TORONTO -- Rain pushed Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto "2 in TO" doubleheader back from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning, and it returned later Sunday in the afternoon to significantly shake up the second Verizon IndyCar Series contest of the day.
A very long day of racing was prolonged by multi-car accidents that blocked the narrow 1.755-mile street course at the start of Race 1 and the end of Race 2, the latter prompting INDYCAR officials to red-flag the event with 4-½ minutes remaining.
Sebastien Bourdais' victory in the dry in Race 1 was a straightforward affair, with the Frenchman leading 58 of the 65 laps to secure his first Indy car victory since November 2007, when he won the swansong race of a five-year tenure in the Champ Car-sanctioned series.
Meanwhile, Race 2 started dry, but a midrace shower caused a series of incidents that brought the action to an end after a predetermined 80-minute time limit, rather than the scheduled 65 laps. It also introduced the element of tire strategy, as drivers and teams tried to determine the perfect time to switch from Firestone rain tires to slicks on a drying track.
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesRace 2 winner Mike Conway, from left, third-place Will Power and second-place Helio Castroneves had time for a selfie on the podium.
It was Mike Conway who called it best, calling for dry tires two laps earlier than the majority of the field. The gutsy move earned Conway and Ed Carpenter Racing their second race win of the year, matching their victorious performance at the Long Beach Grand Prix in April.
Conway had just returned to the track on slicks when Sebastian Saavedra nosed into the Turn 3 tire wall, prompting INDYCAR to throw a late-race red flag for the second time in less than a month. The Englishman then had to sweat out a restart and three more laps as he held off Tony Kanaan for his fourth career IndyCar race win.
"That's Mike," team owner Carpenter said in a television interview, giving Conway credit for making the call for slicks.
"He was out there on the track and said he was ready for dries. We thought it was a bit early, but this one is all down to him."
Despite the victory, Carpenter was not totally pleased with INDYCAR's decision to throw the red flag, a move similar to one made in Houston three weeks ago to allow the race to end under a green flag.
"It worked out for us today, but the question is how many times are you going to go red?" he said. "As competitors, we don't always know what's going on out there."
Conway said the call for dry tires was, well, cut and dried.
"It was really difficult conditions in the wet and we were kind of struggling a bit," he said. "As soon as I saw part of a dry line, I knew it was time to come in and it was a great call.
"From there we just took off and kind of controlled the race," he added. "I was kind of nervous about the red flag but we had Justin behind us [Wilson, one of the last drivers on rain tires] and we were able to close it out."
Kanaan enjoyed his best weekend of the 2014 season, finishing third and second in the two races. He passed Will Power for second with two laps to go and crossed the line 3.542 seconds behind Conway.
Power, meanwhile, executed some nifty damage control by finishing third in Race 2 after a ninth-place finish in Race 1 dropped him 30 points behind IndyCar Series championship leader (and Team Penske teammate) Helio Castroneves.
Castroneves increased his points lead from 9 to 30 by finishing second to Bourdais in Race 1, but he got dropped from eighth to 12th place in the frenetic final three laps after starting Race 2 from pole position.
It was a tough afternoon for the Brazilian, who looked in control of the proceedings until the rain jumbled things up for everyone.
Power's podium finish in Race 2 pulled him back to within 13 points of Castroneves with four races remaining in the season. The three other main championship contenders all suffered through a dismal afternoon in Race 2, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (-70), Simon Pagenaud (-71) and Juan Pablo Montoya (-92) all dropping points to Castroneves.
"I just wasn't willing after yesterday [when Power was lucky the race was delayed to Sunday after he crashed before the green flag] to take a big risk and get caught out again," Power said. "Typical IndyCar race. It throws everything at you and you just have to survive.
"Anytime you gain in the points it's a great day, and the championship is going to be a battle to the end."
Yet Kanaan was but a sitting duck when Hunter-Reay, on fresher tires after a bold strategy call by team owner Michael Andretti, steamed past the Brazilian to pace the final two tours of the Iowa Corn Indy 300.
A jubilant Hunter-Reay crossed the line 0.581 second ahead of Josef Newgarden, with Kanaan a disappointed third.
Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty ImagesRyan Hunter-Reay won for the first time since his Indianapolis 500 triumph in May.
"I have no idea how that happened," said Honda Performance Development public relations boss T.E. McHale with a laugh as he hugged Judy Dominick, his communications counterpart from Chevrolet Racing in the media center after the checkered flag. "We definitely stole one tonight."
Kanaan and Scott Dixon, his Chevrolet-powered teammate at Target/Ganassi Racing, dominated the 300-lap contest. But when Hunter-Reay and several other drivers took advantage of a full-course caution for Juan Pablo Montoya's crash on Lap 281, the scene was set for a dramatic finish to what had been a fairly mundane race.
