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Castroneves' fairy tale return ends at Toronto

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After he was acquitted of tax evasion charges, Helio Castroneves made a dramatic entrance into the 2009 IndyCar Series championship race to the cheers of many. But after his wreck with Paul Tracy during Sunday's Honda Indy Toronto, he may have exited the title fight to the jeers of many. It's hard to tell exactly who was at fault for the incident on Lap 66. Tracy put himself in position to pass on the inside of Turn 3, and Castroneves appeared to give him enough room. But in the tight confines of the Streets of Toronto circuit, both cars locked wheels and Tracy got crunched into the inside wall. Castroneves came back to pit road with terminal suspension and front end damage. Maybe Castroneves could have given Tracy more room to work with. Maybe Tracy should have backed off and tried to gather it up for a pass attempt later on. It all didn't matter to the Canadian fans. With their minds decided on who was at fault, the crowd rained down boos on the Brazilian when he returned to pit road. "I thought I had given (Tracy) enough room to get by, but we got together and that was it," Castroneves said. "It's too bad. If there's one guy that I didn't want that to happen with, it's PT, especially here in Canada." Everything seemed primed for Tracy to rip into his rival, but he didn't oblige. "It was just one of those things," Tracy said. But the Canadian did bring up something that can't be disputed: As far as he and Castroneves were concerned, they had very differing motivations. "You've got to look at the big picture," he said. "I've got nothing to lose, I'm here to win, and he's racing for a points title. He was going to have to pit anyway, because he wasn't going to make it 10 laps further than anyone without more fuel. I don't think (the crash) was intentional, but you know you've got to pick your battles." In terms of the championship, Castroneves may have picked the wrong battle. His Richmond crash knocked him back a bit in the points and a fourth-place finish at Watkins Glen did nothing for him with championship contenders Ryan Briscoe (his teammate) finishing second and third. Sunday's crash relegated him to an 18th-place finish and now, as the series takes a two-week breather before hitting the Edmonton airport course, he stands fourth in the points, 78 markers — nearly a race and a half's worth — off of Dario Franchitti, who took over the lead in the standings with his Toronto victory. Dixon's comments about Richmond potentially being "a pivotal point of the season" are coming true, and Toronto may have been the breaking point. Briscoe, 13 points behind in third, remains in contention to bring a title home to Penske, but Castroneves now faces a major challenge in his quest to win the series championship that has eluded him throughout his otherwise stellar career. He didn't give up hope on Sunday even as the fans booed him with fervor after his incident with their hero. "I feel bad for the fans," he said. "They were great, and I still love Toronto. Team Penske will be back, and hopefully we can turn things around and get a good result in Edmonton." He'll need more than hope to get back in this hunt.

Part-time drivers put up strong runs

Despite the way Sunday's race ended for Tracy, he made a strong case for why he deserves a full-time shot in 2010. The Canadian driver started 15th but charged all the way to second by the time he had his first pit stop on Lap 32. Tracy was running second again when he made his second stop on Lap 56. But two laps later, the caution came out for an incident involving Graham Rahal and Ed Carpenter just after race winner Dario Franchitti had committed to pit road. Tracy then had to give up second place when he was told that Franchitti beat him to the blend line coming out of pit road. The decision stunned Tracy, who then had his race-ending incident with Castroneves on Lap 66. "I'm baffled that we weren't the theoretical leader on the track," Tracy said. "I passed Dario (Franchitti) while he was in the pit lane, and they reversed the position. I've never seen that happen in all my days of racing where you beat a guy out on the track while he's still in the pit and you change positions." Franchitti admitted afterwards that the decision to place him back in second "definitely helped." Another victim of the Rahal-Carpenter yellow was Alex Tagliani, who led 21 laps on the day. Unable to make his stop immediately due to the pits being closed, the Quebec native had to wait until they were open. When he came out of pit road, he had lost a ton of position to drivers that had already stopped. Stuck mid-pack with his chances of victory gone, Tagliani tried to get by Tomas Scheckter at Turn 3 on Lap 75. But the attempt failed and the two cars hit each other, sending Scheckter into the tire barriers. The incident also involved Mario Moraes, who would later trash his car in a bizarre post-race incident on the backstretch with E.J. Viso. Tagliani and Moraes continued on, while Scheckter could do nothing but throw his gloves at the Canadian when he came back around Turn 3. "Just uncalled for," Scheckter said. "People racing with no brains." As for Tagliani, he wound up ninth. "It's very unfortunate to dominate like this in a race and lose it by a 'pits are closed' rule," Tagliani said. "It's a little bit disappointing, but what can I say? We were kind of the victim of our own performance." But third-place finisher Will Power was anything but a victim. He proved to be the top part-timer of them all at Toronto. After a touch with Graham Rahal at the start caused a flat tire on his No. 12 Team Penske entry, Power was at the end of the lead lap. But a yellow on Lap 8 saved him, and the Australian began the climb back to the front. He had a partner for said climb — teammate and eventual runner-up Ryan Briscoe, who also suffered a cut tire in the opening lap. "(My day) was similar to Ryan actually," Power said. "I cut my tire right at the start. Graham Rahal's front wing got into it. We went to the back, almost a lap down. From that point, we ran real hard and had a lot of fun. That's what I call a race." It was Power's second podium finish on a street course this season (Long Beach, second) and a great start to his additional five-race deal with Penske. Power will drive for the team in two weeks at Edmonton, followed by Kentucky and Sonoma in August and the season finale in October at Homestead-Miami.
Tagged: Dario Franchitti, Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy, Mario Moraes

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