Once Hunter-Reay got past Castroneves for the lead he still had to contend with the hard-charging Dixon, who has finished second each of the four years he has raced here.
“I’m going to go buy a bridesmaid’s dress tonight and party pretty hard,” Dixon said. “It’s frustrating.”
“Better than third,” quipped Castroneves.
“Last year we made our own mistake to not win the race,” Dixon continued. “But it’s still good points. I think we’re second in the championship. I think Helio is leading. It’s good at the minute.
“You know, it would really be nice to win at this place sometime.”
Charlie Kimball finished fourth for team owner Chip Ganassi to give Honda two cars in the top four.
A.J. Allmendinger drove in his first IZOD IndyCar Series race and finished 19th after running in the top 10 much of the day. Allmendinger stalled the car on his final pit stop on lap 64 while he was running in the top 10.
“All in all today was a good day in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevy and there are a lot of positives to take out of it,” Allmendinger said. “We had a good start and I thought I was pacing myself well, we could have had a top-10 day without the couple breaks against us. It was a good day with a bad stall and unfortunately after that point we were saving fuel so it made it tough to make up ground. But I know that I can compete with these guys and look forward to getting even better at Long Beach.”
And four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti had another miserable race, dropping out with a broken header. He has finished 25th in each of the first two races this season.
“We had a header problem on the Banana Boat car and that led to some electrical issues that took out the clutch,” Franchitti said. “The guys worked real hard to get the car back together. Tough day for us.”
While the tide appears to have turned for Franchitti, Hunter-Reay delivered with a championship performance after a struck throttle foiled his race at St. Petersburg two weeks ago. He continues to compete at a high level and predicts even better things to come.
“I felt like coming into Barber this was going to be the start of our season,” he said. “We had a big hole to dig out of from St. Pete. We had a stuck throttle. We pulled a win. That’s a new feat for us at Andretti Autosport. The guys have done a great job in the off-season. Several times in the off-season I said our biggest weaknesses were the permanent road courses like Barber and Sonoma, and the big super speedways like Texas and Fontana.
“The guys gave me a great car. I had more pressure today than anything bringing a car home that I knew was capable of winning. That was the biggest pressure.”
Champions perform under pressure and that is exactly what the defending series champion did on Sunday.