Team Penske has bittersweet overall finish in Indianapolis 500

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Even though it had five drivers – just under one-seventh of the 33 cars in the field – Team Penske had a bittersweet overall showing in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

Celebrating its 51st season in motorsports, Team Penske was searching to extend its record 16 wins in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, but came up real short — as well as not so short.

The good aspect was Helio Castroneves finishing a close second to race winner Takuma Sato. Castroneves came so close to winning a fourth time at Indianapolis, which would have tied one of the most elite records in motorsports history shared by A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Instead, Castroneves finished second for the third time in his career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s tough to accept,” Castroneves said. “I did my best. I really pushed it. The guys did a phenomenal job. We drove our heart, no question.

“The good news, sounds like we’re leading the points (he leads teammate Simon Pagenaud — who is also tied with 500 winner Takuma Sato and 500 polesitter Scott Dixon — by a 245 to 234 point margin. Hey, there is always a positive note. I think that it is very positive.

“Yes, finishing second again sucks. So close to get the fourth. I really am trying. I will not give up this dream. I know it’s going to happen.”

Castroneves almost ran head-on into disaster on Lap 53, when Jay Howard and Scott Dixon crashed. Somehow, Castroneves was able to sail under Dixon, whose car went airborne after contact with Howard’s car, and continued on.

“What can I say? My race was pretty adventurous,” Castroneves said with a smile. “We have a lot of things. We started from the back. I knew I had a good balance. Then we went to the front about lap 50, then were in the top 10.

“Unfortunately with the accident with Dixon and (Howard), we broke a winglet and broke the front wing because it went off the track. I don’t know how to be honest. It was a good save, I have to say that. This place brings the best out of me. It was pretty good.”

Sato passed Castroneves for the lead heading into Lap 196. Castroneves rallied to pull even with Sato with three laps to go, but couldn’t complete the pass.

“I tried everything I could with three laps to go, two laps to go,” Castroneves said. “I went outside. Unfortunately my tires were overshot a little bit. I would have ended up in the wall. I thought it was good timing because I would try to make a move again. Man, he just took off and that’s it. That was my last chance.

“Really disappointed for the fans, for obviously my team. They gave me a great car. I did everything I could, trust me, everything I could. Unfortunately, second place is the best for us today.”

Castroneves said he’ll once again go for No. 4 in 2018: “Sorry, next year, then.”

Also having a good day was former 500 champ Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished sixth in a one-off Verizon IndyCar Series start.

“Our Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy was good,” Montoya said. “We had a problem there in the beginning when we ran out of gas in Turn 3. We should have had another half-gallon in the car. It put is in a tough position because we lost a lot of positions there. From there to come back to where we finished was great. We ran 12th or 13th most of the day and then the car was really good at the end of the race. The balance just wasn’t there. Then I told the guys on the last stop, let’s take swing and we did and the car came to life. I would have liked to have had some more laps at the end.”

Defending IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud finished 14th.

“It wasn’t the finish we wanted today for the Menards Chevrolet team,” Pageaud said. “But for the big picture it was a decent day. We’re still in that top group in points as we head to Detroit. That’s a place that suits us pretty well. The (Indianapolis) 500 remains a goal and we’ll take another shot at it next year.”

Then came the bittersweet aspect. Two drivers that many felt would win Sunday – Will Power and the latest addition to Team Penske, Josef Newgarden – were involved in the same wreck late in the race that ended their days.

Newgarden finished 20th, while Power finished 23rd, both collected in a late race wreck.

“It was an OK day,” Newgarden said. “We just got caught up in that wreck there at the end. That hurt us. When we were up front we were good. We seemed to keep racing ourselves toward the front of the field. Then we would just get dropped back by a couple of issues. If we would have been up front the whole time, I think we could have finished in the top five. We performed really well today, things just didn’t go out way.”

Added Power, “I’m not sure what happened out there. All I know that I was sliding backward. It was an up and down day for the Verizon Chevy. We were able to stick our nose in there a few times and we were stuck back in the back other times. Then, we got caught up in that deal at the end that ended our day. We’ll move on to Detroit. The thing about this race is that we get to turn the page pretty quickly.”

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Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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