IRL: Helio Castroneves wins tight race at Nazareth

IRL: Helio Castroneves wins tight race at Nazareth

Helio Castroneves won today's Firestone Indy 225 at Nazareth Speedway, in a race that had little on-track passing but more than enough excitement. Helio inherited the lead on lap 53 of the 225 lap event when pole sitter and early leader Scott...

Helio Castroneves won today's Firestone Indy 225 at Nazareth Speedway, in a race that had little on-track passing but more than enough excitement. Helio inherited the lead on lap 53 of the 225 lap event when pole sitter and early leader Scott Dixon fell behind with driveline problems. From there, it was a high-speed tightrope walk on a track where it is notoriously difficult to pass - either for position or to clear a backmarker. Helio had two close calls - one when he touched wing-to-wheel while lapping Greg Ray, and the second during a bunch-up in lapped traffic that took out Tony Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter, who were running second and third behind Helio. His toughest time came during the second half of the race, when Sam Hornish relentlessly hounded him. He eventually finished a scant 0.17 seconds ahead of Hornish.

Helio Castroneves.
Photo by Michael Kim.
"This place here," said Helio after scaling the fence, "we've been close so many times. I wanted to win so bad for Marlboro Team Penske. It finally came. It's tough for a driver to have Sam Hornish Jr. behind you. I had a fast car, too. He did a hell of a job, obviously. My team today deserved it so bad. They worked so hard. I'm so happy. That was tough.

"I'll tell you one thing: running IROC helped me a lot today because in IROC you look in the mirror. Today I was pretty much like that, looking in the mirror. It's a lot of things going on. You know, thank God today I have enough experience to be able to be there and save a good position without blocking.

"I think it was a great race. It was very tough. Sam was very, very tough. But I did have a car, too. My car was very, very fast in those moments. Again, this place is very difficult to pass. But, no doubt about it, he was a strong competitor."

Hornish almost had Helio on the 165th lap, but was thwarted when the yellow came out because of debris on the track. "Going down the back straightway," Sam said, "I had a run on the No. 3 car. I didn't have enough to get around him, but it would have been a pretty tough time going around the outside. It is tough racing on this track.

"I had a good run on him twice where I actually got beside him and knew I was going to get the job done. The yellow came out one of those times…I thought that I had him, and then the yellow came out, and I thought 'Oh man, that was my chance.' (But) that is part of racing.

"I was pushing it pretty hard. This is a tough track to get around. It's one of the ones I like to come to because, you know, being able to drive it on the edge a little bit helps you out sometimes. As long as you keep it under control!"

Bryan Herta put in a solid run for third place, without the thrills of the top two. "For me," he said, "the race was pretty uneventful. You know, the only real problem I had was on the start. For some reason my engine was misfiring. I lost three spots in the first lap. From then on, I tried, but I really didn't have the ability to pass too many cars. The second part of the race, I was just running by myself. The top three guys at that time ran away, and I was pulling away from everybody behind me.

"I definitely didn't have the speed that Sam and Helio had, and Dixon, too. I think we were sort of a second tier in terms of speed. But it's a great result."

Pole sitter Scott Dixon appeared to be the class of the field for the first 50 laps, until he fell back with driveline problems. He was, however, saved from real trouble by his teammate Tomas Scheckter. Running behind Scott under yellow after the first round of pit stops, Tomas saw smoke coming from the rear of Scott's car. He radioed the team. Scott was brought back into the pits, where a CV joint was found to be bad. The team repaired the damage, then sent Scott out - albeit laps behind - to gather championship points.

The race was slowed by caution four times, twice for wall contact. On Lap 120, Tony Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter, running second and third at the time, touched when the lead pack bunched up as they dealt with a lapped car. Both made contact with the outside wall in Turn 2.

"When you race close to each other, sometimes that happens," Kanaan said. "I really don't know what happened, because someone hit me from behind. Helio was trying to pass Kenny (Brack), and we were all slowed down to try and get into the corner. It looks like Tomas didn't see me and hit me from the back. It's a tough break, because we really need the points. That's just racing."

Scheckter said "People are trying to get a better exit by slamming on the brakes as the enter the corner. You don't get a run on them going into the corner and everybody slams on the brakes. I had nowhere to go."

Both drivers were checked and released from the infield medical center, and have been cleared to drive.

On lap 210 Alex Barron's car bottomed out in Turn 4, causing him to spin 180 degrees and contact the outside wall. Alex was checked and released, and has been cleared to drive.

Gil de Ferran gained from the losses of the fallen, winding up in fourth place and salvaging an otherwise bad day. "This is one of the most difficult races I've had," Gil said. "We were really having problems with the car being loose. I was just kind of hanging in there, and suddenly we benefited from the misfortune of Dixon and Kanaan, but that is the way it goes sometimes. We'll take the fourth place and go home and try again the next day."

Back in the pack, finishing in eleventh place, A.J. Foyt IV had a productive day. "We had a real good day for Team Conseco," Foyt said. "Starting so far back, I got a lap down quick, but the car was decent all day. We lost fifth gear about three-fourths of the way through, so I had to run in sixth. I wish it happened earlier, because I liked not having to worry about shifting."

"I thought he did a good job," A.J. Foyt Jr. said of his grandson. "He kept his nose clean and was able to finish on a tough track. I'm proud of him."

Sarah Fisher, who contacted the wall during final practice yesterday, did not start today's race. This afternoon she was discharged from Lehigh Valley Hospital with a severe back contusion. She will be evaluated on a daily basis for clearance to drive.

Today's victory clinched the IndyCar Series Manufacturer's Championship for Toyota. This is Toyota's tenth victory in thirteen races this season.

With his win, Helio Castroneves took command of the IndyCar Series driver's championship, with 429 points. Teammate Gil de Ferran is in second place, with 404 points. Tony Kanaan, who entered the weekend on top, fell back to third place with 397 points.

The IndyCar Series moves on to Chicagoland Speedway on September 7th, for the Delphi Indy 300. That race will be telecast live on ABC at 1:00 p.m. EDT.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , A.J. Foyt IV , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , A.J. Foyt Jr. , Sam Hornish Jr. , Sam Hornis , Michael Kim
Teams Team Penske