Kanaan tried in vain to post what would have been just his second race win in four years, but Hunter-Reay quickly sliced through the field from 10th place after the Lap 292 restart. By the 296th lap, he was past Dixon into second, and there was nothing Kanaan could do to slow down Hunter-Reay and his flying Andretti Autosport Honda.
"I've won races like that before and I've lost them," Kanaan said. "It's just hard to take."
While Hunter-Reay got to enjoy the adrenaline rush of Victory Lane after a thrilling late-race pass for the win, what got him there was the pit stop call made by Andretti and engineer Ray Gosselin.
Kanaan said that pitting from the lead during the final yellow would have been "the craziest thing in the world," but those drivers who stopped for tires with 15 laps to go (including Hunter-Reay, Newgarden and fifth-place finisher Ed Carpenter) were in another league in the nine-lap sprint to the finish.
"We stole it today, but I'll take it any way we can get it," Andretti said. "What's really weird is that we talked before the race about if a yellow comes out with 15 laps to go. When it came time to do it I was like, 'Screw it.' What were we going to do, lose three spots? And I knew if we came in a lot would come in behind us -- and you saw what happened."
Newgarden, who matched his IndyCar career-best finish of second place for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, likened the speed difference of having fresh tires for the final sprint to driving in a video game.
"It was almost unfair," he said. "We kept carving up to the top and with five laps to go, I knew this was going to be really good.
"Nice to get a result, finally," he added. "A little unorthodox way to get it, but you have to do whatever it takes. We caught some breaks tonight and it was nice to show something representative of our pace."
The drivers who got freight-trained included incoming points co-leader Will Power, who brushed the wall on Lap 294 and dropped from fourth to 13th. His Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves fared slightly better, holding on to finish eighth to claim sole lead of the IndyCar Series championship with a nine-point cushion over Power.
Hunter-Reay's win moved him up to third in the standings, 32 points behind Castroneves. Simon Pagenaud, who finished 11th Saturday night, is fourth (-50) followed by Montoya (-66).
The 2012 IndyCar Series champion could barely believe his good fortune after a bad run of races. Hunter-Reay had only a pair of top-seven finishes since winning the Indianapolis 500 in May, but his third victory of the 2014 season thrust him back into title contention.
"What a crazy day," he said. "Michael made a pretty bold call to take sticker [tires], but I didn't think we would have enough time with Montoya's car in the wall. All credit to the safety team for getting that cleaned up quickly so we could get back to racing.
"That was unreal and I hope I get to do that sometime in my career again," he added. "Having 10 cars all in front of me, all on used tires, was just a dream. It was a wild last few laps. We made the right call there, and we had a car that could take it."
It was the fifth consecutive victory at Iowa Speedway for Andretti Autosport, and the sixth in eight IndyCar Series races at the 7/8-mile oval.
"We've lost many races that way and to keep the record going here at Iowa was great," Andretti said. "It's such an awesome racetrack and we've got such great luck here.
"It was a day we probably weren't supposed to win but, like I said, we'll take it any way we can get it."
The main excitement before the frantic finish was Montoya's late crash, which resulted after he tried to pull out of an attempted pass on Carpenter.
The Colombian was unimpressed by what he viewed as a block by Carpenter.
"They all preach safe racing but when you try to pass them they're d---------," Montoya fumed in a television interview.
Carpenter denied the move was intentional, and said that he was not aware Montoya was so committed to the inside when he tried to experiment with a lower line.
HOUSTON -- Some semblance of normalcy returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series on Sunday as Simon Pagenaud won his second race of the 2014 season.
But there were still plenty of surprises in store in the second race of the Shell-Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend, as rookies Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth completed the podium. Aleshin filled out the first 1-2 finish in the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as many of the IndyCar Series' top drivers and teams once again struggled in steamy conditions on the slick NRG Park temporary circuit.
AP Photo/David J. PhillipSimon Pagenaud jumped for joy after winning Race 2 at the IndyCar Grand Prix of Houston on Sunday.
"Awesome race!" exclaimed Pagenaud after his fourth career IndyCar race win. "The car was just beautiful -- awesome braking, awesome traction, awesome grip. What else could you ask for as a driver. That's why I was so disappointed yesterday. We had such a fast car this weekend. We regrouped after Detroit and they came up with this package.
"I wish we could have had the race to the end, because it was going to be a great fight with Helio."
Team Penske's Will Power looked set to pull of an amazing feat after working his way from 18th place to third, only for his Dallara's rear suspension to break with just a handful of laps to go. Power finished 10th, but still managed to increase his championship lead over teammate Helio Castroneves because the Brazilian crashed just past half distance when he was dicing with Sebastien Bourdais and eventual winner Pagenaud.
Thanks to Castroneves' travails, Power actually left Houston with the same 39-point advantage he arrived with, despite what was arguably the worst weekend of his nine-year Indy car career. Ryan Hunter-Reay (sixth) is third in the standings, two points behind Castroneves, while Pagenaud's win moved him into the championship contention, 59 points off the lead.
