Engine failure ends Castroneves' bumpy week
Helio Castroneves' rough week came to a quick end at Kentucky Speedway.
An engine failure 34 laps into Sunday's race caused Castroneves to finish last in the 29-car field. It came on the heels of IndyCar fining the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner $30,000 this week for calling race director Brian Barnhart a ''circus clown'' during a Twitter rant following the Sept. 18 race at Japan.
Castroneves spoke privately with Barnhart at Kentucky Speedway, but declined to discuss what was said between the driver and the embattled IndyCar official.
''I was just telling what I didn't have the chance to talk about (in Japan), giving some reasons of why I expressed my feelings,'' Castroneves said. ''Certainly I was very upset, but nobody ever had a chance to come and talk to me, and that aggravates the situation. In the end, you've got to do what you've got to do and I said what I said.''
Barnhart dropped Castroneves from seventh to 22nd during the race in Japan as penalty for passing under yellow. Castroneves believed he only should have received a one-lap penalty, and because he learned of his punishment after the television broadcast had ended, used his Twitter feed to express his displeasure.
IndyCar chairman Randy Bernard said he had no choice but to fine Castroneves, who is the first driver in series history punished for tweets.
''I am going to stay very supportive of Brian,'' Bernard said. ''He is very passionate, he tries very hard. I would never ask any driver what they think of him. They are paid to race cars and that's what they should do. Brian Barnhart is paid to officiate, and that's what he should do.
''By speaking poorly against him, it's only going to attract a significant fine because the series will not tolerate it.''
A twist to the penalty process this year is Bernard's willingness to allow drivers to work off their fines through appearances on behalf of IndyCar. Castroneves was unsure if he'll pay his fine or do the ''community service,'' but noted he paid the bulk of a $60,000 fine he received last year for an outburst at Edmonton.
''I did not pay the whole thing, but I did pay a large amount - well, it got deducted from me, not that I had a choice,'' he laughed. ''We'll see what happens now. Of course I'll do whatever I need to do. I've moved on and however it works out is going to be between the team, myself and the league.''
KENTUCKY NO MORE?: IndyCar hopes to announce its 2012 schedule later this month during its season finale weekend at Las Vegas. That's a tight window for a deal to be reached to keep Kentucky Speedway on the calendar.
Kentucky has hosted an IndyCar race since 2000, but a lack of a title sponsor in places its future in doubt. Bernard had discussions this weekend with speedway owner Bruton Smith and nothing was resolved.
''We need to know real soon,'' track general manager Mark Simendinger said Sunday. ''It all depends on what we end up with Randy. There's never a deadline, but the longer it goes, the harder it is. We're a speedway, we have a long history with the series, and the series has a great product. It's just a matter of making it work, and a title sponsor would solve a lot of problems.''
Keeping Kentucky on its schedule is important for a series that wants its schedule to be a mix of ovals, street and road course races. There are five ovals - California, Indianapolis, Iowa, Las Vegas and Texas - expected to be on next year's 17-race schedule. But New Hampshire, another Smith-owned track, likely will be off the schedule, as will Milwaukee.
Bernard said he's also ''very close to signing a deal'' on a street race in China.
INDY LIGHTS: Stefan Wilson picked up his first victory on an oval Sunday when he won the Firestone Indy Lights race at Kentucky, and Josef Newgarden picked up the series championship simply by starting the race.
Newgarden finished second in the race and paid tribute to Chris Griffis, the team manager at Sam Schmidt Motorsports who passed away suddenly last month.
''It's a big day for the Sam Schmidt Motorsports team, but it's very bittersweet for us given everything that has happened over the last few weeks,'' Newgarden said. ''It's going to be difficult to celebrate this without Chris. It certainly gave us a lot of motivation to come here and finish it right for him.''
Jorge Goncalvez, Brandon Wagner and Bryan Clauson rounded out the top five. Duarte Ferreira finished sixth and was the only other car running at the finish. Two others dropped out with mechanical problems, and a five-car accident on the first lap knocked those cars out before they completed one circle.
Jacob Wilson, making his series debut, spun on the start and collected the four other cars.
''It just stepped around on me,'' Jacob Wilson said. ''It bobbled over a bump, I went to get back on the throttle and couldn't handle it. I don't want to believe in rookie mistakes because I think we should all be able to handle these cars. I really hate to ruin everyone else's race like that.''