Houston Update: Helio battling Pagenaud and Power in Race 2

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After starting from pole position, Helio Castroneves has been able to stay up front in the first half of today’s Race 2 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

Today’s 90-lap race began with a rolling start under dry conditions, and pole sitter Castroneves was able to keep the field behind him on the run into the Turn 1/2 chicane. However, Simon Pagenaud was able to take second spot behind the Brazilian from rookie Mikhail Aleshin.

Damage on Lap 1 forced Mike Conway to the pits to get a new nose, while two laps later, Josef Newgarden made a strategy call and flipped to primary “black” tires after starting on the alternate “reds.”

As Newgarden got his blacks, Saturday’s Race 1 winner Carlos Huertas slowly made his way off the course. Race strategist Darren Crouser told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast that Huertas’ No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda simply “shut off” and also confirmed that Huertas was done for the day. It’s the Colombian rookie’s first DNF of the season.

Around 10 or so laps later, more drivers began to trickle into the pits including Scott Dixon on Lap 21. But two laps later, Dixon came back to the pits with possible brake problems on the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

It bears noting that Pagenaud suffered brake issues in yesterday’s Race 1. In his case, they involved large temperature splits between the rotors keeping him from using the brakes effectively in the wet.

On Lap 29, Graham Rahal came out of the pits ahead of Mikhail Aleshin, who ended up going into the back of Rahal’s car as they headed for Turn 3. Aleshin sustained front wing damage and needed to pit, but a short time later, Rahal came in too – not for the contact, but because of shifting problems.

Meanwhile, Castroneves and Pagenaud pitted together on Lap 32 and maintained their top two positions. But running third after the cycle of stops was Will Power, who made steady progress from 18th on the grid in his opening stint before his stop at Lap 30.

The race finally saw its first yellow at Lap 42 when Carlos Munoz slid at Turn 10 and slapped the outside wall. Munoz, who finished third in yesterday’s Race 1, eventually came to a stop with apparent suspension damage to the right-rear of his car.

At the halfway point (Lap 45 of 90), your Top 5 is Castroneves, Pagenaud, Power, Sebastien Bourdais in fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya (second in Race 1) in fifth. Out of the Top 5 at this juncture of the race, only Bourdais is running with the softer “red” tires.

INDYCAR: Honda Indy GP of Alabama postponed until Monday due to rain

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After two red-flag race stoppages due to rain, hydroplaning and several on-track incidents, Sunday’s INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama has been postponed until Monday.

The race will resume at 11:30 a.m. ET at the 2.3-mile permanent road course of Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. The race was stopped at Lap 22 Sunday afternoon. It had originally been scheduled for 90 laps, then was cut to two hours, and efforts had been made to hopefully get at least one full hour of racing in.

All of those efforts failed due to Mother Nature. It’s expected that the race will resume somewhere around Lap 25 on Monday after two pace laps.

However, there’s more bad news: Rain is also in the forecast for Monday in the Birmingham area.

Josef Newgarden, who is the defending winner, also started the race after capturing the pole during qualifying on Saturday.

Newgarden is scored as the race leader, followed by St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe, Zach Veach, Robert Wickens, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and Ed Jones.

Restarting eleventh though 20th on Monday will be Jordan King, Spencer Pigot, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, Max Chilton, Rene Binder, Matheus Leist, Gabby Chaves and Tony Kanaan.

Rounding out the rest of the field are Zachary Claman DeMelo, Will Power and Charlie Kimball.

INCIDENTS:

* The race began under rain and it never stopped. Marco Andretti experienced the first incident when he spun into the grass on the last turn on Lap 3 but was able to get back underway.

* Rookie Matheus Leist had difficulty getting started, missed the pace laps and didn’t get onto the track until just before the green flag dropped.

* Gabby Chaves had to pit just nine laps into the race because his helmet visor was fogging up. He also took fuel at the time.

* Charlie Kimball spun in the final turn and made contact with the fence, causing suspension damage. It brought out a full-course yellow caution and Kimball had to be towed to the pits.

Kimball told NBCSN that Ed Jones got into the back of his car and forced him into grass and wall.

“I was just going through the corner and he ran into the back of me, and apparently the (race) stewards reviewed it and no action taken,” Kimball said of Jones. “I vehemently disagree with that.

“When you’re driving a race, especially in the wet, you have to be conscious of what the other cars are. Yeah, it’s hard to see, but at the same time that’s just a dumb move. He’s not a rookie anymore. He needs to not be making rookie mistakes like that.”

* On the restart on Lap 17, Josef Newgarden spun but was able to regain control. Not so lucky was his Penske Racing teammate, Will Power, who spun and hit the inside retaining wall, ending his day.

“I couldn’t see a thing,” Power said. “It was just hydroplaning out of control. I just can’t believe they went green on that, how bad it was and so much standing water.

“Very disappointing, but to me, very dangerous. I kept telling Roger (Penske), ‘I can’t see a thing ahead of me.’ It’s the last thing we needed. Very disappointing.”

* The race was stopped under red flag conditions on Lap 19 because there was so much puddling on the track.

* During the 37-minute red flag stoppage, Graham Rahal gave his perspective on how bad the conditions were to NBCSN:

“I’ve raced a long time and the lack of visibility today is the worst I’ve ever seen, by far,” Rahal said. “The underwing on this new car is pretty powerful and it’s just throwing water absolutely everywhere.

“We just have to figure it out. It’s not ideal right now, we need to get some of this flooding out of here, but so far I think the Firestone rain tires have done a good job and the car seems to be happy. You just have to keep it safe. I’m not kidding you: on the front straight, I can’t see my own nose cone.”

* Zachary Claman DeMelo was assessed a two-lap penalty for unapproved repairs on his car during the red-flag stoppage.

* During caution on Lap 23, Tony Kanaan had an issue getting up a hill, slipping his tires, potentially with his gearbox. After stopping, he finally got going and took his car to the pits for service.

* Ditto for Graham Rahal, who also lost a couple of positions when he spun before what was supposed to be the restart, only to see the red flag come out for a second time.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* The start of the race was moved up a half-hour from its originally scheduled start time of 3:38 p.m. ET.

* Actor Channing Tatum was grand marshal and gave the command to start engines.

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