Helio Castroneves still knows how to climb the frontstretch fence to celebrate a victory at Texas.
And welcome back to Victory Lane, Roger Penske.
Castroneves led the final 132 laps Saturday night for his and Team Penske’s first victory this season, and the fourth of the driver’s career at the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track.
”Texas is awesome. I love this place,” Castroneves said after celebrating by climbing up the fence as he had done in previous victories. ”The car was absolutely on rails.”
Still, this race was different from his victories in the past – 2004, 2006 and 2009 – at a track so often known for drivers getting to go flat-out and side-by-side just about every lap. Different setups and tires have changed that.
”Very, very different, nothing like the previous ones,” Castroneves said. ”Hardly went flat-out. When I took the lead, I was able to go flat-out. Other than that, the entire race was very, very difficult to go flat. … Setup is a big part of it, and I’m very fortunate to have the great guys in my group.”
Former series champion Sam Hornish Jr. was the only other three-time IndyCar winner at Texas. His last came for Penske, who now has eight victories at the track which hosted its 25th IndyCar race.
Castroneves won with an average speed of 177.257 mph and finished 4.7 seconds ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Motorsports. The combined margin of his previous three victories at Texas was 1.0038 seconds.
Hunter-Reay led 35 of 228 laps.
”The drivers had to drive it tonight,” Hunter-Reay said. ”I’ll tell you, that was interesting. That was hard to even get by some of slower traffic. You were just searching everywhere for grip. I had so many catches out there that I thought were going into the wall. It’s going to be tough to go to sleep tonight.”
With six other top-10 finishes in the first seven races, Castroneves entered the night tied with Marco Andretti for the season points lead.
Andretti, who led the first 53 laps after starting on the front row, finished fifth. He dropped to second, 22 points behind Castroneves.
Castroneves took the lead from Andretti, going around him in Turn 3 on lap 96, and stayed there for his 28th career victory. He is the seventh driver to win in eight races this season.
”Running like a Swiss watch,” Castroneves said. ”Everything was smooth.”
Before Oriol Servia spun out right in front of him on lap 113, Castroneves had built a 14-second lead over defending race winner Justin Wilson. Castroneves was able to get around Servia’s car without any issue.
That ended a sequence when Castroneves went 61 laps without a stop before going into the pit during that caution.
”He drove a flawless race.” Penske said. ”I think Helio had probably as good of execution as we’ve had in a long time.”
Only five drivers finished on the lead lap, and they all were in Chevrolets, with Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan third, followed by Ed Carpenter and Andretti. The highest-finishing Honda was Dario Franchitti, just ahead of Castroneves teammate Will Power, the polesitter.
While nothing obscene, a clearly frustrated Andretti motioned with his hand to Sebastien Bourdais while completing a pass less than 70 laps in at Texas.
It was a week earlier in the first race of the Detroit doubleheader that Andretti was the target when Sebastian Saavedra flashed both of his middle fingers after the two made contact on the track. That motion by Saavera was caught on live television, and earned him a $30,000 fine from IndyCar.
Bourdais was placed on probation for the rest of the season for comments made toward officials on pit road after an accident with Power in Sunday’s race in Detroit. Power also was put on probation until the end of the season for throwing his gloves at Bourdais.
Andretti gave up the lead when he pitted after 53 laps. He had led only 38 laps in the first seven races, including 31 at Indianapolis last month. But he got in front for only four more laps at Texas.
Wilson started 20th, but had moved up to fifth within the first 85 laps. He finished 15th, two laps behind Castroneves.
The command for drivers to start their engines was given by Jennifer Simonds and Anna ”Sam” Canaday, teachers who used their bodies to shield kindergarteners when an EF5 tornado made a direct hit on Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., on May 20.
CJ Gillaspie, captain of the West Volunteer Fire Department, which lost five members in a fertilizer plant explosion April 17, waved the green flag as the honorary starter.
Texas was the fourth of five races in a four-week span for IndyCar, which started with the Indianapolis 500 before the doubleheader weekend at Detroit. The series is in Milwaukee next Saturday before only one race the following three weeks.