Helio Castroneves put up as big a fight as he could muster in Saturday night’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway.
But the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion will have to wait another year to claim his first series title.
Starting from the pole position, Castroneves ran with the leaders throughout the night and was among the Top 5 when he prepared for his final pit stop with 34 laps to go.
But after going down on the apron, Castroneves slid up onto the track before coming down again to enter pit road. After his pit stop was completed, Race Control called him for a pit entry violation and forced him to serve a drive-through penalty.
And that was that. Castroneves ended up finishing 14th, and another championship bid went unsuccessful.
He winds up finishing 62 points behind Team Penske teammate Will Power, who won his first IndyCar crown with a ninth-place result.
“I was pushing extremely hard,” he told NBCSN afterwards. “I knew that the only way for us to get in front was through the pits and my in/outs seemed to be working really well except the last one, and I got a drive-through – my bad.”
As usual, however, Castroneves tried to stay positive after finishing runner-up in the series championship for the fourth time in his career. He congratulated Power on a well-deserved title before joking about how he hoped Power won’t raise the lodging rate for him in his house.
“At the end of the day, great season for Team Penske – No. 1, 2 and 4 for Juan Pablo [Montoya],” he said before adding with a laugh: “It’s another second.”
Down 50 points to Power at the start of Saturday’s MAV TV 500, Castroneves knew he had to go all-out in order to have a chance at claiming the Astor Cup.
After leading the opening few laps, he settled in among the Top 5 through the first half of the race. But following a wave of pit stops after the halfway point of the 250-lap event, Castroneves cycled all the way to the lead.
At that juncture, Power was running seventh and his championship lead over Castroneves was down to a single point.
But during a Lap 176 caution stemming from a Ryan Hunter-Reay solo spin, Castroneves was leapfrogged in the pits by eventual race winner Tony Kanaan and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon.
Then, after the restart on Lap 188, Power rocketed past him and both Ganassi drivers to take the lead himself while Castroneves dropped back to fifth.
It all led to the final pit stops of 2014. And it was in that sequence where Castroneves made his costly error.
Asked in the post-race press conference if this latest title near-miss was the most frustrating, Castroneves was reflective.
“It stings a little bit. But that’s what motivates me. It’s good to be frustrated with second,” he said.
For him, the quest to become a series champion continues.