Castroneves flexes muscle in opener

Helio Castroneves is coming off a victory in Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where he became the first three-time winner of that event.

Not only did Castroneves win his first race in more than a year, he took the time to honor the late Dan Wheldon in the driver’s adopted hometown, an emotional moment that touched the crowd and Castroneves.

Castroneves reflects on the emotional triumph and looks ahead to this week’s race at Barber Motorsports Park outside Birmingham, Ala.:

It’s great to wake up and to have had a great day in the office. I woke early Monday morning and was feeling fantastic. It’s been a great way to start the week.

After the race we drove straight home to Miami and got back about 1 o’clock in the morning — and I was still doing some interviews with satellite media. It’s the price of winning a race, but it is fun.

The good news was I was able to have some friends with me who did the driving, so I was able to answer emails and tweet and enjoy having my little girl, as well — I got a lot done on the trip so I could rest a bit Monday.

It’s a great feeling when you come back home and things had just worked out the way you wanted.

A lot of people have been noticing my tribute to Dan Wheldon, but I didn’t know it would cause so much attention. There are a lot of things I wish: I wish he would be here with his family. For me, it’s mostly about the family and knowing how tough it is for his kids and wife.

When I put my head on the pillow Sunday night, I was thinking I must enjoy this moment I’m having with my family.

The next day, my muscles were a little sore, but it was a good sore.

Street courses like St. Petersburg are more physically demanding certainly on the shoulders and the neck, and you lose a lot of water with the heat. For two hours at St. Pete it was kind of like being in a sauna in the car.

So it takes one day to recuperate, start drinking water. And you get to eat anything. Chocolate cake. I love brownies. Cookies, give me anything. You need calories to burn. When you have back-to-back race weekends like we will have — with Barber Motorsports Park coming up this weekend — your body needs something to burn. So I like that I can eat anything for that one day.

With two races in a row, people might think you have to prepare yourself and do exercise. But this is not the time to do exercise. The time to exercise was six months ago in preparation for the season. Now we just have to maintain this preparation — a rest day, then maybe light jogging. I’ll do light weights to get the muscles going and Thursday will be traveling to Alabama and getting in the Team Penske AAA Chevrolet.

Race weekends, I just focus on racing. The preparation is before. I’ve seen some drivers work out in the morning and then practice the car, but I don’t feel like that works for me. If I use my muscles working hard before I go to the racetrack, I feel a little fatigue and don’t want that when I need to go out there and race.

I feel great about Barber for several reasons. It’s difficult to pass and it has high-speed corners that are really fun to drive. One critical change from St. Pete is the track asphalt at Barber; it tends to be very abrasive. So tire management will be extremely important. The front tires tend to go away really fast. And this is also a place where fuel mileage comes in.

I’m glad the first step in St. Pete is over in terms of working with any glitches in the computers or any electronic problems.

I won the first race at Barber in 2010, and last year I finished seventh, so I feel it’s a place that suits me well. But I think it will be a tougher race than in years past.

You know it was crazy this weekend. Tiger Woods won, Fernando Alonso won in Formula One and I won. Someone said, "That was a surprise weekend," but I wanted to respond, "It wasn’t a surprise it was back to normal."

Editor’s Note: Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves will be contributing columns for during the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season. This is the second entry for the fan-favorite Brazilian and Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet driver and it comes as the teams are preparing for the April 1 Honda Grand Prix of Alabama.