NEWTON, Iowa – Helio Castroneves snapped a 54-race Verizon IndyCar Series winless drought on Sunday afternoon with a victory during the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway.
At 42, Castroneves knows most of his racing accomplishments are in his rear-view mirror instead of in front of him. As speculation ran rampant over the weekend that this may be his final full-time season in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Team Penske moving him over to an IMSA sports car program with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, it would have been easy for Castroneves to become distracted by all the noise.
Instead, he delivered with a race reminiscent of days gone by. It was Castroneves at his finest as he led four times for 217 laps en route to victory at Iowa Speedway. He defeated J.R. Hildebrand of Ed Carpenter Racing by 3.9647 seconds to score the 30th IndyCar Series win of his career.
By leading 217 laps, he passed Al Unser for fourth on the all-time laps led list and has a total of 5,947.
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner is the ninth different winner in 11 Verizon IndyCar Series races. His last win prior to Sunday was June 1, 2014 when he won the second race in the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.
“That was great,” Castroneves said. “I can’t thank enough Team Penske, Hitachi, Chevy car group and all our partners, and especially the people in the shop. They don’t get much credit, but without their work and effort, we wouldn’t be able to do what we did.
“It’s a great team effort because we came here, we tried a lot of different setups between all four cars, and man, I picked the winner one, so it was really good. The car felt really good, and it was just great.”
Castroneves believes he missed the setup a little bit at the beginning, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from taking the lead on lap 20 when he passed teammate Will Power.
From that point on, Castroneves determined the tempo of the race and instead of faltering toward the end, his car continued to get better.
That allowed him to climb the fence for the 30th time in his career.
“It was a long time, but you can never stop believing, and my team never stopped supporting me on that, and today was great,” the race winner said. “Everything went great. We didn’t have a yellow at the wrong time, we didn’t have issues with the tire or anything else or mechanical. Everything was really, really good, and when you have a day like this, you’ve got to execute.”
It was also the first IndyCar Series win for Team Penske at Iowa Speedway. Sunday’s race was the 11th time the Verizon IndyCar Series competed at the seven-eighths mile short oval.
“I have to say we’ve always been very quick here,” Castroneves said. “We’ve got a lot of pole positions as a team, and the rhythm has always been there. Unfortunately, as I said, last year, for example, we pitted at the wrong time and a yellow came in and we were two laps down.
“This time the car was really good. We learned our lesson. We focused on something that we knew that we’ve got to work on it, which was able to maintain the life of the tire, and that was it. So, it wasn’t any particular small thing that we always had, and finally we were able to put it together.”
Castroneves had a three-second lead over teammate Will Power when he pitted with 48 laps remaining. The team put on four fresh tires and fuel in a stop that lasted eight seconds. Power was the leader when he pitted on lap 256 and that put another Team Penske driver, Josef Newgarden, in the lead. One lap later, he pitted and Simon Pagenaud was in front.
By the time the pit stop sequence was complete it was Hildebrand in front, but scored in second because Marco Andretti had yet to make his final pit stop. Castroneves tried to use the slower car driven by Charlie Kimball to set a pick to pass Hildebrand, but couldn’t pull off the move.
Castroneves finally got around both Hildebrand and Andretti at the start/finish line on lap 268. The move turned out to be the race-winning pass.