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Sunday, April 29, 2012
Power stays on top of game

By John Oreovicz
ESPN.com

The threat of rain in the forecast never materialized in Sao Paulo on Sunday afternoon.

Neither did any threat to Will Power's dominance of the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300.

Power led 63 of 75 laps under cloudy skies to claim his third IZOD IndyCar Series win in four tries in 2012. It was also his third consecutive victory on the 2.536-mile street course in the heart of Sao Paulo.

The 18th win of Power's career vaulted him a solid 45 points ahead of his Penske Racing teammate Helio Castroneves in the IndyCar Series standings heading into the month of May and the Indianapolis 500.

"Full credit to the Verizon guys, Chevy and Team Penske," Power said in a postrace television interview on NBC Sports Network. "These guys make it possible and we did it -- three for three."

Despite a turbo modification to benefit Honda, Power's win in Brazil also made it four-for-four for Chevrolet in 2012. Castroneves won the season opener in St. Petersburg prior to Power's current three-race win streak.

Will Power
Will Power and his Team Penske mates celebrated their third straight win together Sunday.

After starting from pole position, the Australian only lost the lead in Sao Paulo for brief stretches as a series of midrace full-course cautions allowed Team Penske to commit him to a two-stop strategy.

The messiest IndyCar race of the season featured nearly 20 of the 75 laps run behind the pace car, and a pair of late restarts provided second-place finisher Ryan Hunter-Reay his only opportunities to challenge Power.

RHR pulled outside Power going into that left-right chicane that opens a lap of the Brazilian street course on the final restart, but was not nearly far enough alongside to get his Andretti Autosport car's nose ahead. Hunter-Reay trailed Power by less than a second at the finish.

"That [restart] was the key to winning," Power said in his television interview. "Ryan got a really good jump and I knew I had to go like you wouldn't believe through the first complex of corners because he could get a run on me.

"Ryan's one of the hardest guys you'll ever race," he added. "You know that when you're racing Hunter-Reay that you've got to be on it. He pushes you hard and he never gives up. That was another good race. A great strategy by the team and the boys did a great job on the pit stops."

Hunter-Reay's car seemed equally matched to Power's on pace, but the American was never able to get in position for a pass.

"I really, really challenged him there on the outside [on the final restart]," Hunter-Reay said. "I thought that was my time to do it there on the restart because he was getting such a great exit shot out of so many corners. I knew I had to do it early and jumped it a bit there and tried to get him.

"It was great racing Will. He's really clean and it's a lot of fun."

Hunter-Reay made it a 1-2 for Chevrolet, though the Honda contingent was more competitive across the board in Brazil using a larger turbocharger inlet that was approved last week after a short but tense legal battle.

Takuma Sato finished an excellent third in his Honda-powered entry from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, while four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti had his best race of the season, qualifying on the outside of the front row and finishing fifth.

Sato and Hunter-Reay appeared together on the podium just two weeks after Hunter-Reay spun the Japanese driver out while disputing third place on the last lap at Long Beach.

Sato started 25th in Brazil after not posting a qualifying lap due to an engine change. But for the second race in a row, he drove cleanly and used effective strategy by the RLL team and this time made it to the flag to earn his best career IndyCar finish.

Meanwhile, Franchitti ran with Power in the early stages but was punted into a spin on a Lap 26 restart. That dropped the Scotsman to 22nd place, but using smart strategy and a quick car he was soon back into the top 10.

Franchitti looked set to finish third, but lost positions on each of the last two restarts to Sato and fourth-place finisher (and top Brazilian) Castroneves.

"A much better weekend," Franchitti told the IndyCar Radio Network. "The car was quick. It's an improvement … there was so much more today, but it just didn't work out. Then again, it could have been a lot worse."

Helio Castroneves Just short of the podium, but I'm not sad at all because this fourth place feels like a victory. In my team, Will is incredible and he did a great job dominating the race.

-- Helio Castroneves

Franchitti said he struggled to build heat into his tires during caution periods and nearly spun under yellow prior to the last restart. He moved into the top 10 of the point standings for the first time this year but is 98 points behind Power.

"Unfortunately I got tipped into that spin at the first chicane and that put us back to last, but we did something with the strategy and started fighting our way back through," Franchitti said. "We definitely couldn't get the fuel mileage that the Chevys could get, but I think on pace we were pretty good."

Castroneves was despondent after crashing in practice and qualifying 20th. He credited an outpouring of support from the Brazilian fans and his Twitter followers for inspiring him to fight to a top-5.

Castroneves drove the second half of the race with a damaged front wing on his Penske Logistics car, but it didn't seem to slow him down.

"Just short of the podium, but I'm not sad at all because this fourth place feels like a victory," Castroneves said in an interview with the IndyCar Radio Network.

"In my team, Will is incredible and he did a great job dominating the race."

Fifteen of the 26 starters were involved in some kind of contact, hindering notables including Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan.

Local favorite Rubens Barrichello ran as high as third but ultimately finished 10th.