PEAK Indy 300
Castroneves Climbs Wingman
by Esteban Morales
September 7, 2008
Scott Dixon came even closer than last year to collecting a win at Chicagoland Speedway. Though Dixon still has not finished atop the podium at Chicagoland he was relieved to walk away with the championship after losing it on the final lap in 2007. Before race officials determined that Helio Castroneves was the winner, Dixon took his helmet off in victory lane and uttered “what” after hearing the track announcer mention Castroneves. The finish was so close, 0.0033 of a second, that Dixon was not sure he won the race. Moments after a subdued celebration in Victory Lane, Dixon was informed that he finished second while Castroneves found the closest thing he could climb, his teammate.
Though Castroneves missed out on his first championship, Roger Penske’s veteran driver accomplished an impressive feat. After dipping below the white line several times during his qualifying attempt, Castroneves was sent to the back of the 28-car grid. In a bid for his first title, Castroneves charged to the front as soon as the green flag dropped. By the second lap Castroneves passed seven cars. He improved to 13th by lap 10 and cracked the top ten on lap 20. At the front, his teammate Ryan Briscoe led ahead of Dixon who was 3rd. Castroneves settled in 10th until Ed Carpenter had a mechanical failure that sent him into the second turn retaining wall and ignited his car. Carpenter walked away from the accident before Briscoe and the field made their first pit stops under yellow. Tony Kanaan emerged ahead of Dixon and Briscoe while Castroneves improved to 8th on the grid.
After the restart Castroneves continued his charge and quickly dispatched A.J. Foyt IV and Vitor Meira. Castroneves caught the lead pack and took advantage of lapped traffic to pass Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon for 4th. Castroneves stalked his championship rival for a number of laps and took third on lap 66. Behind the leaders Vitor Meira’s race and three-year stint with Panther Racing closed when a failure in the right-rear sent his Dallara into the first turn’s SAFER Barrier; Dan Wheldon will take over Meira’s ride while Dario Franchitti will return as Dixon’s teammate in 2009.
Following pit stops Castroneves climbed to the top of the standings with Briscoe as his wingman. Within a few laps Wheldon joined the leaders and forced the Penske cars into a three-wide battle. While Castroneves and Wheldon traded the lead, Scott Dixon began to make Castroneves’s championship odds more realistic as he fell through the field. When the third and fourth yellows of the race fell, Dixon stabilized himself in 8th after the penultimate set of pit stops. With the championship on the line Dixon turned up the wick and joined the top five. During the final set of stops Dixon improved three positions and exited in the lead. With a handful of points-paying laps to go Dixon protected the inside line and forced Castroneves to challenge on the outside. On the final lap Castroneves set Dixon up for a front straight shootout and carried enough momentum out of the final turn to collect his second victory of the year. After being denied one year ago on the final lap, Dixon collected his second championship of his career five years after earning his first.