For yet another year, Team Penske and one of its drivers have come up short for the IZOD IndyCar Series title. The team’s last title came in 2006, with Sam Hornish Jr.
This year the hard-luck series runner-up is Helio Castroneves. The Brazilian finishes second in the championship for the third time in his 16-year career (2002, 2008), and has completed yet another year without garnering his elusive first series crown.
Castroneves led the points for 10 consecutive races. He took the lead from Marco Andretti at Detroit Race 2, and held it through Houston Race 1 just two weeks ago. But a second catastrophic race at Houston after his first mechanical issue dropped him 25 points behind this year’s newly crowned champion Scott Dixon, a gap he was unable to overcome this evening despite his best effort.
“We did everything we could our our side to bring home this championship,” Castroneves said. “We went for it; that was our only chance, was to be aggressive and we went with it.
“I can’t take for granted this season we had. We did everything we could to avoid mechanical failure. But the one we did is what cost us the season.”
Castroneves led three times for 27 laps in Saturday night’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway but had two blows to his championship charge during the race.
The first came on lap 212, when Castroneves entered a closed pit lane per instructions from team boss and race strategist Roger Penske. He’d need to restart at the back of the remaining field on lap 216.
“There was a little bit of confusion there, and he ended up calling me to ‘Pit this lap,’” Castroneves explained. “Then I was the only one, so I had to come back again. It was a blip on the radar, not an issue for the race.”
But by lap 220 he was up to second, engaged in a fight with Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball. Although there didn’t look to be any apparent contact, Castroneves sustained damage to his right front wing endplate, and needed to pit on lap 226 to replace the nosecone assembly.
“He was going for it as well,” Castroneves said. “There was a little bit of craziness in one point. One movement I think was a little too close. It damaged my front wing. Tag came really close too. In my view it was an adventure. It was fun.”
That was it for his championship chances. And with another lost year for the team in the standings, Castroneves will have to ponder what to do next, after following Will Power (2010-2012) and Ryan Briscoe (2009) in the close-but-no-cigar category since his own last best shot in 2008 – a year he also lost the title to Dixon.