Team Penske's long national nightmare has finally ended as Helio Castroneves scored the victory in Saturday's Firestone 550k at Texas Motor Speedway.
A Roger Penske driver hadn't gone to victory lane in nine races dating back to last season and was kept out of the top spot for the first seven races of this season. They appeared to be in a slump despite Castroneves entering the weekend as the co-championship leader with Marco Andretti.
But Castroneves needed a win and got it.
He first took the lead on lap 97 and dominated the remaining 131 laps and broke away to a massive lead in a race decided by tire management. The victory snaps the virtual tie Castroneves had in the championship with Andretti and allowed the Brazilian to leave Texas with a 22-point lead.
When considering that Penske teammate Will Power sat on the pole and ran second for most of the night, the Firestone 550 was a declaration that Team Penske should not be counted out this season.
"Jonathan (Diuguid, engineer) did a great job, the Chevy guys did a great job because we were able not only to manage the tires, manage the fuel and it was setup," Castroneves said. "We were just doing a lot of homework and it paid off. Thank God it paid off."
Castroneves blistered the field, winning the race by 4.6919-seconds over defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
With Penske finally breaking through, this gives IndyCar six different teams to score a victory this season and seven different winners in eight races - by far the most competitive season of recent memory. With the field so tight, it takes running a perfect race to win this season, and that's what Castroneves did according to his team owner.
"Helio drove a flawless race and a key victory in our season based on where we were in the standings," team owner Roger Penske said. "It probably was the best execution we've had in a long time. Helio now leads the points and that's critical as we are in this stretch of oval races. It will be a slugfest, but I like our position right now."
It was the 28th Indy car victory for Castroneves -- the first on an oval since 2010 at Twin Ring Motegi -- breaking a tie with Johnny Rutherford for 12th. Scott Dixon and Rick Mears are up next with 29 wins.
The IndyCar Series will continue its summer stretch of ovals next week but this time at historic Milwaukee Mile on Sunday, June 16. Hunter-Reay is the defending race winner.
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