His Penske teammates and others around the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock love to tease Helio Castroneves about his age. And the 42-year-old star, in return, loves to talk about how much fun it is to put youngsters like Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal in their place.
While Castroneves has enjoyed plenty of of success in recent times, it’s been more than three years since he’s been able to rib his young challengers from atop a podium. So it must have felt pretty sweet to be climbing fences and spraying champagne Sunday night. But his win at the Iowa Corn 300 means so much more than just giving him an upperhand the next time someone teases him about seeing a few gray hairs. With the victory, Castroneves made a strong statement that if this is indeed his final IndyCar season — as has been rumored — he’s not going away without one heck of a fight.
The win at Iowa demonstrated that he’s going to do everything he can to give the paddock, the fans, the whole racing world something special to remember him by: his first series championship. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner sits second in the standings, just eight points behind Scott Dixon — a four-time series champion. It would make for a great story, one Castroneves surely would enjoy telling for years to come: In my 20th and final IndyCar season, I did the one thing I’d never done before. I won a title and showed those young punks what’s what.
With his fifth-place run at Iowa, make that three races this season where Rahal has maneuvered into a top-six finish after starting the race 10th or worse.
Rahal seems to have a penchant for posting solid come-from-behind results. He battled up to sixth at the Indy Grand Prix after starting 20th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a month later claimed a fourth-place finish after starting 11th at Texas Motor Speedway. That never-say-die attitude was on full display Sunday. He started 10th but immediately climbed up the field as he battled within the top five all race long. In his post-race comments, Rahal said he felt he had a car as good as the one that pulled into victory lane.
“I wanted to win today so I’m disappointed with fifth, which is a good thing,” Rahal said. “We had a good day and got solid points. We would have liked to have gained on Will (Power) and Helio (in the point standings) though. I actually felt I had a car that was equally as good as theirs but the track position became hard. As I said during the broadcast under the red flag, the guys just kept moving up (on the high line), which is fine — that’s their right to choose a lane — but that was where I was comfortable running so we lost some space.”
As for never counting Rahal out, that applies to the championship as well. He’s tied for sixth in the standings, 66 points behind Dixon, and maybe sixth is where he finishes. Or maybe he pushes past one or even a couple of Team Penske’s powerhouse four. Or maybe he wins the whole thing. Whatever happens, just know that Rahal isn’t going to let the leader too far out of his sight. He’s on a roll right now.
“We’re going to Toronto (street race) now and after what happened in Detroit (two wins in two days in the doubleheader street race), hopefully that setup will translate well and we’ll have a great race there too,” Rahal said. “Yeah I’m disappointed with fifth place, but overall it was a great day. That’s four really solid finishes in a row, so we’ve just got to keep this going.”