IndyCar title watch: Helio keeps Dixon, Hunter-Reay at bay

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Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course had four-time M-O winner Scott Dixon starting up front and well ahead of his IZOD IndyCar Series title rival, Helio Castroneves, who was rolling off 14th on a track where passing is tough to come by.

But instead of the seemingly preordained result of Dixon chopping into Castroneves’ points lead, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner turned in a drive that could wind up earning him the series championship later this fall. Castroneves was able to climb from mid-pack and take a sixth-place finish at the checkered flag – right in front of Dixon in seventh.

The net gain for Castroneves may appear to be a mere two points – his lead over Dixon increased to 31 points overall with five races left in the season – but considering how IndyCar’s recent championship battles have had a funny way of coming down to the wire, those additional two markers earned on Sunday may mean everything in the end for the Brazilian.

“If you would have told me we would have finished in the top-10 today, I would have said you were crazy,” said Castroneves. “I know that it was only a sixth place finish, but it could win the Championship at the end of the year.

“I have said all along that we will continue to do our thing and not change a thing and it will pay off at the end of the day.”

In addition to finishing ahead of Dixon, Castroneves also minimized gains made by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who remains third in the standings.

The defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion led 30 of 90 laps and earned a fifth-place finish on Sunday, but only picked up four points on Castroneves; he is now 65 markers back going into the next race, the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway (Sun., Aug. 25, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

UPDATE 2: INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama once again under red-flag race stoppage

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UPDATE No. 2: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was closing in on restarting on Lap 23 or 24 before officials threw the second red flag race stoppage because of lingering puddles on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, particularly on the front stretch. We’ll keep you updated as situations warrant.

UPDATE No. 1: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is under a red-flag race stoppage after 19 laps due to rain and puddling on the racing surface at Barber Motorsports Park.

Cleaners and dryers are on the track to try and get some of the water off the racing surface. The low spots on the track, as well as the front stretch, have been particularly troublesome and led to several spinouts and at least two wrecks (Charlie Kimball and outside front pole sitter Will Power).

Power’s day is done after suffering irreparable damage to the left side of his car after hydroplaning on the front straight and running into the inside retaining wall.

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS:

Although rain has been falling for nearly an hour and the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile permanent road course is drenched, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is underway on NBCSN.

The start of the race was moved up from 3:38 p.m. ET to take the green flag at 3:08 p.m. ET.

Josef Newgarden is the defending winner of this race and also will start from the pole for today’s race.

While the race is scheduled for 90 laps, there’s a possibility that if the weather worsens or if lightning appears, it could potentially be shortened to just two hours.

As can be expected, all cars are on rain tires to maximize grip.

Catch the race live on NBCSN.