"We were in position for a good day, considering where we qualified," Power said. "We were going to maximize our points and we had a parts malfunction with two laps to go -- the same part that malfunctioned on two other cars at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. We fought really hard all day with nothing to show for it."
Even though the track was dry Sunday, the story of the second Houston race was again the rough-and-tumble racing. Most of the drivers were involved in some kind of contact during the day and there was plenty of blame being passed around.
Hawksworth's third place for Bryan Herta Autosport will be reviewed by INDYCAR officials after seventh-place finisher Juan Pablo Montoya accused the young Englishman of running him off the track three times. Castroneves said he was actually trying to pass Pagenaud when his accident occurred; he moved quickly from the inside to the outside of the track to take the racing line, but found Bourdais' car was already there. Bourdais finished fifth for KVSH Racing.
"Obviously when I'm attacking I can't have my eyes in the back," Castroneves said. "I am frustrated a bit, and upset, because we had a great car."
Saturday's surprise race winner Carlos Huertas finished at the opposite end of the standings Sunday, lasting just two laps before losing drive in his Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Others to struggle Sunday included defending IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who was relegated by brake problems to 18th place in his Target Ganassi Chevrolet, and Graham Rahal, who showed a lot of speed all weekend but was taken out by a gearbox problem.
It's doubtful that any of them could have beaten Pagenaud, who also claimed his first career IndyCar pole position this weekend for the Saturday race. Yet the Frenchman refuses to think ahead about the looming championship battle.
"I haven't had much time to look at the points yet," he said. "You know, it's important to capitalize on a day like today. We didn't do that yesterday [when Pagenaud finished 16th in Race 1]. We had a fast car, and I needed to do what Dixon did last year, win the two races. But unfortunately the conditions didn't work out for me in Race 1. Race 2 it did, so job done.
"I feel like I'm doing a good job," he added. "I feel like I'm very focused on the job here with my team. I feel like we're getting to the level I want to be at, and it's paying off today. Days like today is where I want to be at. This is what I want to do week in and week out. Getting wins is the best motivation factor.
"Now it's about repeating."
The IndyCar Series is back in action in just one week, with the Pocono 500 set for July 6. As with the other 500-mile races on the IndyCar schedule (Indianapolis and Fontana), Pocono will pay double points compared to a normal race like Houston.
HOUSTON -- The only predictable thing about the first race of the Shell-Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend was A.J. Foyt swearing on live television.
I didn't check the Las Vegas odds on rookie Carlos Huertas claiming his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory before the race, but the 23-year-old Colombian surely went off at more than 100 to 1. Yet Huertas took the checkered flag first Saturday afternoon, leading his countryman and hero Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Munoz across the line in a 1-2-3 finish for Colombia as rain played havoc with the usual IndyCar front-runners.
More than half the entries in the 23-car field were involved in some kind of contact on the wet track as what was supposed to be a 90-lap race was quickly changed to a timed race of 1 hour and 50 minutes. Dale Coyne Racing played the strategy perfectly, timing Huertas' final pit stop to perfection to give him track position and enough fuel to make the moving target of the finish.
Huertas eventually completed 80 laps for the win, stretching his final tank of fuel over 39 of those laps.
It almost ended up a DCR 1-2, because Huertas' teammate, Justin Wilson, led until he had to pit for a splash of fuel with less than five minutes remaining.
"Timed races are tricky," observed winning team owner Dale Coyne. "People sometimes forget how to run timed races, and we did it well.
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesIndyCar Series rookie Carlos Huertas after his Houston win: "The team called it perfectly with the fuel, and it's a great day."
"The kid has been improving all year," he added. "We showed when we put a guy in front, he can stay in front."
Did they ever. Any one of a dozen drivers could honestly say he had a shot at the victory Saturday, but Huertas, making just his ninth Indy car start, was the man who triumphed.
He's a product of the European open-wheel ladder system, a former race winner in Formula 3 and Formula Renault 3.5 -- and now IndyCar, as surely the most unexpected victor in the series in at least 10 years.
"For sure, this was always possible," Huertas said in a postrace television interview. "The team did a great job with the strategy. These races are so long here, you always have a chance to win if you do the right things at the right time.
"Today was really tough; I was really struggling," he added. "I had no pace in the first half of the race. But I reminded myself just to stay calm and do what you have to do and I did that. The team called it perfectly with the fuel, and it's a great day."
Montoya looked in position to score the first win of his Indy car comeback, but he didn't have the pace to beat his young countryman.
"I really thought I was only racing Tony [Kanaan] for the win," Montoya said. "There were a couple times I thought I could have passed Huertas, but I decided to save the car and not take chances. And here we are second and he took the win.
