Castroneves keeps building on IndyCar title lead

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With the second race of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader coming up tomorrow (3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network), the championship battle between Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay can still take some turns this weekend.

But on Saturday, Castroneves definitely came out the better of the two in Race 1 at Exhibition Place as he claimed a sixth-place finish, while Hunter-Reay – last year’s winner at Toronto – finished 18th.

That spells a 39-point lead for Castroneves over Hunter-Reay, who now has to also start thinking about his rival behind him, race winner Scott Dixon. With his second victory in a row, the New Zealander is now third in points and just three markers behind RHR for second in the standings.

Going back to Castroneves, he maintained that he could’ve had a better result if not for a mistake on his part that altered his team’s plans for the rest of the race.

“Unfortunately, [I was told] to come in and I got confused with what car was in front of me – I was coming in and then I decided to bail out,” he explained to NBC Sports Network. “Not good. That changed our pit strategy, but the car was fast. We actually had the fastest lap of the race and showed that we were really, really good.

“Tomorrow, we’re starting third – different things. We feel very strong for tomorrow…Right now, I’m very happy with extending the lead on the championship.”

Meanwhile, Hunter-Reay had a tough afternoon, as he stalled his car twice on pit exits before going into the Turn 3 tire barriers with seven laps left while trying to pass teammate E.J. Viso on the inside. An extended stop in the final laps for a new nosecone also contributed to his poor finish.

“We had two stalls in the pit lane and then were making some moves, making our way up on track, and then racing with E.J. there, I just got held down in the marbles on the inside and collected all that stuff on my tires,” said Hunter-Reay. “I came down into [Turn] 3 and locked up the right side.

“A frustrating afternoon, but I hope we can regroup overnight and improve on the car. I didn’t feel confident at all under braking today and had some issues with it. The four cars, we’ll put our heads together and hopefully come out a better team tomorrow.”

IZOD IndyCar Series – Points Standings
Top 10 – After 12 Races

1. Helio Castroneves, Team Penske/Chevrolet – 384 points
2. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet – 345
3. Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda – 342
4. Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet – 333
5. Tony Kanaan, KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet – 301
6. James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet – 296
7. Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports/Honda – 291
8. Dario Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda – 274
9. Justin Wilson, Dale Coyne Racing/Honda – 272
10. Will Power, Team Penske/Chevrolet – 260

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”