The victory drought is finally over for Helio Castroneves. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner ended a three-year, 54-race streak without a win by taking the checkered flag in the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway. In the process, the driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet closed within eight points of the championship lead after 11 of 17 races. Now his chase toward a first Verizon IndyCar Series championship is in high gear.
"We've been close (to winning) so many times, and finally luck was on our side," the typically exuberant Castroneves said. "We've been working so hard together, but the Hitachi Chevy was on rails. We had a little bit of an issue in the beginning, but after we set up the car it was great. What a great finish. It's just like the first time."
Castroneves led 217 of the 300 laps on the high-speed, 0.894-mile Iowa oval, winning by 3.9647 seconds over JR Hildebrand. As anticipated, Castroneves celebrated the occasion by hopping out his car at the start/finish line after the race and performing his trademark climbing of the catch fence to the delight of Iowa Speedway fans.
It is Castroneves' first triumph since the opener of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader on June 1, 2014. It also gave the 42-year-old Brazilian, celebrating his 20th season in Indy cars, career win No.30 to move him into sole possession of 12th place on the all-time victory list. Castroneves had been tied with retired Team Penske great Rick Mears, who now serves as Castroneves' spotter on ovals.
"Finally, everything came together," said Castroneves, who also overtook Al Unser for fourth all time in laps led and now has 5,947. "And 30 wins, we just passed Rick Mears, which is my hero. ... I'm honored to be part of this organization, and I can only thank Roger (Penske, team owner), (team president Tim) Cindric and the entire team for supporting me. It's easy to be behind you in good times, but they've always been there no matter the time, so for me that's priceless. I'm going to continue focusing on this season, and there's more to come."
The decisive pass of the race came on Lap 268, when Castroneves darted past Hildebrand and leader Marco Andretti into first place. He steadily pulled away to give Team Penske its 192nd Indy car win, most all time, and its first at Iowa Speedway. Castroneves is the ninth different driver to win a race this season, a list that now includes all four Team Penske drivers.
"To see that run that Helio made all day long, I think he controlled the race," said Penske, who calls Castroneves' race strategy. "We had very good pit stops, you could see that, but you've got to have reliability and you've got to have a guy behind the wheel who knows how to climb the fence."
Hildebrand, in the No.21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, equaled his career-best finish first accomplished when he was runner-up at the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Hildebrand was driving the same car that Josef Newgarden raced to victory at Iowa in 2016 for Ed Carpenter Racing.
"It feels good," said Hildebrand, who qualified a career-best second on Saturday and led 38 laps in the race. "I definitely think that, under some slightly different circumstances, we had a car to win out there. The guys made a great call to pit early and get out into the lead at the end and try to hustle all the way.
"I think if we'd been on equal tires with Helio, we'd have had something for him there at the end. But all in all, really excited for the Fuzzy's Vodka crew to get on the podium here again."
Ryan Hunter-Reay, a three-time winner at Iowa, equaled his season-best finish of third place for Andretti Autosport. Pole sitter Will Power led 23 laps before finishing fourth for Team Penske.
"That was a tough drive." said Hunter-Reay "We just made the car better and better through the whole race and I wasn't really happy with the car at all. I have to give big credit to my team and my engineer, Ray Gosselin, for putting the right setup on the car. We finally got it to where I like it - some remnants of the past. A little more straight-line speed and we could've given these guys a run for their money. Congratulations to Helio (Castroneves) - it's great to see him win again. He's been right there knocking on the door for so long. Hats off to the No. 28 DHL team and thank you to all the Iowa fans, we love coming here. Hopefully we can come back here at night some time, because that is my favorite."
Points leader Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing finished eighth and has collected 403 points through 11 races.
"It was a rough day for the NTT Data car." said Dixon "We were just so loose. We tried to fix it with wing adjustments, tire pressure adjustments and cross-weights, but the rear was just loose especially on restarts for us. As we got later on in the run, we could beat up the right front tire and create some understeer which helped. Our only option was to run the high line and as soon as I went on the low line I started to spin out. All in all just happy I didn't crash today."
Team Penske drivers hold the next four positions in the standings, with Castroneves second (395 points), reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud third (372), Power fourth (350) and Newgarden fifth (347).
"It took a little while to get the Menards Chevy running fast, but it definitely was at the end." said Pagenaud "There was so much tire degradation that it was difficult to get a great feel for balance. Essentially, seventh is not bad. It's not what we want to do, but starting 11th and being unlucky with the draw in qualifying are factors. I can't complain about it. That's the sport. We just need to be patient and keep doing what we're doing. At some point we'll get another win. I feel awesome for Helio (Castroneves) - just super happy. Instead of concentrating on me today, I think we all should congratulate Helio. He's been waiting for this win since 2014 and it's kind of unfair considering how competitive he has been."
Three drivers, Mikhail Aleshin, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly, were each eliminated in single-car crashes, though none was injured. The race was also red-flagged for eight minutes after 208 laps for light rain.
"We had a loose car all day and felt like I was holding on to my life there that whole stint." said Aleshin "I'm not sure how many saves they might have shown (on the TV broadcast) but on that last lap it just went, and I couldn't do anything to save it."
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action July 16 with the Honda Indy Toronto on the streets of Exhibition Place. The race airs live at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore presentation at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.
1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 300, Running
2. (2) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 300, Running
3. (15) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 300, Running
4. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 300, Running
5. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 300, Running
6. (16) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 300, Running
7. (11) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 300, Running
8. (17) Scott Dixon, Honda, 300, Running
9. (7) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 300, Running
10. (9) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 300, Running
11. (12) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 299, Running
12. (4) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 299, Running
13. (18) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 299, Running
14. (13) Max Chilton, Honda, 299, Running
15. (14) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 298, Running
16. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 298, Running
17. (20) Marco Andretti, Honda, 298, Running
18. (8) Ed Jones, Honda, 297, Running
19. (19) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 168, Contact
20. (21) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 130, Contact
21. (6) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 56, Contact
Winner's average speed: 139.702
Time of Race: 1:55:11.2807
Margin of victory: 3.9647 seconds
Cautions: 4 for 44 laps
Lead changes: 12 among 8 drivers
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