"I never thought he could make it to the end and I was only worried about protecting from behind," Montoya added. "They said, 'You better think about passing Huertas,' but by then, the tires were gone."
This race was crazy enough that championship leader Will Power lost just six points of his series lead despite missing the strategy and spinning out on his way to 14th place. His closest challenger, Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, finished ninth and is now 33 points back at the halfway point of the season.
Pole man Simon Pagenaud lost six laps to the leaders when he got swept into three-time series champion Scott Dixon's crash; early leader Takuma Sato was punted off by rookie Mikhail Aleshin; and Graham Rahal and Kanaan looked as though they would be in the fight for the win at the end after Wilson peeled off from the lead in the dying minutes.
But Ryan Briscoe nudged Sebastian Saavedra into a spin, and after a brief full-course caution to restart the KVSH Racing car, fourth-placed Rahal punted third-place runner Kanaan into the wall on the approach to the green flag for what would have been a one-lap sprint to the finish.
After Kanaan's crash, Rahal and Briscoe finished third and fifth on the track under caution, but were handed 30-second time penalties for avoidable contact, dropping them to 11th and 12th place, respectively.
Rahal had the fastest car on the track in the closing laps, but his error on the final restart proved costly.
"Everybody saw there was nobody quicker than us on that racetrack," Rahal said. "I think if it would have ended under green, I would have won that race for sure, and I feel confident saying that. I was getting by a lot of those guys in a hurry. Shoulda, coulda, woulda -- I made a mistake."
Kanaan looked to be on the verge of tears after missing out on a podium finish or a potential victory.
"I gotta be professional, and I'm representing a team and sponsors so I can't do what I really want to do," he said. "What a shame. We fought all the way, all day long. To be taken out like that is stupid. He came to apologize but that still doesn't take the frustration out of me."
The good news for Kanaan and all the other drivers thinking that Saturday's race was one that got away from them: They get to do the same thing all over again on Sunday afternoon.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Will Power didn't win the Firestone Indy 600 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
But he sure had fun trying.
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for Texas Motor SpeedwayWill Power led the most laps Saturday night, but couldn't catch Ed Carpenter at the end.
The Team Penske driver dominated the first half of the race and led nearly two-thirds of the 248-lap contest, but Power lost the lead to Ed Carpenter on the 182nd lap, then made the costly error of speeding in the pits as he entered for his final stop.
A late caution flag gave Power the opportunity to pit for fresh tires, and he used them to carve from sixth to second over the course of the last couple laps. But he was unable to catch owner/driver Carpenter, who scored the third Verizon IndyCar Series race win of his career and the second for his team this year to go along with Mike Conway's victory at Long Beach.
For Power, there was no shame in finishing second to Carpenter, the only driver in the IndyCar Series who came up through a traditional oval racing path of midgets and sprint cars.
Power had started to cut into Carpenter's two-second lead in traffic prior to both drivers making their final stop on Lap 213. That's when Power got popped, the subsequent drive-through penalty dropping him to sixth place, nearly a lap down.
The break that nearly won him the race came on Lap 241, when Takuma Sato suffered the third Honda engine failure of the race.
"Obviously, the penalty hurt, but I was trying to close the gap to Ed so I could try to go for the win," the championship leader said. "The team made a great call to get tires at the end.
"I had so much fun," he added. "That was even more fun than Fontana [where Power won the 2013 IndyCar season finale] -- I just didn't get the bloody win."
That honor went to Carpenter, who simply got stronger and stronger as the race progressed.
"I knew we had a good car," Carpenter said. "We had a good test here back a couple of weeks ago, or a couple of months ago. Whenever it was. I just felt like we left some on the table in qualifying, but it made me extra motivated for tonight.
"We had one bad stint, but the guys just made great adjustments all night," he continued. "The Fuzzy's car was hooked up, and I think we were for sure the car to beat at the end."
Carpenter admitted that the final yellow flag caused him some concern. "I was a little worried," he said. "I knew guys were going to come in. We talked about what we would do in that situation, and we were kind of undecided, but Tim [team manager Broyles] and the boys made the right call.
"Awesome night," he concluded. "I have loved this racetrack for a long time and had a lot of bad luck here. I've really always wanted to win here, so I'm super excited."
Juan Pablo Montoya had the best race of his return to Indy cars in taking third place. The Colombian made an early, out-of-sequence pit stop when Marco Andretti brought out the first of three cautions on the night with a blown engine on just the fifth lap. Montoya was often the fastest car on the track, but he lost a lot of ground on the next-to-last stint.
However, he had moved back into second place before the final yellow. Montoya was bitterly unhappy after the race, claiming Carpenter jumped the last restart for the green-white-checkered finish.
"When you let people jump starts and you let them get away with it, it's impossible," Montoya fumed. "The first thing he did was slow down, which you're not supposed to, and then he went. It was like 200 yards before we're supposed to go.
