third at Motegi in 2007, his first championship season.

Castroneves mometarily overshadowed the title chase storyline by feathering the throttle on his No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda over the final 53 of 200 laps after remaining on-track as the five drivers in front of him cycled into the pits for splashes of fuel from Laps 192-197.

“Incredible job from Team Penske,” said Castroneves, who scored his first series victory at Kentucky Speedway. “When we started the race, the car wasn’t the fastest, but it wasn’t the slowest. It had pretty good balance. We were right there, (but) it was very tough.”

Recall that Castroneves lost the 2008 race at Kentucky Speedway when he ran out of fuel on the frontstretch heading for the checkered flag, gift-wrapping the win for Scott Dixon of Ganassi Racing. Saturday night, Castroneves grabbed the lead with three laps remaining en route to his second victory of the season. The Brazilian now leads all IndyCar drivers in top-five finishes with seven and top-10s with eight through nine career starts at Kentucky Speedway.

“We came to the pits for the first stop and had a miscommunication,” said Castroneves, referring to a pit visit on Lap 57. “The crew chief thought the right rear (tire) wasn’t on, so I had one guy telling me go, go, go and the guy on top of me telling me to stay. We ended up losing about 10 positions.

“The genius, Tim Cindric, came with a great idea and said, ‘When we pit the last time, you gotta make this (fuel mileage) number because we have nothing to lose.’ I said, ‘That’s going to be impossible.’ Flashes of the race in 2008 started coming back to me.

“We went back, we stayed about in 10th position saving fuel and trying to make this number. What people don’t realize when you start running that slow is the balance of the car changes quite a bit, so it’s harder driving slower than faster. I was about 12 mph slower than the leaders, but towards the end when (Cindric) said, ‘You’re the leader, go for it,’ I could not believe it. We started back again on 215 (mph) and 216 (mph) laps.

“It was similar to what happened in 2008 and this time it paid off for Team Penske. What a great day, a misfortune that happened in the pits was the key to this win. It feels great, I’m happy for the entire team.”

Castroneves previously won this season at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. His 24th career open-wheel victory (18 in IndyCar and six in CART) moved Castroneves to fourth in the overall standings, 30 points ahead of teammate Ryan Briscoe, who was involved in a three-car crash.

Carpenter, who led 11 laps, was beaten by Briscoe by a margin of 0.0162-seconds – the closest series track finish last season – and fell victim to the widest series margin of victory at the track Saturday night. Wheldon, who finished second to Franchitti at Chicagoland Speedway on Aug. 28, led a race-high 93 laps.

“For Dan and I to finish second and third is a little disappointing because we were so strong all weekend,” said Carpenter, driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Dallara/Honda. “Dan had a dominant car tonight and it’s tough being in our position when you have a guy win on fuel mileage. I think we are very proud having two Panther cars on the podium.”

Franchitti knocked 36 points off of Power’s lead with his victory at Chicagoland, where Power – the series’ road-racing ace – logged a season-low 16th place finish. Saturday night’s results allowed Franchitti, who logged his seventh-consecutive top-five finish, to reduce his deficit from 23 to 17 points heading into Motegi.

“From where we were after the first lap to where we finished the night, it was an exciting race,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Dixie Dallara/Honda. “We marched our way from 14th to third, I guess. We were hovering around the front. We were second, running behind Dan, but Helio had the fuel to go to the end and we did not.

“We finished ahead of Will, which was one of the things we needed to achieve, but it would have been nice to have finished a little further up. Everybody was fighting for grip and sliding around a little. It was not a bad night.”

Power completed his final stop for four Firestone Firehawk tires and fuel on Lap 142, and then nearly threw his night away by running high and close to the wall in Turn 4.

“Really, my night was quite good, although after my last stop I think I hit some oil from an earlier incident between Turns 3 and 4,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Honda. “I pushed up straight towards the wall _ I was very close to hitting it.

“We have our work cut out for us for the championship, but we still have the lead and onward we go.”

Results of the Kentucky Indy 300 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (8) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

2. (1) Ed Carpenter, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

3. (3) Dan Wheldon, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

4. (26) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

5. (11) Dario Franchitti, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

6. (15) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

7. (4) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

8. (2) Will Power, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

9. (17) Danica Patrick, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

10. (6) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara/Honda, 199, Running

11. (16) Justin Wilson, Dallara/Honda, 199, Running

12. (23) Paul Tracy, Dallara/Honda, 199, Running

13. (18) Alex Lloyd, Dallara/Honda, 199, Running

14. (10) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara/Honda, 199, Running

15. (13) Alex Tagliani, Dallara/Honda, 199, Running

16. (20) Raphael Matos, Dallara/Honda, 199, Running

17. (5) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara/Honda, 199, Running

18. (7) Mario Moraes, Dallara/Honda, 198, Running

19. (24) Milka Duno, Dallara/Honda, 195, Running

20. (25) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 195, Running

21. (27) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Honda, 174, Mechanical 22. (21) Sarah Fisher, Dallara/Honda, 134, Mechanical

23. (12) Vitor Meira, Dallara/Honda, 79, Contact

24. (9) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara/Honda, 79, Contact 25. (19) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara/Honda, 78, Contact

26. (22) E.J. Viso, Dallara/Honda, 45, Mechanical

27. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, 0, Contact

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 174.402 mph

Time of Race: 01:41:50.0059

Margin of victory: 13.1597-seconds

Cautions: 2 for 23 laps

Lead changes: 11 among 7 races

Lap Leaders: Carpenter 1-10, Wheldon 11-53, Power 54-55, Briscoe 56, Tracy 57-60, Power 61-141, Wheldon 142-143, Dixon 144, Castroneves 145-147, Wheldon 148-195, Carpenter 196, Castroneves 197-200.

Point Standings: Power 552, Franchitti 535, Dixon 469, Castroneves 448, Briscoe 418, Hunter-Reay 404, Kanaan 392, Andretti 347, Wheldon 346, Wilson 335.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 4 2010
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