Helio Castroneves is once again in familiar territory, once again seeking a result that’s so far been unfamiliar to him.
The story doesn’t need to be explained anymore, at least at length: Castroneves, the man who’s won the Indianapolis 500 three times, beaten the IRS in court, and enjoys a proper degree of mainstream recognition (if more so because America loves televised ballroom dancing), is still searching for that series championship.
He’s had his chances. Several, in fact. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s getting another one on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway (9 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra).
Despite being down 51 points going into the season-ending MAV TV 500, Castroneves can still swipe the title away from Team Penske teammate Will Power as this race, along with the other 500-mile races in IndyCar, features double points.
Like last year, though – when he entered ACS down 25 points to eventual champion Scott Dixon after a disastrous Houston doubleheader – Castroneves is not in control of his own destiny.
The last three races have made sure of that. A pre-race throttle issue relegated Castroneves to a 19th-place finish at Mid-Ohio and forced him to give up the points lead to Power.
That was followed by an 11th-place showing at Milwaukee. And then, last weekend at Sonoma, he finished 18th after being caught in a multi-car incident just two turns into the race.
If not for Power’s own mid-race spin, Castroneves’ bid for the championship may have withered like grapes on the vine in California’s wine country.
“I have to say that it’s been unusual,” he said on Wednesday. “The Mid‑Ohio race, obviously outside our control; the Milwaukee race, we’re still trying to understand why we didn’t have the performance the same as Will and Juan Pablo [Montoya]; and last weekend…Right at the start of the race, having [Sebastien] Bourdais throwing a strike right at the beginning.
“So that frustrates you, but you can’t just let those bits bite you. We’ve just got to move on, and we still have one more race, which is double points and 500 miles, so anything can happen. We’re looking for the best result.”
The best result has been what their boss, Roger Penske, has been searching for since 2006, when Sam Hornish Jr. brought him his last IndyCar Series championship.
Andretti Autosport (2007, 2012) and Chip Ganassi Racing (2008-2011, 2013) have since reigned at the top of North America’s premier open-wheel series.
But it would appear that on Saturday night,“The Captain” will finally claim the Astor Cup (yes, Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports can also win the title, but only if he wins the MAV TV 500 and gets a lot of help).
The question is who’s going to give it to him: Castroneves or Power?
Castroneves obviously wants that honor. But, ever the good soldier, he understands the bigger picture.
From his perspective, Team Penske had three big goals this year: Winning the Indy 500 (natch), winning at Detroit (the race that Penske helped revive a few years ago), and winning the championship.
Castroneves was narrowly denied at Indy by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Then Power and Castroneves swept the two Detroit races. And now, it would seem that one of them is on the cusp of a title.
Two out of three certainly wouldn’t be bad in this case.
“We were able to accomplish Detroit; unfortunately, [we were] very close at the Indy 500, and the championship, we’re super close to making that happen, as well,” Castroneves said.
“…We’re so proud to be part of the organization, whether it’s myself or Will or Juan Pablo. We want to make sure we give this to Roger because he deserves it more than anybody.”
As for himself, Castroneves seems content to let the chips fall where they may. He’s long known that worrying about what he can’t control is folly.
Execution is what it’ll be about for him Saturday night, as he tries to finally end his career-long quest for a championship.