"I was sure they were going to make a call, and they didn't," added Montoya. "So I was kind of disappointed, and I'm going to go talk to IndyCar now and see what they say."
This year's Texas race was closer to the 2012 contest than last year's strung-out affair, the addition of approximately 300 extra pounds of downforce making the cars able to run closer together but still a handful for the drivers.
"A bit of a struggle. Really loose all night," fifth-place finisher Scott Dixon said.
"I'm proud that we actually held the car on the track instead of putting it in the fence."
DETROIT -- With the eyes of corporate Detroit watching and General Motors CEO Mary Barra on his timing stand, Roger Penske delivered on Sunday.
Penske, the driving force behind the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, saw his drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power score a 1-2 finish in Race 2 of the Dual in Detroit. Team Penske swept the Detroit weekend, as Power won the opening race on Saturday afternoon.
Penske, who was a key figure when Detroit hosted the Super Bowl a few years ago, is one of the city's most important corporate figures. His guests on Sunday included Barra and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesHelio Castroneves was untouchable Sunday at Belle Isle.
Penske Corporation, based in suburban Detroit, revived the Belle Isle race in 2007 and has grown it ever since. Blessed by spectacular sunny weather, the IndyCar twin bill (which also included the Pirelli World Challenge and the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship) drew healthy crowds each day.
"We had three great days and there's no question right now that people see what we have here at Belle Isle," Penske said. "At a race like this, people can come and bring their kids. Seeing all the kids here was the most important thing for me.
"From a racing standpoint, you dream of these kind of weekends -- we won both races and sat on the pole," he added. "I better get out of here in a hurry!"
Pit stop strategy wasn't as critical in Sunday's race as it was on Saturday, the biggest mover being Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, who finished fourth after starting from the back row.
Like most of the leaders, Castroneves pitted under yellow on Lap 11. Mike Conway seized the lead at that point, but Ed Carpenter Racing's strategy of making Conway the only driver to start the race on standard tires backfired as he dropped through the field during his stint on the alternate tires.
Castroneves seized control of the event by half distance, but he had to make two perfect restarts late in the race to hold off Power and third-place finisher Charlie Kimball.
"That was a great race for several reasons," Castroneves said. "One, we were racing hard to the very end. My car was so fast and I could do whatever I wanted. It's very rare you have that scenario.
"To be honest, fifth place [Saturday] was great points, but I was very disappointed because we had a dominant car. Today Roger had the strategy to put me in front. I don't want to sound cocky, but I was really confident. I knew exactly what my car was doing, and when you have a car like that, you just have to deliver."
Power found himself embroiled in controversy again after being involved in a first-lap incident that ended with Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal in the Turn 3 wall. Power looked to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but INDYCAR called him in for a drive-through penalty on Lap 7 for instigating avoidable contact.
The Australian once again had one of the fastest cars and he was able to work his way back up to another podium finish.
"It was a bit of a surprise to end up second," Power said. "Fantastic weekend for Roger and for Chevy. I have a feeling we would have won without that penalty, but we've been on the right and wrong end of those calls.
"I wasn't going to attack [Helio] at the end," Power added. "A 1-2 for Roger is better than two cars in the wall. Second is good points instead."
Power was the big winner on the Detroit weekend, moving back into the championship lead with a 19-point advantage over teammate Castroneves.
Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay had a miserable weekend in Detroit, failing to finish either race. Hunter-Reay is now third in the standings, 27 points behind Power after arriving in Detroit with a 40-point cushion.
DETROIT -- Will Power didn't have the fastest car in qualifying for the first race of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit.
But he certainly did in the race itself -- which, combined with perfect pit stop strategy from Team Penske, allowed the Australian to score his second Verizon IndyCar Series win of the 2014 season and 23rd of his career.
Like so many Indy car races, this one was decided by fuel management and the timing of full-course cautions. Power started 16th after battling handling problems in qualifying, and his run to victory was keyed by an early pit stop under yellow on Lap 7 after Simon Pagenaud tapped the wall.
AP Photo/Dave FrechetteWill Power gets a champagne shower courtesy of Graham Rahal, left, and Tony Kanaan on Saturday.
Power made the second of his three pit stops under green on Lap 30, turning a series of quick laps that allowed him to take control of the race from pole winner Helio Castroneves and the other drivers who stuck to a standard two-stop strategy. Once the final round of stops cycled through, Power led, and he held off a charging Graham Rahal by 0.3008 seconds at the flag.
"Graham made it very difficult -- man, he never gave up," Power remarked. "I thought I could pull a gap, and every time I'd relax, he'd be straight back on me.
"What a tough race," he added. "No fuel saving, just run hard, and good strategy from the guys. I'm very happy."
Power still probably wasn't as happy as Rahal, who posted his first podium finish in 22 races dating to Long Beach 2013.
