IndyCar title watch: Call on Dixon allows Castroneves to pad lead

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Will Scott Dixon’s pit road penalty today at Sonoma turn out to have been the deciding factor in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship?

With four events left in the season, Dixon still has time to catch points leader Helio Castroneves (pictured). But he was done no favors after Race Control gave him a drive-through penalty for knocking over two members of Will Power’s team while exiting his stall with 21 laps to go.

Dixon had pitted from the lead with second-place Power right behind him. But thanks to the controversial call, Power went on to win and Dixon had to eventually take a 15th-place finish.

All of this benefited Castroneves, who survived a rock ’em, sock ’em sort of race on the northern California road course to finish seventh and push his edge over Dixon to 39 points (479-440) going into the Grand Prix of Baltimore (Next Sun., 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Brazilian escaped one particularly hazardous situation on the penultimate restart of the day at Lap 70, when he found himself sandwiched by James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti while going up the hill towards Turn 2. Contact was made, but Castroneves was able to hang on and keep going.

Afterwards, he was happy for his Team Penske teammate Power, who earned his first victory of the year.

“I’m happy that Will got his win – he was really aggressive and pushing as hard as he could,” said Castroneves. “He deserved it. I’m happy for him and happy to extend the points lead.

“I can’t believe it. With all that happened to us in the race, I’m extremely satisfied for the Hitachi Team Penske boys. Four more to go. Let’s keep going.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished one spot of Castroneves in sixth, but could have used a stronger result as he tries to keep himself in the championship mix.

He was hampered by an early call to stay out while the rest of the leaders pitted under yellow at Lap 18. Five laps later, he had to pit himself and lost valuable track position.

“It’s part of it; we have to take those gambles right now,” said Hunter-Reay. “We’re not interested in finishing second or third in the championship, and when that’s the case, you have to go for it all…That’s what we did.

“Disappointed – we had a great race car, but couldn’t do much with it back there. We worked our way from last up to sixth, but just ran out of laps.”

For the second race in a row, RHR had to settle for minimal progress on Castroneves. He’s now 62 points behind the three-time Indy 500 winner as the series heads for “Charm City.”

Hunter-Reay’s teammate, Marco Andretti, also didn’t gain much ground despite finishing fourth today; he’s at 70 points off the pace in fourth position.

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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