SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It could have been an awkward conversation, the one between Helio Castroneves and Roger Penske on the victory podium after Castroneves won the 105th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
After all, a year after buying the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Penske told Castroneves his services were no longer needed as a Team Penske driver, three wins under that flag in the Indy 500 aside.
Castroneves latched on with Meyer Shank Racing, as small a team as Team Penske is large, as a part-timer, and drove his Dallara-Honda to the front for the final time with eight turns to go in racing’s signature showcase.
That conversation was all smiles. Penske was among the first to shake Castroneves’ hand and give him a hug after a 20-minute victory commune with drivers Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power, Jack Harvey and Josef Newgarden, plus the largely-maskless 130,000 spectators. Most of them screamed themselves hoarse in the final 15 laps, when it was clear the shootout between Castroneves and Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing would decide the race.
On his 12th attempt, Castroneves became the fourth driver to win four Indy 500s with a move reminiscent of how Rick Mears became the third driver to win four 30 years ago. Castroneves stalked Palou down the front straightaway as the 199th lap began, having reeled in Palou. The 46-year-old Brazilian darted to the outside at the end of the straight, stayed there, used his momentum and a good deal of guile to pass Palou, and pulled away. In 1991, Mears passed Michael Andretti in the same spot in the same fashion and never looked back.
To Castroneves, who joined Mears, Al Unser Sr. and A.J. Foyt Jr. in racing’s most elite club, this was vindication that he still had it.
“Tom Brady won a [seventh] Super Bowl, and I won here,” Castroneves said. “I never gave up. Never give up your dreams! Believe it!
“It’s not the end of it, it’s the beginning.”
Castroneves led only 20 of the 200 laps, but the veteran, whose first three wins came for Penske in 2001, 2002 and 2009, knew the 500 really began with 100 miles to go.
“From the beginning we were confident,” Castroneves said. “I knew the car was good. But this is incredible.”
That it is. Castroneves, the first part-timer to win the 500 since Dan Wheldon in 2011, isn’t scheduled to run again for Meyer Shank this year, but Penske, who also owns the IndyCar series, might be able to persuade Meyer Shank to have the winner of the crown jewel join regular Jack Harvey for a few more races. The winner of the 500 always sells tickets, and the thunderous reception accorded Castroneves during and after his victory, including hundreds mimicking his trademark fence climb, shows he’s the people’s choice.
“Meyer Shank gave me the tools,” Castroneves said.
Palou was beaten to the finish line by 0.4928 seconds, with Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske third, just more than a half-second behind. With only 18 caution laps – none for crashes as a result of a miscue on the track – Castroneves got to the finish line with a record speed of 190.690 mph.
The only full-fledged accident came on Lap 119, when the poorly-seated left-rear wheel of Graham Rahal’s car fell off, sending him into a spin in Turn 2. He was uninjured. The only other caution was for Stefan Wilson, who spun entering the pit lane and smacked the outside pit wall because of cold brakes. He was more embarrassed than anything else.
Will Power had a bad day, spinning in pit lane, collecting a penalty for speeding in pit lane on another occasion, had other pit issues and finished 30th, three laps bad.
Pole sitter Scott Dixon’s engine stalled on his first pit stop, and that set him back a lap. He made it up but finished 17th.
Dixon, with six poles, has tasted the winner’s milk only once. Castroneves has gulped it four times now, and also has finished second three times. A runner-up placing would have left a sour taste Sunday, compared to the sweet taste of whole milk with the crowd bellowing in adulation.
Said Castroneves, who still climbs fences with the best of them, “I think I’ve still got it!”
No yellows ruins Jones’ bold strategy
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing, which is based in Plainfield, made six near-perfect pit stops Sunday. Jones and race strategist Jimmy Vasser thought his fifth one, with 39 laps to go in the 105th Indianapolis 500, could bring him to victory.
After all, everyone else would have to pit after Jones, and there’s always a yellow in the last 20 laps or so, right?
Almost always. The final 76 laps of this 500 were under green.
Jones, who had run as high as third when he was pitting later than most others, now needed a little luck. Vasser was on the radio, calling out the fuel-mileage numbers Ross Bunnell had calculated Jones would need to hit.
“We’re going to need a little bit of yellow to make this work,” Vasser radioed Jones with 22 laps remaining. “We’ve got a 3.80 [miles-per-gallon] fuel target. Go to Map 8 [on the fuel mixture] and see if you can stay with the pack. If not. Go to Map 6.”
Six laps later, Jones heard this: “We’ve got a 4.47 fuel target.”
The only way Jones would be able to reach that would be by coasting downhill, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is pancake-flat. He finally had to come in for a splash of fuel with a few laps to go, while Helio Castroneves and Alex Palou were dicing for the win.
Jones ended up 28th in his SealMaster-sponsored Dallara-Honda, a lap down because of the sixth and final stop.
That was three places behind Pietro Fittipaldi, Coyne’s other driver. The 24-year-old rookie from Brazil ran hard all day in what he called “a strong car” before the race, but Coyne, a master at working alternate strategies, wasn’t able to pull that card out of the deck with a race having only two caution periods. All he could do was encourage his young charge to keep charging.
“Your pace is good, your line is good, stay on it,” Coyne said 40 laps in.
Fittipaldi did, but couldn’t break out of the pack and ended up 25th in his Dallara-Honda.
Around the Speedway
A.J. Foyt, the 500′s first four-time winner, lauded Helio Castroneves’ fourth title. “He deserved it. He worked hard to get it, and he finally got it. It wasn’t handed to him,” Foyt said. … There were 35 lead changes among 13 drivers, the most since a similar number of swaps in 2017. The record is 68. … After a rain-delayed final practice, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky all race. … A record 30 of 33 cars were running at the finish, which astonished Speedway historian emeritus Donald Davidson. “This race has attrition,” Davidson said. “Cars drop out.” This year, only Stefan Wilson, Graham Rahal and Simona de Silvestro did.