Rahal ran a stint in the lead and he and Power were the only drivers to lap in the 1-minute 17-second bracket.
"I thought I was going to finally get the monkey off my back today," said Rahal, whose last Indy car race win came at the 2008 St. Petersburg GP. "I knew I had a car that was as quick as him.
"I said after Indy that this team was made of champions and that it would come in time, and we're going to win one," he added. "We're going to do it -- I can promise you that, and it's coming soon."
"When you can put Will out front and get him some clear laps, he certainly puts them together," said Team Penske president Tim Cindric.
"Things kind of fell our way. We needed some of those breaks to break the race up a bit and we really took advantage of it. An awesome day for all of us."
It was a big day for Power in the IndyCar Series championship, as he cut Ryan Hunter-Reay's lead from 40 points to three. Castroneves is third in the standings, 44 points behind Hunter-Reay.
The Indy 500 winner had a terrible Saturday in Detroit, with a crash in qualifying forcing him to start from the back row. Pushing hard at the end of the race, Hunter-Reay again crashed on the last lap, costing him a potentially crucial five points as he dropped from 11th to 16th place.
Power looked somewhat knackered when he stepped from his car, but he said that his stamina will not be an issue for Sunday's 70-lap contest (ABC, 3:30 p.m.ET).
"I was thinking on the last stint, 'Man, I've got to do this again tomorrow!'" Power admitted. "I was absolutely puffing.
"But that's why we do fitness and I'll try to recover the best I can to come back and do it again."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Five years between Indianapolis 500 victories is an eternity for Roger Penske.
It's a drought the legendary businessman/racing team owner has had to endure only once since 1979, when Rick Mears claimed the first of his four Indy wins, the second of Penske's record 15 triumphs in the famous Memorial Day race.
The seven-year gap between 1994 and 2001 in Penske's Indy win resume comes with an asterisk. In 1995, his cars failed to make the race, unable to muster the speed to make Indy's field of 33 in an era when there were far more entries than starting berths.
From 1996 to 2000, embroiled in the politics of the era, Penske chose not to participate at Indianapolis. But he simply couldn't stay away from a race he first attended in 1951, and since his return to Indy in 2001, Penske has won five times.
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesHelio Castroneves is hoping to win his fourth Indy 500 and break Team Penske's Indy drought in one fell swoop.
Still, the last win came courtesy of Helio Castroneves in 2009, and there have been only two Indy victory lane celebrations since Gil de Ferran capped a run of three straight for Team Penske all the way back in 2003.
Taking that absence from the late '90s away, the current five-year winless skein is Penske's longest in 35 years. Three years without a Penske win at Indy is a rarity, and that fact doesn't slip past him.
"I've seen a lot go on here at Indianapolis, and obviously we've had the success to have cars in the winner's circle 15 times," Penske said. "But that doesn't really mean anything. It's, 'What are you going to do this year?'
"For me it's another journey, this year with three great drivers," Penske added. "Helio [Castroneves], looking for his fourth win; Will [Power], leading the championship; and Juan Pablo Montoya, coming back from NASCAR after having the opportunity to drink the milk the last time he was here.
"I think with these three drivers we have the right combination, no question. And potentially we've got the winner."
There's no doubt that the re-expansion of Team Penske's effort in the Verizon IndyCar Series to three full-time cars this year was based on the desire for a stronger showing at Indianapolis. After all, Montoya led 167 of 200 laps to dominate the Indianapolis 500 in his only attempt (in 2000, while driving for Chip Ganassi), and he also boasts a strong record in the NASCAR Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was recently announced that Montoya will drive a Team Penske Ford at the Brickyard in late July.
Team Penske president Tim Cindric has been saying all season long that Indianapolis was where Montoya would start to show the form that won 12 Indy car races and a CART-sanctioned championship in 1999-2000. Montoya admitted Thursday at Indianapolis 500 Media Day that the recent Grand Prix of Indianapolis was the first time in four races this year that he had his Dallara-Chevrolet tuned to his liking.
"It's a shame we got behind at the start, because I could really push the car and I thought we were one of the fastest cars out there," Montoya said.
"At St. Pete, the team said, 'Take it easy.' I was always a session behind those guys [Power and Castroneves]," he continued. "At Long Beach, I decided to just go for it, and it worked a lot better. I'm starting to understand what I want out of the car and how to get the most out of the red tires."
Just when Montoya was starting to get comfortable on road and street courses again after seven and a half years out of formula cars, he got pitched onto the famous Indianapolis oval. Like at St. Pete, he seemed to be one session behind his teammates; he was disappointed to miss out on the Fast Nine in Saturday qualifying, then came back to post the second fastest speed of the day Sunday (231.007 mph vs. pole winner Ed Carpenter's 231.067) to lead the drivers competing for 10th on the grid.
