IndyCar 2016 driver review: Helio Castroneves

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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series field with third-placed Helio Castroneves, once again in the top-five in points.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 3rd Place, Best Finish 2nd, 2 Poles, 4 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 143 Laps Led, 4.2 Avg. Start, 7.9 Avg. Finish

“Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” quipped Helio Castroneves at the Sonoma season finale. It was accurate once again. The Brazilian secured his 13th career top-five finish in points in 17 seasons – and fifth straight – with Team Penske since joining in 2000, none of them though that elusive P1 he’s craved for so long. Yet that consistency and continued success is what’s kept him at Team Penske and why he remains one of IndyCar’s best all-rounders, even at age 41.

In 16 races, he finished in the top-11 12 times. That included four podiums and eight top-five finishes. He made seven of a possible 10 Firestone Fast Six appearances, tied for third with Scott Dixon and only behind Will Power and Simon Pagenaud in front of him. His 4.2 average grid position was second in the field, only to Pagenaud. And he led 143 laps in eight races, more than Power.

A win went begging in Detroit race two when he was left out too long before a caution period, and that dropped him to one of his season-worst finishes in 14th. Also, for whatever reason, trouble seemed to find him on pit lane. He was in the wrong spot at the wrong time when Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay collided in Indianapolis, and then survived the year’s hairiest looking accident when Alexander Rossi flew over his nose in Pocono after being released. Castroneves was quite thankful and also noted the safety of the cars.

There’s little on merit to write Castroneves out of a seat because he remains as on top of his game now as he was in his title-contending heyday of perhaps the early-to-mid-2000s. Is he is young as Pagenaud or Power? No. Does he remain a consistent week-to-week threat to them? Yes, and that’s why he continues in his position. Once again, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion drove yet another solid season and enters the history books as part of Team Penske’s 1-2-3 finish this season.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.