Meijer Indy 300
Nail in the Coffin
by Esteban Morales
August 9, 2008
When Helio Castroneves climbed out of his Team Penske Dallara after finishing second to points-leader Scott Dixon for the second consecutive race, the Brazilian threw up his arms asking what else he needed to do to finally bag a win this season. Despite his frustration, Castroneves firmly vowed not to “give up until it’s done!” However, with 78 points separating Castroneves from Dixon and only three points-paying events left on the calendar, a title for Castroneves is probably out of the question.
Castroneves had reason to throw his arms up in frustration at the conclusion of the Meijer Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway. After battling an ill-handling car throughout the race, Team Penske placed Castroneves on an alternate fuel strategy. In the closing stages of the race Castroneves kept his car on the track while the rest of the field dropped into the pits for a splash of fuel. With only five laps to go and a 6-second lead separating Castroneves from Dixon, the Team Penske driver looked set to take his first win of the year. Two laps later, however, Castroneves began to ease off the throttle considerably in an attempt to save fuel. On the final lap Castroneves continued to back off and ran out of fuel coming out of the final turn. After losing the title one year ago to Dario Franchitti in similar fashion, Dixon was happy to drive by Castroneves and collected his sixth win of the season. Marco Andretti finished third and earned his fourth podium of the year.
Despite missing out on the podium Vitor Meira drove an outstanding race that saw him finish fourth. Meira started the event on the outside of the front row and was a contender for most of the night. In the early stages of the race Meira split the two Target Chip Ganassi Racing entries and kept Dixon in sight, challenging for the lead on several occasions. By lap 40 Dixon, Meira and Dan Wheldon pulled away considerably from the rest of the field. Five laps later Meira saw an opportunity to take the lead when Dixon was slowed by Enrique Bernoldi’s lapped car. Meira, on the outside, drafted behind Bernoldi and squeezed by Dixon.
Unfortunately Meira’s gutsy drive simply was not enough to overcome superior pit stops by the Ganassi crew. When Meira pitted out of the lead on lap 51 he lost two positions and emerged behind the Ganassi teammates. Meira kept the leaders in sight but lost another position when he made a stop under yellow on lap 84. With the checkered flags nearing, Meira began to make up ground. On lap 146 Meira took third from Tony Kanaan. Meira began to close in on Dixon and Andretti, who were at the head of the pack. Meira bridged the gap while the leaders battled for the lead. A few laps after Andretti took the lead Meira passed Dixon when both cars hit lapped traffic. After clearing Danica Patrick’s lapped car, Meira pressured Andretti who protected the inside line. When the leaders entered the pits for a splash of fuel, Meira’s slower stops saw him drop behind Dixon and Andretti. Meira was unable to make up any positions and finished outside of the podium. Wheldon rounded out the top five after a week of unpleasant speculation that would have seen Tony Kanaan take over his seat in the second Ganassi entry.