Castroneves increases IndyCar title lead to 49 points over Dixon (VIDEO)

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Championships come through hard work, dedication – and some breaks that wind up going in your favor. Today on the streets of Baltimore, Helio Castroneves certainly got those breaks.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was forced to pit for a new nosecone on Lap 2 after sustaining front wing damage on the opening lap. Then during another stop under yellow at Lap 41, he tagged one of his own crew members as he was coming into his stall, which brought out the black flag for him.

An outbreak of incidents kept him from serving the drive-through penalty under green until shortly after a restart with 15 laps to go. But even despite all of those problems, Castroneves came home with a ninth-place result.

Meanwhile, his two main title rivals found calamity. Scott Dixon finished 19th after a restart incident with Will Power that put him in the frontstretch wall, while Hunter-Reay lost power on his car and was scored 20th.

Thus, with three races remaining in the season, Castroneves’ lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship over Dixon has increased to 49 markers – while Hunter-Reay fell behind both Baltimore race winner Simon Pagenaud and teammate Marco Andretti to fifth in the standings.

“If you guys had said I was going to finish in the Top 10 after the first lap, I’d be like, ‘I’ll take it, give it to me,'” Castroneves told NBCSN after the race. “I’m still dreaming really, really big. We have three races to go and there are still a lot of points left in the game. We’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing.”

Following his run-in with Power, Dixon – who had survived an earlier spin on a prior restart after contact with Graham Rahal – tried talking with an IndyCar official about getting his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda back to pit road so his team could fix the damage.

However, that request was ultimately denied and Dixon was out of the race – the latest problem for the New Zealander after a controversial pit road penalty cost him the win at Sonoma one week ago.

“I was just annoyed that – it’s clearly stated that every time, they’ll bring the car back to the pits unless it’s 10 laps to go,” Dixon said to NBCSN at the time. “We’re fighting for every point at the moment. There’s a little bit of suspension damage, but definitely something we can repair.

“I have no idea why they haven’t brought it back to the pits, but that’s just [INDYCAR Race Director] Beaux [Barfield] making it up as he goes every time and there’s absolutely no consistency. Rahal takes me out, there’s no penalty, and then [Power] slams us in the wall. Man, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.”

For Hunter-Reay, the defending race winner at Baltimore, Sunday was a grind. He fell all the way back to 20th at the end of Lap 1 after he had a problem with the anti-stall mechanism on his No. 1 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.

From there, it was all about trying to come back, and Hunter-Reay did manage to make his way into the Top 10. But just after the halfway point of the race, his battery went dead.

With his car unable to get in neutral, he could not return to pit road for a re-fire and his afternoon came to an end.

“I believe in miracles, but that’s probably what it’s going to take now [to clinch the championship],” said Hunter-Reay, who is now 74 points off Castroneves. “Hard work and fighting hard probably isn’t going to do it from here.”

Steinbrenner brings winning tradition to IndyCar Victory Lane

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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AUSTIN, Texas – Opening Day for the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball is Thursday against the hapless Baltimore Orioles. But the Steinbrenner family can already celebrate a big-time, major league victory in 2019.

George Michael Steinbrenner, IV is the 22-year-old son of Yankees co-owner and co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner. He is the grandson of the legendary Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose fiery tenure at the helm of the Yankees restored the team to the prestige and pride it continues to enjoy as the most successful professional sports franchise in the world.

Steinbrenner, IV, is co-owner of Harding Steinbrenner Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series and the youngest team owner in IndyCar history.

When his grandfather was ruling the Yankees, excellence wasn’t expected; it was demanded. Those are traits that define the Steinbrenner family.

On Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, young Steinbrenner became an IndyCar winner in just his third race in the series in the INDYCAR Classic. It was also historic as his driver, Colton Herta, became the youngest driver in history to win an IndyCar race at race at 18 years, 11 months and 25 days. Graham Rahal was 19 years 3 months and 2 days when he won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2008.

“Break up the Yankees” was a popular battle cry around baseball in the glory days of the boys in pinstripes, from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter and A-Rod.

What makes the latest Steinbrenner winner so stunning, is how quickly it happened.

“We didn’t think this was possible so soon,” Steinbrenner told NBC Sports.com from the team’s pit stand seconds after the checkered flag waved for Herta’s victory. “What a drive by Colton and what a job by the crew. They did everything they could to keep us ahead of the 2 car (Josef Newgarden) all day. Wow, I can’t believe it.”

