Elliot Sadler celebrates his NASCAR Nationwide victory Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Castroneves creeps near points lead after latest IRL win
EDMONTON, Alberta — Helio Castroneves has been quietly lurking in the championship race this season, taking advantage of mistakes by others to position himself for a run at the IndyCar Series title.
After his win Sunday at Edmonton, everybody knows he's in the mix for his first career championship. Everybody also knows he's going to be tough to beat down the stretch.
"We are always there, maybe playing a little bit quiet and silent, which I like, because many, many more years we were aggressive," Castronves said. "Continuing to work in that low profile, and in the end of the day at (the season ending race) Fontana, that's the day it counts."
Castroneves thrust himself into the championship race with his second victory of the season. The Brazilian relied on pit strategy from his Penske Racing crew to take the lead, then held off hard-charging Takuma Sato over the final 15 laps to pick up the win.
It moved him one spot in the standings to second — he jumped over teammate Will Power — and he's trailing leader Ryan Hunter-Reay by 23 points with four races remaining.
The win, in the first caution-free race of the season, snapped Hunter-Reay's three-race win streak.
"We're never out," he said. "We're always in the battle for the championship since we started. Now we're closer and we're taking the opportunities that when we run very well, we take advantage of it."
Castroneves said when his engineer called him into the pits for an early stop, he wasn't sure the strategy was correct. But it worked, and the 37-year-old finally broke through at Edmonton, where he had finished second three times in the past four races. In 2010, he took the checkered flag, only to be stripped of the win for blocking Power.
"It's my second win here," he said. "Maybe some people would disagree with me, that it's not my second win. We have to turn the page. I'm never going to forget what happened, but I certainly got to move on. Today was a great day, so we realize and finally can say we won here.
"We've always been quick, we've always been there, but today we certainly won."
Castroneves has put together a season full of good days, and it's made him a threat for his first career championship.
He's got two wins, three podium finishes and has been outside the top 10 only twice in 11 races. Castronves has also finished on the lead lap in all but three races.
"He's stronger than ever this year," Power said. "He's been really consistent on days that he can't win. When he can win, he absolutely executes. He's strong, Hunter-Reay is strong.
"Man, it's going to be a fight to the very end. Helio is definitely doing a good job. He's going to be tough to beat."
Leader Alex Tagliani pitted after Castroneves, who had to push to maintain track position after his stop. He slid by the exit to pit lane seconds before Tagliani made it back onto the track, with Sato right behind Tagliani.
Power had been the leader, gave it up to make his late pit stop, and Castronves moved to the lead. Sato got by Tagliani and worked the final 15 laps, to no avail, to catch Castroneves.
He instead settled for a career-best second-place finish, which team owner Bob Rahal jokingly predicted as he watched Sato try to chase down Castroneves.
"Helio is tough," Rahal said. "He starts blocking when he picks up his rental car at the airport."
Sato was pleased with his finish even though he never had a clear shot to attempt a pass for the lead.
"I should have enjoyed it a little bit more if I could overtake, we were not quite yet there," he said. "He did a great job, no mistake at all. I couldn't push him any harder than that. To be honest, simply there was not enough opportunity."
Castronves said Sato's hard charge was the best thing for him because it forced him to stay focused over the closing laps.
"Those circumstances for me, it's actually best," he said. "You can't miss with concentration, you have to be on it every step of the way."
Power wound up third — his best finish since his win at Brazil in April — and said he was happy with the result. An engine change after qualifying cost Power 10 spots on the starting grid, so he came from 17th to finish third — his fourth podium finish at Edmonton in four years.
Although he dropped a spot in the standings, his deficit was cut from 35 points to 26.
"If I thought that the race would go fully green starting 17th, I would have taken third any day," Power said.
But there was some drama at play as Hunter-Reay believed Power should have been penalized by IndyCar for cutting him off as Power exited pit lane earlier in the race. Power said he believed he had executed the move exactly how race director Beaux Barfield explained it Saturday morning.
"Well, I thought in the driver meeting if you are not cutting someone off, you can take the apex, and I thought I was in front of him because I didn't see him," Power said. "But if I was in his position, I guess I would scream for a penalty, too, because that's more points.
"If that was the case, my mistake."
Hunter-Reay, who won the pole but started 11th because of an engine change, was adamant on his radio that Power had broken the rule. And he was furious when no penalty was called after a review by race control.
"You've got to be kidding me. That is absolutely... ridiculous," he yelled.
He finished seventh, and still didn't agree with the ruling after the race.
"I expected it to be called, I expected him to be thrown off, but it didn't happen," he said.
Although he managed a top-10 finish, he wasn't pleased because Castroneves and Power gained ground.
