Dixon, Pagenaud gain on title leader Castroneves after Houston Race 1

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With Scott Dixon (pictured) capitalizing on Helio Castroneves’ rough afternoon by winning Race 1 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, the drama is back in their IZOD IndyCar Series championship battle.

By taking his fourth win of the season, Dixon was able to cut his deficit to the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner from 49 points going into today all the way down to a mere eight markers as we head for Race 2 tomorrow afternoon.

“I hope they’re worried, man,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Marty Snider afterwards. “It’s a 41-point turnaround today and hopefully, we can have another good race tomorrow.

“It’d be nice to be in the lead going into [the season finale] at [Auto Club Speedway] – we know Chevy is strong, but the Honda is definitely strong over the 500 mile [race]. To have a little bit of a buffer would be really nice, but I can’t thank everybody on the team enough…”

Castroneves suffered early shifting issues and the subsequent lengthy stop for repairs on pit road knocked him nine laps off the pace before he came home 18th. But he chose to stay positive, noting and appreciating that he was still able to keep hold of the points lead despite his woes.

“It just gets more exciting for you guys,” Castroneves told NBCSN’s Jan Beekhuis, referring to the fans. “I was very worried about the car, to be honest. We changed a lot from qualifying to the race and I was very happy that we were at least able to be competitive.

“It’s a shame [about the gearbox problems] – those things are outside of our control. Tomorrow, that’s it – no more being conservative. We just keep going, and moving forward.”

Meanwhile, Simon Pagenaud continued his bid to become a legitimate third horse in the championship. The Frenchman finished fourth on Saturday, enabling him to pull within 50 points of Castroneves – a swing of 20 points in his favor.

“Most importantly, I’m still in it,” Pagenaud said to NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “We had a good day. I think we need to improve [the car] a little bit overnight. I think we can have a shot at the win tomorrow. The car, when it’s going, when tires are up to temperature and the brakes also, it’s flying.

“We’re not far, just a tick off. But we’ll work on that. It’s great to be in it, because there’s two races remaining and I’m really excited, so I’m gonna push hard tomorrow.”

IZOD IndyCar Series
Unofficial Points after Race 1, Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston
Helio Castroneves – 513
Scott Dixon – 505
Simon Pagenaud – 463
Marco Andretti – 447
Ryan Hunter-Reay – 437
Justin Wilson – 428
Dario Franchitti – 403
Will Power – 391
James Hinchcliffe – 382
Charlie Kimball – 382

BREAKING: John Force taken to hospital after Phoenix eliminations crash

Photo courtesy NHRA
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16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force has been taken to a local hospital for evaluation and examination following a wicked crash with fellow Funny Car driver Johnnie Lindberg.

The crash occurred during the quarterfinals of Sunday’s final eliminations in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix.

Force was headed for a win when the engine on his Peak Chevrolet Camaro blew up just as it crossed the finish line, destroying the body. Lindberg, meanwhile, lost traction about one-third of the way down-track, but then got back into the gas to try and catch Force.

Force appeared to lose control of the body-less car and went across from the left lane he was in to the right-hand lane, where he hit the retaining wall in front of Lindberg.

Lindberg tried to avoid Force, but couldn’t. To make matters worse, the body on Lindberg’s car then came off and Force’s and Lindberg’s cars got tangled up in Lindberg’s parachute, sending both chassis’ into the left retaining wall.

Lindberg emerged from his Funny Car under his own power and was checked at the medical center before heading back to his pit.

Force, meanwhile, was helped out of his mangled wreck by the NHRA Safety Safari and was transported by ambulance to the hospital due to the severity of the impact.

Even though Force will be credited with the round win, he obviously will not be able to continue for the remainder of the eliminations.

To add insult to injury, NHRA officials charged Force with oiling down the racetrack, his third of the season in just the first two races. That will cost him 15 points in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings and a fine of $4,000.

Here are several posts from social media, including video of the incident from NHRA:

This is the second time Force has had an engine explode and the body blew off in the last two weeks. He also wrecked during the qualifying Feb. 9 for the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Here’s the video of that wreck:

MORE: John Force taken to hospital as a precaution after Funny Car motor explodes.

We’ll update Force’s condition when it becomes available.

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