FORT WORTH, Texas -- The winner of an IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway has gone on to claim the season championship five times. Helio Castroneves hadn't benefited previously, but could his fourth victory on the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval be the ticket to the title he covets?
There's 4½ months and 11 events left, though Castroneves made a strong statement with a 4.6919-second victory over reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in the drama-filled prime time race on ABC. He's the seventh different winner in eight races this season, and the first to win four races at Texas Motor Speedway.
Castroneves, driving the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske car, passed Marco Andretti's No. 25 RC Cola car for Andertti Autosport on Lap 97 and dominated the remaining 131 laps in a competition not marked by fuel mileage but by tire management.
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“Jonathan (Diuguid, engineer) did a great job, the Chevy guys did a great job because we were able not only to manage the tires, manage the fuel and it was setup," Castroneves said. "We were just doing a lot of homework and it paid off. Thank God it paid off."
Consistency has led Castroneves to the top of the championship standings with four top-five finishes in the eighth races heading to the Milwaukee IndyFest on June 15 at the Milwaukee Mile. With bonus points for leading the most laps (132), Castroneves broke a tie with Andretti to move 22 points clear. Andretti, who led 57 laps early, placed fifth. He was 8.4 seconds behind Castroneves with 27 laps left, but had to make a final service stop on Lap 204.
It was the first victory of the season for Team Penske and the sixth different team to hoist a trophy in Victory Circle.
"Helio drove a flawless race and a key victory in our season based on where we were in the standings," team owner Roger Penske said. "It probably was the best execution we've had in a long time. Helio now leads the points and that's critical as we are in this stretch of oval races. It will be a slugfest, but I like our position right now."
It was the 28th Indy car victory for Castroneves -- the first on an oval since 2010 at Twin Ring Motegi -- breaking a tie with Johnny Rutherford for 12th. Scott Dixon and Rick Mears are up next with 29 wins.
Tony Kanaan, who started 13th in the No. 11 Sunoco "Turbo" car, finished third and Ed Carpenter posted his best finish of fourth at the track. Carpenter came through the field after having to pit a second time on Lap 60 to remove a crew member's glove that got stuck in the front-wing assembly.
“I thought we had a shot for a podium finish, but Tony had a lot fresher tires (with 35 laps) at the end," said Carpenter, who started ninth in the No. 20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka car. "We had a couple of miscues in the pits, one with some debris on the front of the car, and I didn’t hear the guys call me in for the stop. Overall, those didn’t hurt us. This place is one of the toughest ovals on the series now. The cars are a handful here. But we’ll take the fourth place and move on to Milwaukee next week.”