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Castroneves ends as IndyCar’s top-scoring driver on ovals in 2017

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With his future in the Verizon IndyCar Series uncertain beyond 2017, it’s worth noting Helio Castroneves remains on top of his game and statistics help bare that out.

In his 20th season, Castroneves ended this year as the top-scoring driver in the six oval races this year, with a fourth place finish in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Granted, the result could have been better as he led 52 laps but then made a key mistake on a pit stop, the car going into neutral and needing to get restarted. Castroneves was deflated post-race.

Still, his Iowa win broke a three-plus year winless drought, and with other top-10 finishes of fourth (Phoenix and Gateway), second (Indianapolis 500) and seventh (Pocono) in four of the other five oval races ensured he scored the most points – 252 – in these six races. He crashed at Texas, which was his only finish outside the top-seven.

Will Power had led the oval points going into Gateway, but spun out once the race eventually started following a pre-race delay. Prior to Gateway, he had the Pocono and Texas wins, a second-place at Phoenix and a fourth in Iowa. He scored 232 points on ovals, which offset his only 86 points scored in the five street course races this year – just 14th in the field.

Josef Newgarden’s Gateway win vaulted him from 14th in oval points scored up to seventh with 198. A tough Indianapolis 500 result along with issues at both Phoenix and Texas helped hamper the oval totals for the overall points leader, who was the top-scoring driver on street courses.

The fourth member of Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud, wore the consistency crown with his Phoenix win and four other oval top-10 finishes – third at Gateway and Texas, fourth in Pocono and seventh at Iowa – to end fourth in oval points scored with 226, one behind Tony Kanaan in third.

Kanaan finished sixth, fifth, second, ninth and fifth in the five prior oval races prior to Gateway, when his pre-race spin sent him backwards for the rest of the night. Like his Brazilian countryman Castroneves, Kanaan still remains an oval ace at this level.

Castroneves, Power, Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato scored poles on the six oval races this year. Team Penske and Chevrolet locked out the short oval poles at Phoenix, Iowa and Gateway – Power going last in qualifying at Iowa and Gateway to secure his two poles – while Dixon, Kimball and Sato gave Honda the three poles on the ovals 1.5 miles or greater.

Sato and Dixon were the fifth and sixth highest scoring drivers on ovals this season, Sato’s numbers aided considerably by the 137 points he scored by winning the double-points Indianapolis 500. Outside of that win, the likable driver finished 10th or worse in each of the five other oval races.

Behind Newgarden, Alexander Rossi was a more consistent top finishing driver on ovals, even though he only had the eighth highest point total. A third at Pocono was his best result, with other top-10s coming at Gateway (sixth) and Indianapolis (seventh).

Ed Carpenter Racing teammates JR Hildebrand and Ed Carpenter ended the year ninth and 10th among oval scorers, even despite both cars failing to finish Saturday night in Gateway with heavy accidents.

The oval points tallies for the year are below.

# Driver 4 6 9 11 14 15 T
3 Castroneves C 34 96 10 53 26 33 252
12 Power C 41 41 53 34 51 12 232
10 Kanaan H 28 91 41 22 31 14 227
1 Pagenaud C 53 43 35 27 32 36 226
26 Sato H 14 137 20 14 18 11 214
9 Dixon H 30 53 23 24 31 40 201
2 Newgarden C 23 34 18 29 41 53 198
98 Rossi H 15 91 8 19 36 28 197
21 Hildebrand C 35 61 18 41 12 12 179
20 Carpenter C 26 79 19 18 18 9 169
15 Rahal H 9 57 32 30 23 18 169
19 Jones H 19 93 13 12 13 17 167
27 Andretti H 12 76 28 14 20 16 166
8 Chilton H 10 86 25 17 12 14 164
28 Hunter-Reay H 17 35 11 35 25 15 138
14 Munoz C 20 50 12 10 20 22 134
5 Hinchcliffe H 18 33 16 20 11 24 122
83 Kimball H 24 29 11 16 14 26 120
4 Daly C 16 18 26 11 16 30 117
88 Chaves C 53 30 15 98
7 Aleshin H 13 55 15 9 92
22 Montoya C 73 73
7 Saavedra H 33 9 19 61
29 Alonso H 47 47
16 Servia H 40 40
63 Mann H 32 32
18 Bourdais H 11 21 32
11 Pigot C 29 29
18 Gutierrez H 17 8 25
77 Howard H 24 24
24 Karam C 23 23
18 Davison H 21 21
50 Harvey H 17 17
18 Vautier H 15 15
44 B.Lazier C 14 14
40 Veach C 12 12

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).