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

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.