Scott Dixon’s runner-up streak at Barber snapped with 3rd-place showing

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Well…at least it wasn’t second place, again.

Prior to Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon had finished second in each of the series’ four races at Barber Motorsports Park outside Birmingham.

Dixon finally broke that streak Sunday, but not in the way he wanted to. Instead of moving up to the top step of the podium, he took a step down it by finishing third behind the Andretti Autosport duo of winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti.

The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver felt he had a fairly smooth race but that tire wear proved a factor in his inability to keep up with the two Americans at the front.

“Our biggest trouble [Sunday] was burning up the front tires, whether it was the wet tires or the Firestone reds,” Dixon said. “We seemed to lose rotation after about six or eight laps. Huge credit to Team Target – we made most of our positions up in the pit stops.”

Dixon was still able to turn in the fastest lap of the race, a 1:09.2995 on Lap 54 (three laps after his final stop of the day on Lap 51), despite the issue.

But the tire matter wasn’t the only thing that bothered him about Sunday. He had a particular gripe with Helio Castroneves for what he saw as jumping a restart during the event.

“I think there was the second restart or third restart where Helio jumped the start, which seems to be typical of him, which is frustrating because he doesn’t seem to get a penalty for it,” he said.

Castroneves would finish 19th after a rough race that included him being penalized for pulling into Justin Wilson’s pit stall during a round of stops under yellow on Lap 22.

Dixon also didn’t care much for the decision to go to a timed race. Due to a weather delay of several hours, the race was shortened to one hour, 40 minutes; instead of the originally scheduled 90 laps, the race wound up going 69 laps.

“I think it changes strategy a lot and you’re constantly chasing that window,” he said. “Then ultimately, you finish on a caution, too, which is also a bit of a bummer for the fans. In the future, hopefully, we can find a way around that.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”