BY JIM MILLER WEEKLY INDYCAR WRITER
After three years and 54 races Helio Castroneves (Team Penske/Chevrolet) ended his victory drought in commanding fashion by leading 217 of 300 laps winning the Iowa Corn 300 on Sunday at Iowa Speedway. And in keeping with his tradition, the 42-year old “Spiderman” jumped out his car along the front stretch to climb the fence in sheer jubilation.
“We’ve been close so many times and luck was finally on our side. This is like I’m winning for the first time”, exclaimed an emotional Castroneves.
This wasn’t his first win obviously, it was the 30th of his career. And when he says he’s been close, in the past three years he’s had 13 podiums and 8 second place finishes.
Will Power (Team Penske/Chevrolet) started on the pole position, his 4th this season. JR Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing) qualified next to Power in Row 1. The Iowa Speedway track is a short 0.894-mile oval, and with track temperatures exceeding 125 degrees tire degradation was the factor of the day.
Castroneves, who started in third position, quickly moved past Hildebrand and took the lead from Power on Lap 21 setting the tone that the Penske Chevy duo were the ones to beat.
The first caution came out on Lap 56 when Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda) skidded up into the wall in Turn 2 ending his day and allowing the field to have the first of 4-pit stop strategy.
On Lap 96 Hildebrand slid to the front putting Castroneves and Power in the chase position and also having to fend off Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and others who were advancing in the upper 10 positions.
On Lap 133 Carlos Munoz (A. J. Foyt Enterprises/Chevrolet) moved up taking the high line for better tire wear and scraped the Turn 4 wall damaging his wing. Again the majority of the field pitted, and when the race resumed on Lap 143 it was Castroneves, Power, and Hildebrand still running in the top 3.
Foyt’s bad luck continued on Lap 171 when Conor Daly emulated what his teammate did by slipping up and making contact into the wall putting both Foyt cars in the garage for the remainder of the day.
Again, most of the field took this yellow flag opportunity to pit except for Charlie Kimball (Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda) who stayed out. When the race restarted on Lap 183 his lead was short lived as Castroneves retook the front spot within one lap when Kimball’s worn tires couldn’t keep up.
With spotty rain in areas of the track the 3rd caution of the day came on Lap 198 bunching up the field and bringing some into the pits. On Lap 208 as the wetness increased officials waved the red flag inciting all cars to line up on pit lane.
After a 10 minute stop in the action the race was restarted. Castroneves was up front with Power fighting off a consistently charging Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Honda) and Rahal as others, including points leader Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda), were shifting positions and moving ahead in the pack.
Between Laps 246 and 257 the leaders and likely contenders all pitted for fresh tires which proved to be the difference in the end.
On Lap 268 Castroneves took advantage of Hildebrand being held up by backmarkers and got the lead back into his control to take the closing laps and finish 3.9647 seconds ahead of Hildebrand. Hunter-Reay, a three-time winner at Iowa, claimed third followed by Power and Rahal.
This win was Penske’s first at Iowa in eleven attempts, and now all four of his drivers have checked the victory box this season.
Scott Dixon now has an eight point lead over Castroneves for the championship lead after 11 of 17 races. Castroneves has never won a season championship.
The Verizon IndyCar Series is in action again Sunday, July 16 with the Honda Indy Toronto on the streets of Exhibition Place.