Power ran a slightly slower speed but landed on the outside of the front row.
"The biggest thing for me about being back here is the honor of being with Penske -- the tradition, the history," Montoya said.
"I came here once and I won it, so I have a little bit of pressure to make it 2-for-2," he added with a chuckle. "I know how important this race is for everybody, and this year it's so close that the smallest detail can make the difference between having the winning car and not."
Castroneves' bid to tie Penske icon Rick Mears' record of four Indianapolis wins will be easy to follow on the racetrack. His Dallara-Chevrolet is decked out in a vivid yellow retro look that mimics the Pennzoil-sponsored cars that Mears drove to Indy wins for Penske in 1984 and '88.
"The color yellow helped me before on 'Dancing With the Stars,' so I'm hoping for the same," joked Castroneves, who will start from the inside of Row 2 on Sunday.
Meanwhile, some observers believe Power is the Penske driver who will end "The Captain's" victory drought. Any questions about the Australian's oval speed or racecraft were put to rest when he conclusively won the 500-mile 2013 IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway.
"The 500-mile race in California was a big breakthrough for me," said Power, who is acknowledged as the top road racer in the series. "I'd never been so excited at the end of a race.
"But this is a very different place and a very different style of racing," he went on. "I feel like this year we have a much better car. I feel much more comfortable in traffic and seem to be able to pass and run in traffic a lot better."
INDIANAPOLIS -- It still seems strange -- not to mention inaccurate -- to talk about Newman/Haas Racing in the past tense.
After all, NHR is still in operation at the team's longtime base in Lincolnshire, Ill., with Brian Lisles leading a small crew. However, Newman/Haas hasn't fielded a car in the IndyCar Series (or any other series) since the end of the 2011 season, and most of the team that won 107 open-wheel races and eight CART- and Champ Car-sanctioned Indy car championships has moved on to new opportunities.
Of course co-owner Paul Newman passed away in 2008, and Carl Haas is in declining health and retired from public life. But last weekend in Indianapolis, about 70 Newman/Haas team members, along with friends and families, came together to celebrate the team's long and successful run at the top.
Jamie Squire/Allsport/Getty ImagesTeam owners Carl Haas, left, and Paul Newman might have seemed like an odd pairing, but together they ran one of the most successful teams in the history of Indy car racing.
Formed by former Can-Am competitors Newman and Haas in 1983 to field cars in the CART/PPG Indy Car World Series for Mario Andretti, Newman/Haas was a stalwart Indy car team for nearly 30 years.
From 1983 to 2011, Penske Racing was the only team that won more races; Chip Ganassi Racing, which began fielding Indy cars in 1990, won fewer races but boasts one more championship than NHR.
"You couldn't find two more opposite people [Newman and Haas] to work together, but they created one of the best race teams in America," said Sebastien Bourdais, who won four Champ Car-sanctioned titles for NHR between 2004 and '07. "I had a really enjoyable time driving for Carl and Paul, and obviously a lot of other people have really fond memories, too."
Guillaume "Rocky" Rocquelin, who engineered da Matta and Bourdais to four series championships in his five-year tenure with Newman/Haas, sent a video greeting. Rocquelin is now Sebastian Vettel's race engineer for Red Bull Racing in Formula One.
Now retired from racing, da Matta flew from Brazil to Indianapolis just to see his old teammates.
"I wouldn't have missed it for anything," he said. "The most favorite time of my career is the two years I was with Newman/Haas. Everyone, from Carl and Berni [Haas, Carl's wife] to all the guys that worked on the cars to the people who worked in hospitality, we are all a family."
People often think of Newman/Haas as "Mario's team," but Michael Andretti was actually the lead NHR flag-bearer for many years. Michael earned 30 of his 41 Indy car race wins while driving for Newman/Haas, as well as the 1991 CART-sanctioned championship.
Michael revealed that, as a 20-year-old aspiring racer, he had a hand in the creation of Newman/Haas Racing.
"Carl was smart," Michael said with a laugh. "He hired me first to drive his Formula Ford car as a way of getting closer to dad. Then he got dad to drive his Indy car. So I helped start it all."
Jonathan Ferrey Allsport/Getty ImagesCristiano da Matta, left, said he wouldn't have missed the reunion for anything. Here he is celebrating winning the opening CART race of the 2002 season with team owner Carl Haas and teammate and third-place finisher Christian Fittipaldi.
Michael graduated to Indy cars at the end of Newman/Haas' first season in the CART series, but it wasn't until 1989 that Michael joined NHR for four memorable years teamed with his father.
"It was the most special time in my career, no question," Michael said. "We were a family there. It was everything you wanted in a race team. Carl and Paul would give you the equipment and support, and you wanted to do it for them. Great times, and it's so cool to see so many people here."