Steinbrenner has the Yankees in his blood and DNA, but his passion has always been IndyCar racing. He was just 16 when he met then 12-year-old Herta at a Skip Barber race at Lime Rock, Connecticut. The two became friends and joined together to begin their climb to IndyCar.

“I interned at Bryan Herta Rallysport for the 2016 season, learning the top to bottom of how a race team operates during the week and during the weekend,” Steinbrenner recalled. “When Colton and I decided that we’d start this crazy journey together in Indy Lights, being able to partner with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights was huge. They’re a buttoned-down organization, do everything right. To be able to learn from the folks there was a huge jump-start, the perfect jump-start I could have hoped for, for INDYCAR ownership.”

For two years, they joined forces with team owner Michael Andretti in Indy Lights. Andretti helped broker a deal for Steinbrenner and Herta to step up to IndyCar by joining a team owned by Indianapolis paving company owner Mike Harding.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing was announced last summer with tremendous fanfare at Yankee Stadium before a New York Yankees game.

Andretti is still part of the operation as Andretti Technologies supplies engineering and crew support to Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

“None of this would have been possible without Michael Andretti,” Herta said. “I’d like to say thank you to Michael and his team. He elevated us to the top really quick and without them we wouldn’t be here.”

When Steinbrenner announced his goal of taking Herta to the IndyCar, it was a long-term commitment. Herta’s first victory at an 18-year-old could be the start of something great, beginning another winning tradition for the Steinbrenners.

“We’ve had a pretty good start here,” Steinbrenner said. “This is huge, to get this win off our belts. We showed the IndyCar world what we could do.”

Herta qualified fourth and raced his way to third in a race that Will Power dominated. The Team Penske driver led the first 45 laps from the pole while he was pursued by Alexander Rossi.

The two front-runners planned on being the last two drivers in the 24-car field to make their final pit stop.

That plan was foiled, however, when James Hinchcliffe’s Honda ran into the back of Felix Rosenqvist’s Honda, sending it into the barrier in Turn 20. That was the only caution in the 60-lap race. Power and Rossi would go from the top two to 14thand 15thafter making their pit stops.

Power’s race ended on pit lane when a broken half-shaft kept his car from engaging in gear and he went from first to worst in the 24-car field.

That put Herta in the lead under caution. Right behind him was the intimidating sight of the No. 2 Chevrolet driven by Team Penske’s 28-year-old Josef Newgarden, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion and the winner of the 2019 season-opener at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“We knew we got on the right side of the pit strategy and had the pace to stay ahead of two extremely fast guys behind us,” Steinbrenner said. “It was a matter of Colton staying out in front and nursing it home.”

When the green flag waved to restart the race with 10 laps left, the 18-year-old was calm and cool as he was able to get a great restart and pull away from Newgarden.

Back in the pit area, Steinbrenner stood on the timing stand in the pits alongside co-owner Mike Harding and team president and race strategist Brian Barnhart. Because COTA is a 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course, it takes a while to complete a lap. Herta had the fastest lap in the race on Lap 54 and it was 108.9853 seconds.

The long course added to the tension as the 60-lap race neared its conclusion.

Steinbrenner, who bears a resemblance to 1980s actor Fisher Stevens, remained cool on the timing stand.

When Herta’s Honda came out of Turn 20 on the final lap to the checkered flag, Steinbrenner could finally celebrate, pumping his fist in the air.

“I was very concerned,” Steinbrenner admitted. “Most of the guys in the paddock, you are concerned with in a situation like that, especially a former champion. It was nerve-racking.

“Wow. It’s a dream come true.”

Steinbrenner got his first win in IndyCar before the New York Yankees.

“Not too far apart, but a couple of days in front,” Steinbrenner laughed.

For a Steinbrenner, there are always more goals to achieve. Sunday’s first victory is like a “regular season” win to the Yankees. That team’s goal is to win the World Series.

Steinbrenner, IV’s goal is to win the biggest race in the world – the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26.

“I think there’s a pretty big race in May,” Steinbrenner said. “I think for us, that’s the next big goal.

“I grew up with two passions: baseball and racing. I thought my family had one pretty well covered. We’ll go and chase another one.”

When a Steinbrenner sets a goal, don’t bet against it.