Pit Miscue Leads To Castroneves Win At Kentucky

Sparta, KY – Helio Castroneves was optimistic Saturday night that things would work out after a mid-race pit stop went awry during the Kentucky 300 Indy Racing League race at Kentucky Speedway. His optimism lasted to the end and rewarded him with a surprising victory over several somewhat stronger foes.

“We were running well at that point. We weren’t the fastest car. All of a sudden we had a chance to try something. We were kind of forced to I guess,” noted the eventual winner of the IRL’s historic 200th event. “We didn’t have much to lose.”

What changed the team’s strategy was a miscommunication that caused Castroneves to delay leaving the pits on lap 89, putting him well behind the leaders. “We made our first stop and there was a question of whether the right rear wheel was on. The crew chief didn’t think it was on. Someone was telling me to ‘go, go, go,’ and the guy in front of me said to stay. I think we lost about ten spots, “said the three-time Indy 500 winner, who was then called back to the pits three laps later to top off the ethanol in his Team Penske mount- just enough to put him on a different pit schedule than the leaders -a schedule that frustrated the strongest cars in the chase, Panther Racing’s Ed Carpenter and Dan Wheldon.

Carpenter, who had won his first career pole, fell to 12th in the early laps, but fought back to run near the front after a pit stop. “We made a big wing adjustment on our first stop because I was loose, really loose early on. It took the rest of the race to work back to the front group,” said Carpenter, whose Vision Racing team folded early in the year, but merged with Panther Racing for four oval races where Carpenter is strongest . “We had the best car in the race, but best cars don’t always win. I guess I’m a little bummed out, even though we managed to finish second two years in a row.”

Wheldon, who was equally frustrated after finishing third and leading the most laps, is rumored to be leaving Panther after this season. “I hope someone was watching tonight. I want to stay in Indy Car. I’ve got to find a job for next year.”

After the final round of stops around lap155, it became apparent that the extra gulp of fuel that Castroneves took back on lap 92 might make a difference. “We slowly started to make up ground on the leaders as we got close to the end, especially when it began to look like they weren’t going to make it without a late stop. Tim (crew chief Cindric) started telling me to make a certain (mileage) number that I didn’t think we could do, but he told me that we had nothing to lose. It definitely payed off”, said the eventual winner. “For awhile we were running 206-207MPH instead of 216; hoping to hang on. When the car is set up to run fast, it really affects the car’s balance to run slower. It’s harder to drive slower than faster.”

“In 2008 we ran out of fuel here on the last lap and I didn’t want that to happen again,” said Castroneves who was relieved to see leader after leader dive to the pits for fuel, giving him the lead on lap 197. “Man, I was happy to see them pit. I slowed way down at that point, but had enough at the end to celebrate a little.

“Our hope for the championship is probably gone, but we need to support Will (Power) now.” For Penske teammate Power, he saw his points lead over challenger Dario Franchitti shrink to 17 points with two races remaining. But an incident after Power’s final stop almost cost him the IZOD Indy Car points lead.

“I had an under steer when I was back in traffic. I pitted as the leader, but after a lap I hit some oil in turn three from a previous incident and pushed up straight toward the wall. I was close to hitting it,” said Power, who went on to finish eighth. “We still have the lead and onward we go.”

So for the eventual winner, it became a matter of trust. Would the team’s fuel strategy work out? Would slowing down to have a chance pay off? Or would a late-race caution allow everyone to pit and spoil their plan? “Thank God the yellow didn’t come out there at the end. Tim told me that if it did come out, that we’d deal with it.”

Fortunately, they didn’t have to.

Kentucky Indy 300
Results Saturday of the Kentucky Indy 300 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.48-mile Kentucky Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (8) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
2. (1) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
3. (3) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
4. (26) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
5. (11) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
6. (15) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
7. (4) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
8. (2) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
9. (17) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
10. (6) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
11. (16) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
12. (23) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
13. (18) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
14. (10) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
15. (13) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
16. (20) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
17. (5) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
18. (7) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
19. (24) Milka Duno, Dallara-Honda, 195, Running
20. (25) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 195, Running
21. (27) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 174, Mechanical
22. (21) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Honda, 134, Mechanical
23. (12) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 79, Contact
24. (9) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 79, Contact
25. (19) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 78, Contact
26. (22) E.J. Viso, Dallara-Honda, 45, Mechanical
27. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 0, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 174.402
Time of Race: 01:41:50.0059
Margin of victory: 13.1597 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 23 laps
Lead changes: 11 among 7 races
Lap Leaders: Carpenter 1-10, Wheldon 11-53, Power 54-55, Briscoe 56, Tracy 57-60, Power 61 – 141, Wheldon 142-143, Dixon 144, Castroneves 145-147, Wheldon 148 – 195, Carpenter 196, Castroneves 197-200.

Point Standings: Power 552, Franchitti 535, Dixon 469, Castroneves 448, Briscoe 418, Hunter-Reay 404, Kanaan 392, Andretti 347, Wheldon 346, Wilson 335.

Share Button