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Castroneves ends as IndyCar’s top-scoring driver on ovals in 2017

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With his future in the Verizon IndyCar Series uncertain beyond 2017, it’s worth noting Helio Castroneves remains on top of his game and statistics help bare that out.

In his 20th season, Castroneves ended this year as the top-scoring driver in the six oval races this year, with a fourth place finish in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Granted, the result could have been better as he led 52 laps but then made a key mistake on a pit stop, the car going into neutral and needing to get restarted. Castroneves was deflated post-race.

Still, his Iowa win broke a three-plus year winless drought, and with other top-10 finishes of fourth (Phoenix and Gateway), second (Indianapolis 500) and seventh (Pocono) in four of the other five oval races ensured he scored the most points – 252 – in these six races. He crashed at Texas, which was his only finish outside the top-seven.

Will Power had led the oval points going into Gateway, but spun out once the race eventually started following a pre-race delay. Prior to Gateway, he had the Pocono and Texas wins, a second-place at Phoenix and a fourth in Iowa. He scored 232 points on ovals, which offset his only 86 points scored in the five street course races this year – just 14th in the field.

Josef Newgarden’s Gateway win vaulted him from 14th in oval points scored up to seventh with 198. A tough Indianapolis 500 result along with issues at both Phoenix and Texas helped hamper the oval totals for the overall points leader, who was the top-scoring driver on street courses.

The fourth member of Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud, wore the consistency crown with his Phoenix win and four other oval top-10 finishes – third at Gateway and Texas, fourth in Pocono and seventh at Iowa – to end fourth in oval points scored with 226, one behind Tony Kanaan in third.

Kanaan finished sixth, fifth, second, ninth and fifth in the five prior oval races prior to Gateway, when his pre-race spin sent him backwards for the rest of the night. Like his Brazilian countryman Castroneves, Kanaan still remains an oval ace at this level.

Castroneves, Power, Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato scored poles on the six oval races this year. Team Penske and Chevrolet locked out the short oval poles at Phoenix, Iowa and Gateway – Power going last in qualifying at Iowa and Gateway to secure his two poles – while Dixon, Kimball and Sato gave Honda the three poles on the ovals 1.5 miles or greater.

Sato and Dixon were the fifth and sixth highest scoring drivers on ovals this season, Sato’s numbers aided considerably by the 137 points he scored by winning the double-points Indianapolis 500. Outside of that win, the likable driver finished 10th or worse in each of the five other oval races.

Behind Newgarden, Alexander Rossi was a more consistent top finishing driver on ovals, even though he only had the eighth highest point total. A third at Pocono was his best result, with other top-10s coming at Gateway (sixth) and Indianapolis (seventh).

Ed Carpenter Racing teammates JR Hildebrand and Ed Carpenter ended the year ninth and 10th among oval scorers, even despite both cars failing to finish Saturday night in Gateway with heavy accidents.

The oval points tallies for the year are below.

# Driver 4 6 9 11 14 15 T
3 Castroneves C 34 96 10 53 26 33 252
12 Power C 41 41 53 34 51 12 232
10 Kanaan H 28 91 41 22 31 14 227
1 Pagenaud C 53 43 35 27 32 36 226
26 Sato H 14 137 20 14 18 11 214
9 Dixon H 30 53 23 24 31 40 201
2 Newgarden C 23 34 18 29 41 53 198
98 Rossi H 15 91 8 19 36 28 197
21 Hildebrand C 35 61 18 41 12 12 179
20 Carpenter C 26 79 19 18 18 9 169
15 Rahal H 9 57 32 30 23 18 169
19 Jones H 19 93 13 12 13 17 167
27 Andretti H 12 76 28 14 20 16 166
8 Chilton H 10 86 25 17 12 14 164
28 Hunter-Reay H 17 35 11 35 25 15 138
14 Munoz C 20 50 12 10 20 22 134
5 Hinchcliffe H 18 33 16 20 11 24 122
83 Kimball H 24 29 11 16 14 26 120
4 Daly C 16 18 26 11 16 30 117
88 Chaves C 53 30 15 98
7 Aleshin H 13 55 15 9 92
22 Montoya C 73 73
7 Saavedra H 33 9 19 61
29 Alonso H 47 47
16 Servia H 40 40
63 Mann H 32 32
18 Bourdais H 11 21 32
11 Pigot C 29 29
18 Gutierrez H 17 8 25
77 Howard H 24 24
24 Karam C 23 23
18 Davison H 21 21
50 Harvey H 17 17
18 Vautier H 15 15
44 B.Lazier C 14 14
40 Veach C 12 12

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.