NEWTON, Iowa -- "Every point counts," Helio Castroneves has contended since finishing second in the season opener nearly three months ago.
So the IZOD IndyCar Series championship points leader will happily accept the nine bonus points for winning the Verizon P1 Award in a 50-lap heat race for the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by DEKALB though he'll start 11th by accepting a grid spot penalty for an unapproved engine change (did not meet 2,000-mile threshold).
He's not the only one moving back on the grid because of unapproved engine change penalties: Scott Dixon, who won Race 1 and finished fifth in Race 3; Takuma Sato, who was second in Race 1; James Jakes, Ana Beatriz and Josef Newgarden.
Castroneves, driving the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske car, led teammate Will Power across the finish line by 3.1480 seconds for his first pole since April 2012 and 38th overall. James Hinchcliffe finished third and Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, who started from the pole at Milwaukee last week, finished fourth.
Those drivers, plus Ed Carpenter, will move up to comprise the first two rows.
Click it: Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by DEKALB qualifying results || Starting lineup
"It was great. Does that mean we don’t have to race tomorrow?" said Castroneves, who is seeking his first series title. "The Hitachi boys did a hell of a job, again, and these points, it’s always good. It’s always crucial when you are fighting for the championship and every point counts.
"We learned a lot today. Tomorrow is obviously a different ballgame. We have more traffic, it’s going to be a little bit hotter. There’s a lot of things going on."
The three 50-lap heat races on the .875-mile oval set the lineup (minus two grid spot penalties) for the 250-lap race broadcast by ABC (2:30 p.m. ET) June 23. It also will be available on IMS Radio Network affiliates, XM/Sirius 211, indycar.com (IMS Radio Network and Timing & Scoring) and the INDYCAR 13 app (in-car cameras, Timing & Scoring, IMS Radio Network). GET THE APP
Race 3 consisted of positions 1 through 6 from single-car qualifying plus the first- and second-place finishers from Races 1 (Dixon and Sato) and 2 (Graham Rahal and Carpenter) to determine the pole winner and the first five rows of the starting grid.
The results of Race 2 determined the odd-numbered positions on the grid, starting with position 11 (Simon Pagenaud, who picked up one bonus point). The results of Race 1 determined the even-numbered positions on the grid, starting with position 12 (Alex Tagliani, who also received one bonus point).
Bonus points -- from nine awarded to the pole winner and decreasing by one to three points for seventh/eighth, two points for ninth/10th and one point for 11th/12th -- were an added attraction for the only oval race using heat races for qualifying.
"I have to make up points on the others so this is a good start," said Power, who caught a glimpse on TV of Team Penske teammate AJ Allmendinger celebrating his NASCAR Nationwide race victory at Road America when he entered the media center for a post-race news conference. “We had a good car. This track is mentally and physically exhausting. It should be fun race.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose victory last year was the middle of three in a row that vaulted him into championship contention, had closed to 16 points of Castroneves in the championship standings following his victory June 15 in the Milwaukee IndyFest. But Hunter-Reay qualified 22nd for the heat races, finished fourth in Race 1 and will start 12th in the race.
"We’ve been sitting on our own thumbs all day," the reigning series champion said. "The No. 1 DHL team will have to regroup because we’re starting buried in the pack. We gave up points today."
Castroneves blistered the Iowa Speedway track record with a lap of 185.687 mph (17.3324 seconds) in single-lap qualifying earlier in the afternoon. Dixon held the single-lap qualifying record of 182.360 mph (17.6468 seconds) set June 23, 2007, in the first IZOD IndyCar Series race at the racetrack. Ryan Briscoe had the fastest lap at 184.005 mph (17.4908) set in the 2008 race.
Jakes' No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing spun and made rear contact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier on Lap 49 of Race 2. He was checked at the infield care center and cleared to drive.
"We struggled on our own and then the balance came to us," said Jakes, who was running fourth. "I could see those three cars coming up pretty quickly. I was a bit optimistic. I don’t think there is too much damage so the guys won’t have to stay too late. It’s disappointing."