Andretti actually drove two stints for Newman/Haas; 1989-1992, the four years he lined up alongside his father in what Mario called "a dream scenario." Then, after a year of Formula One and a year with Ganassi's Indy car team -- in which he scored Chip Ganassi's first two race wins as a sole team owner -- Michael returned to Newman/Haas from 1995 to 2000.
Michael then drove for Team Green in 2001 and 2002, eventually acquiring ownership in the team now known as Andretti Autosport. In many ways, Michael's team has taken on the role Newman/Haas used to play as the main competitor for Penske and Ganassi.
It's not a surprise that, when NHR ceased racing operations, several team members found work with Andretti Autosport, and Michael said his time with Newman/Haas shaped his vision of how to operate a race team.
"There were times when Carl would do things and you'd think 'Why are you doing it that way?'" Andretti said. "Now, being on this side of the fence, I understand things that he would do and why he would do things. It's a different world being on the other side, for sure. But I definitely learned a lot from Carl and Paul."
POMONA, Calif. -- I have friends in the media who have ridden in a Shadow Can-Am car and a two-seat Indy car around Laguna Seca, and others who have been a passenger in a DTM car with Bernd Schneider at Hockenheim or in "maximum attack" mode next to Markus Gronholm through a rally stage.
But not too many of them have run an 8-second pass at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona like I did Saturday morning.
Mind you, I wasn't driving. The NHRA, in partnership with legendary drag racing instructor Frank Hawley, occasionally gives media members rides in a custom two-seat rail dragster with a 720-horsepower Chevrolet engine.
Hawley pilots the side-by-side special while the lucky press hack just tries to relax and take in the sensory overload that is part and parcel of drag racing.
Apart from actually taking the wheel, it's the best way to learn about what a drag racer experiences. Noise, vibration and harshness -- it's all there on vivid display when you're riding along. And it gives you even more respect for the guys and girls who wrestle those 10,000-horsepower nitro-fueled cars in the top classes down a 1,000-foot strip in less than four seconds as many as eight times in a race weekend.
Courtesy NHRA John Oreovicz, left, gets some advice about running a dragster down the line from drag racing instructor Frank Hawley.
Hawley and his assistant explained how to operate the safety equipment in the unlikely event of an accident, and strapped me into the surprisingly spacious auxiliary cockpit. After being towed to the staging area by a golf cart driven by NHRA PR supremo Scott Smith, it was time to flip down the visor and go.
Riders are treated to the whole sequence of events leading up to a run, including a full burnout. Oddly enough, until we actually staged for the pass, my sense of smell overrode everything else. I remember smelling BBQ chicken during the tow through the paddock, and the strong waft of burned rubber as we pulled into the water box.
I was wearing earplugs, and this wasn't a nitro car, so the sound wasn't all that overwhelming to someone who has spent most of his adult life at racetracks. The physical force that hit my body once Hawley dropped the throttle seemed to be on a delayed reaction, the sensation reaching my brain only a second or two down the line. I've driven some reasonably fast cars in my time, but I've never experienced the rush of accelerating to 150 mph that quickly.
Of course, 8.666 seconds passes before you know it, and by the time my mind slowed down to start to pay attention to what Hawley was doing, we were already in coast-down mode, having crossed the line at 154.33 mph.
From my vantage point in the media center directly behind the start line, I've been struck this week by how much the nitro cars in particular move around during the course of a 1,000-foot run. But from inside the car, "my" run looked comparatively smooth and serene.
Hawley, who has taught drag racing techniques to thousands of students during a 30-year career, said that many drivers tend to over-drive the car.
Albert L. Ortega/Getty ImagesWhen it comes to rolling NHRA-style, actress Kristy Swanson says check it out.
"The steering movements you need are very, very small and very, very precise," said the man who trained professionals ranging from Antron Brown to Tony Schumacher. "It's very easy to overcorrect."
Hawley has operated a drag racing school for years from a base in Gainesville, Fla., and he is expanding to offer a West Coast option at the newly reopened drag strip at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Just $399 gets you a half-day Dragster Adventure course in a 700-horsepower single seat dragster similar to the two-seater I rode in. The $599 Dragster Adventure challenge gets you a full day with numerous quarter-mile passes, including side-by-side racing in an Eliminations-style competition.
It's often said that drag racing doesn't translate well on television. That's true to some extent, though the format (and frequent delays) of the events are made-to-order for edited highlights packages.
What TV doesn't get across are the sights, smells and ground-shaking sounds of the sport. Sitting in the grandstands as a spectator certainly checks all those boxes, but riding (or driving) a dragster is an even more effective way to experience everything drag racing has to offer.
But don't just take my word for it. A couple hours after my quick trip down the famous Pomona asphalt, Hawley gave a ride to actress Kristy Swanson of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" movie fame.
"If you've never done this, you need to go do it," she enthused. "I just struck that off my bucket list. It's really incredible."