"We didn't lose too much, I guess, but when two guys who are fighting for the championship finish on the podium, it is not very satisfying," Hunter-Reay said. "We have a lot of racing to go, we need to be strong across the board. This was definitely a bruise today, but it didn't knock us down, by any means."
Graham Rahal finished fourth and was followed by crowd favorite Tagliani, who took the lead on the first lap by passing Dario Franchitti and led 49 laps en route to his best finish of the season and best of his career at Edmonton.
"I thought it was our chance to get in the lead and try to see if we could control the race, and our car was very strong on saving fuel early," Tagliani said. "We just missed it at the end. We didn't have the pace that the guys were running at the front. Nevertheless, fantastic result."
JOLIET, Ill. — Elliott Sadler spent most of the week in bed with a stomach virus, and wasn't able to eat anything beyond a single biscuit Sunday morning.
As weak as Sadler felt, there was no way he was giving up his seat.
Sadler brushed off questions from team owner Richard Childress about a potential replacement driver, then held off a charge by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on a green-white-checker finish to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday.
Was there a pride factor in toughing it out?
"You're damn right," Sadler said. "I told Richard yesterday, I was like, 'I can handle this.'"
Childress said he thought about putting a backup driver in place as an insurance policy, but understood why Sadler didn't want to give up the wheel.
"I've seen drivers when it gets down to it, that's worse than giving your wife away, I think," Childress said.
Childress then sheepishly apologized to Sadler's wife, who was sitting off to the side in the postrace interview room.
Explaining why it was so important to tough it out, Sadler proudly noted that he threw up three times in his helmet during a race earlier in his career.
"It was a big-time pride thing today to stay in the car and do what I felt like I needed to do to be competitive," Sadler said.
Stenhouse finished second, followed by Justin Allgaier, Kenny Wallace and Michael Annett.
Wallace's car was found to be too light in postrace inspection. NASCAR officials are expected to determine any penalties early this week.
Stenhouse appeared to have the stronger car and was chasing down Sadler in the closing laps of the race. But a late caution bunched up the field for NASCAR's version of overtime, Sadler got a push from Allgaier on the restart and pulled away.
Had the race gone green until the end, Stenhouse was certain he would have ended up in victory lane.
"We had it won," Stenhouse said.
It was the third win of the season for Sadler, who has eight Nationwide victories in his career. Sadler won at Phoenix and Bristol earlier this season.
He leads the series standings by 11 points over Austin Dillon, who finished sixth.
Track officials held a moment of silence before the race and the No. 24 car driven by Benny Gordon carried the message "Remember Aurora Colorado" on its rear fender.
Danica Patrick finished 14th.
Sunday's race drew a sparse crowd, although no official attendance figure was immediately released. The Sprint Cup Series was off this weekend and will resume racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week.
Many of the leaders had just made their final pit stop of the day when Brad Sweet spun to bring out a caution. It was a boost to several drivers, including Sadler, Allgaier and Kyle Busch, who were able to pit under caution.
The ill-timed caution flag hurt several drivers who already had pitted — especially Sam Hornish Jr., who expressed his annoyance to his crew on the radio.
Sadler led when the race restarted with 28 laps to go.
Stenhouse then made a charge, taking third place away from Busch with 20 laps to go and taking second from Allgaier with 16 to go.
Sadler had a lead of just under two seconds, with Stenhouse closing in quickly.
Then Hornish tapped the rear bumper of Busch and sent him crashing into Brendan Gaughan with eight laps left, bringing out a caution and bunching up the field.
Stenhouse was hoping officials would stop the race with a red flag to clean up the track and run a few more laps to the finish, but it didn't happen.
Sadler and Stenhouse lined up for the green-white-checker restart, and Allgaier gave Sadler a push when the green flag fell. Sadler surged away and Allgaier couldn't stay in contact.
"I knew if I could time it just right and push him out, maybe we could race for the win," Allgaier said. "We did that, and just lost a little bit of momentum in (Turns) 1 and 2, and that's what allowed Ricky to really get a run on the outside. But all in all, just a great day for us."
Stenhouse charged to second, but couldn't chase down Sadler at the end.
"I feel like the 31 (Allgaier) just pushed the 2 (Sadler) so far out there, there wasn't anything I could do," Stenhouse said.
It was a respectable run for Patrick, but perhaps not as good as she might have expected going into the race.
She finished 10th at Chicagoland last year, and was second-fastest in Saturday's final practice session. Overall, she feels most comfortable on 1.5-mile ovals such as Chicagoland as she makes her transition from NASCAR to IndyCar.
But Patrick's car appeared to be a little loose in qualifying, and she started 12th and couldn't make up ground for much of the afternoon.
In the end, a weakened but proud Sadler was the one celebrating, knowing that he had to back up his big talk after he told Childress he could tough it out.
"A lot of pride," Sadler said. "And my big mouth."