Helio happy as new IndyCar points leader

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Third-place finisher Helio Castroneves couldn’t hold off Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon in the final stages of today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but in the big picture, he was still a winner as he moved into first place in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings.

After dropping four positions in a frenzied opening lap of the race, Castroneves and his No. 3 Team Penske crew opted to change their strategy. The Brazilian pitted relatively early on Lap 18, but rose up to third position when the other leaders made their first stops roughly ten laps later. He would stay up front for the rest of the afternoon through stops at Laps 42 and 67, and paced 25 laps before Hunter-Reay got to the inside of him on Lap 76 and grabbed the point for good coming out of Turn 5.

“That was a shame on the start, but when we changed to Plan B, we just decided to go for it,” Castroneves said. “It paid off and it wasn’t a win but for us, for the championship, it is good and right now, we just have to keep going. We need to keep going and you have to put yourself out there…and that is what we just did today.”

Not helping Castroneves in his bid to stay at P1 was the fact that he was running the Firestone primary blacks during his final stint, while Hunter-Reay and Dixon ended their races on the alternate reds. Castroneves felt it was an unavoidable consequence of his team’s strategy decision.

“That’s the price we paid,” he told NBC Sports Network after the race.

INDYCAR: Newgarden, Sato quickest in first of 2 Friday practices at Road America

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Josef Newgarden was quickest in the first of Friday’s two INDYCAR practice sessions at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion covered the 4.048-mile, 14-turn course with a best lap of 1:43.0477, followed by Takuma Sato (1:43.4729), Alexander Rossi (1:43.5603), Robert Wickens (1:43.5774) and Marco Andretti (1:43.8825).

Sixth-quickest was Tony Kanaan (1:44.0429), followed by Spencer Pigot (1:44.1080), Zach Veach (1:44.1306), Scott Dixon (1:44.1643) and Matheius Leist (1:44.2963).

Alfonso Celis Jr., making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut and with Juncos Racing, was 22nd quickest in the 23-car field at 1:44.9164, while Gabby Chaves was the slowest driver on the course at 1:46.4485.

While there were no significant incidents during the 45-minute session, a number of drivers struggled in several turns, primarily due to some lingering puddles from overnight rain, as well as on rumble strips that threw their cars into adjacent grass areas.

The second practice session today takes place at 4:15 p.m. ET.

A third practice kicks off Saturday’s busy day at Noon ET, followed by qualifying at 4 p.m. ET, the second round of qualifying at 4:40 p.m. ET and the third and final round of qualifying at 5 p.m. ET.

The weekend’s main event, Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, takes the green flag shortly after 1 p.m. ET. Make sure to tune in to NBCSN for the live telecast of the race.

We’ll have the full practice grid and driver quotes shortly. Please check back soon.

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