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The victory drought is finally over for Helio Castroneves. Now his chase toward a first Verizon #indycar Series championship is in high gear.
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner ended a three-year, 54-race streak without a win by taking the checkered flag today in the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway. In the process, the driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet closed within eight points of the championship lead after 11 of 17 races.
"We've been close (to winning) so many times, and finally luck was on our side," the typically exuberant Castroneves said. "We've been working so hard together, but the Hitachi Chevy was on rails. We had a little bit of an issue in the beginning, but after we set up the car it was great. What a great finish. It's just like the first time."
IOWA CORN 300: Box score
Castroneves led 217 of the 300 laps on the high-speed, 0.894-mile Iowa oval, winning by 3.9647 seconds over JR Hildebrand. As anticipated, Castroneves celebrated the occasion by hopping out his car at the start/finish line after the race and performing his trademark climbing of the catch fence to the delight of Iowa Speedway fans.
It is Castroneves' first triumph since the opener of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader on June 1, 2014. It also gave the 42-year-old Brazilian, celebrating his 20th season in Indy cars, career win No. 30 to move him into sole possession of 12th place on the all-time victory list. Castroneves had been tied with retired Team Penske great Rick Mears, who now serves as Castroneves' spotter on ovals.
"Finally, everything came together," said Castroneves, who also overtook Al Unser for fourth all time in laps led and now has 5,947. "And 30 wins, we just passed Rick Mears, which is my hero. ... I'm honored to be part of this organization, and I can only thank Roger (Penske, team owner), (team president Tim) Cindric and the entire team for supporting me. It's easy to be behind you in good times, but they've always been there no matter the time, so for me that's priceless. I'm going to continue focusing on this season, and there's more to come."
The decisive pass of the race came on Lap 268, when Castroneves darted past Hildebrand and leader Marco Andretti into first place. He steadily pulled away to give Team Penske its 192nd Indy car win - most all time - and its first at Iowa Speedway. Castroneves is the ninth different driver to win a race this season, a list that now includes all four Team Penske drivers.
"To see that run that Helio made all day long, I think he controlled the race," said Penske, who calls Castroneves' race strategy. "We had very good pit stops, you could see that, but you've got to have reliability and you've got to have a guy behind the wheel who knows how to climb the fence."
Hildebrand, in the No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter #racing, equaled his career-best finish first accomplished when he was runner-up at the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Hildebrand was driving the same car that Josef Newgarden raced to victory at Iowa in 2016 for Ed Carpenter #racing.
"It feels good," said Hildebrand, who qualified a career-best second on Saturday and led 38 laps in the race. "I definitely think that, under some slightly different circumstances, we had a car to win out there. The guys made a great call to pit early and get out into the lead at the end and try to hustle all the way.
"I think if we'd been on equal tires with Helio, we'd have had something for him there at the end. But all in all, really excited for the Fuzzy's Vodka crew to get on the podium here again."
Ryan Hunter-Reay, a three-time winner at Iowa, equaled his season-best finish of third place for Andretti Autosport. Pole sitter Will Power led 23 laps before finishing fourth for Team Penske.
Points leader Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi #racing finished eighth and has collected 403 points through 11 races. Team Penske drivers hold the next four positions in the standings, with Castroneves second (395 points), reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud third (372), Power fourth (350) and Newgarden fifth (347).
Three drivers - Mikhail Aleshin, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly - were each eliminated in single-car crashes, though none was injured. The race was also red-flagged for eight minutes after 208 laps for light rain.
The Verizon #indycar Series returns to action July 16 with the Honda Indy Toronto on the streets of Exhibition Place. The race airs live at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance #auto Parts #indycar Radio Network, with an encore presentation at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.
Leist charges to third Indy Lights win
Considering he'd never raced on an oval two months ago, Matheus Leist is taking a liking to the circular tracks. The 19-year-old Brazilian won the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race at Iowa Speedway by 2.9294 seconds over Santi Urrutia to collect his third win in the last four series races. Leist's streak began in the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26, his first oval race.
Today at Iowa, Leist blazed from the 10th starting position to win the 100-lap event in the No. 11 TMA Mazda/Dallara-IL 15 for Carlin, which fielded the winning driver at Iowa for the third straight year.
Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing's Colton Herta won his fourth pole of the season with a new track record two-lap average of 163.670 mph and led the first 31 laps before Leist made the pass for the lead. Leist led the final 69 laps, while Herta faded to finish fourth.
With the win, Leist closed within 13 points of championship leader Kyle Kaiser, who finished fifth in the No. 18 Juncos #racing Mazda.
Askew dominates to win USF2000 race
Oliver Askew drove to a dominant win from the pole position in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda race at Iowa Speedway. Askew led all 60 laps in his first oval race to earn his sixth win of the season.
Pabst #racing teammates Rinus VeeKay and Calvin Ming finished second and third, respectively, to round out the podium. VeeKay now trails championship leader Askew by 34 points with five races remaining this season.
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