Helio Castroneves has been in this spot before. In fact, he occupies the same position in the standings as he did this time last year.
Podium finishes by the driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet have delivered the IZOD IndyCar Series championship points lead. It might be only two events into the 19-race season, but such consistency will certainly keep the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner in the title hunt.
Castroneves finished third in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 7. Paired with a runner-up finish at St. Petersburg, he holds a nine-point lead over Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon heading into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 21.
“You have to take as it comes,” said Castroneves, who broke a tie for 10th on the all-time Indy car list with Tony Kanaan and Gordon Johncock with his 108th top-five finish. “You have to enjoy the moment, but work for it. Those points are very valuable if you are thinking about the long term. Last year the championship was lost by three points.
“We are going for Long Beach with good points in the bag, but we are looking for our opportunity to win a race. We have to keep putting ourselves in those opportunities and the win is going to come. With that, I’m going to add more points. So you got to take as it comes.”
He’ll gladly take all the points available in searching for his first series title, which is what Ryan Hunter-Reay did in the 90-lap race on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports road course. The Andretti Autosport driver, who kicked off defense of his series title with an 18th-place (mechanical) finish at St. Petersburg, earned the Verizon P1 Award and went on to win the race by .6363 of a second over Dixon.
He accumulated four bonus points – 1 for the pole, 2 for leading the most laps and 1 for leading a lap – for a total of 54, which vaulted him into third in the standings. After two races in 2012, Hunter-Reay had totaled 53 points.
“I felt like coming into Barber this was going to be the start of our season,” said Hunter-Reay, who won four times last season and secured the title by three points over Team Penske’s Will Power. “We had a big hole to dig out of from St. Pete. We pulled a win. That’s a new feat for us at Andretti Autosport.
“Several times in the offseason I said our biggest weaknesses were the permanent road courses like Barber and Sonoma, and the big superspeedways like Texas and Fontana. The guys gave me a great car.
“(This result) really shows that we’re a threat every weekend. That’s what we need to be to win championships is be a threat every weekend. I have a good feeling we will be at Long Beach, Sao Paulo, and Indy, too. We’re getting more work done early in the season than last year. Last year we started going on our hot streak much later in the season. So, hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.”