Castroneves Wins Chicagoland; But Dixon Claims the IndyCar Crown
In the second-closest finish in IndyCar Series history, Team Penske's Helio Castroneves did everything he had to do to win the 2008 IndyCar Series Championship -- going from last on the grid to first and leading the most laps for his second victory of the 2008 season Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. But Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon battled him all the way, and Dixon's second-place finish, by just 0.0033 of a second, was still more than enough to claim the drivers' title.
Dixon's second IndyCar title [the first coming in 2003] was the culmination of a season that saw him win a record-tying six times, including the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 in May, and finish out of the top five only three times. Castroneves was equally consistent, but his two victories and record-setting eight second-place results left him 17 points away from what would have been his first IndyCar title.
The exciting duel between Dixon and Castroneves also capped another year of extraordinary reliability for the Honda Indy V-8 engine, as 39 drivers ran a record 229,763 miles of practice, qualifying and racing throughout the 2008 season -- 63,155 miles more than in 2007 -- without a single in-race engine failure.
Starting at the rear of the 28-car field after his qualifying run was disallowed for running below the white line that separates the race track from the apron, Castroneves wasted no time in working his way through the field, gaining 12 positions in the first six laps and reaching the top 10 by the first round of pit stops on Lap 39. He moved into the lead for the first time on Lap 78, becoming the third of six different race leaders on the day.
The middle stages of the 200-lap event saw a continuation of the pack racing that has become a trademark of IndyCar events at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway. In addition to Castroneves and Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe and Dan Wheldon all took turns at the front of what was often a lead pack of a dozen or more cars, and by pitting out of sequence, Milka Duno led five laps for the first time in her IndyCar career.
When Graham Rahal brushed the wall on Lap 190 to bring out the last of seven caution flags, it set up the thrilling finish. Dixon led when the green flag waved for the final time on Lap 194, with Castroneves second and his Penske teammate, Briscoe, just behind. Over the final six laps, the Team Penske duo worked the draft repeatedly, with Castroneves finally edging past in a photo finish as the checkered flags waved.
Dixon hung on for second -- and the championship -- with Briscoe third. Kanaan finished fourth for Andretti Green Racing to lock down third place in the final standings. Almost unnoticed behind the leaders, Will Power put on a thrilling charge of his own in the final laps, passing Ryan Hunter-Reay and a spinning A.J. Foyt IV to claim fifth. Darren Manning, up from 23rd on the starting grid, and Marco Andretti also made their way past Hunter-Reay in the last-lap action to finish seventh and eighth, respectively. Hunter-Reay held on for ninth, with a late green-flag pit stop relegating Danica Patrick to an unrepresentative 10th-place finish after she had run in the lead pack for much of the race.
Although ongoing electronic issues ended Andretti Green Racing's Hideki Mutoh's race on Lap 177, he still wins the Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year award for 2008, edging Newman Haas Lanigan Racing's Justin Wilson, who finished 11th today, by four points.
Helio Castroneves (#3 Team Penske Honda) Started 28th, finished 1st, 2nd victory of 2008, finished second in IndyCar Series drivers' championship: "That was an amazing race, it was like 200 laps of qualifying. My teammate Ryan [Briscoe] was back there, helping me all he could. We did absolutely everything we had to do [to win the championship] but it just wasn't enough. My team, they did such an incredible job all season long, I think they're the best in racing. 'Well done' to the Ganassi team. But now we're looking forward to 2009."
Scott Dixon (#9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 2nd, finished 2nd for his second IndyCar Series championship: "When we came across the [finish] line, I had no idea who won, it was just so close. We still won the championship, and that's what we came here to do. What a great day for everyone at Team Target, and for all the hard work they put in all year long. I think this [championship] is even sweeter than my first [in 2003]. I still can't believe it."
Erik Berkman (President, Honda Performance Development) on today's race: "What an awesome finish. I was so impressed by the driving skills on display today. It was such a hard-fought contest, but everyone raced clean as well. We loved it. Congratulations to Scott Dixon and the Target Chip Ganassi organization on a well-earned championship; and equal congratulations to all of our associates at Honda Performance Development and technical partner Ilmor for their incredible job this season. They can take justifiable pride in the effort put forth this year, and the results in supplying engines with equal performance and amazing reliability. We're really looking forward to continued growth in the IndyCar Series in 2009."