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Castroneves wins at Texas, grabs points lead

The SportsXchange

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Team Penske finally has won an IndyCar Series race this season.

Roger Penske's team had been winless in seven races -- and nine spanning the past two seasons -- before Helio Castroneves ended the drought Saturday night with a dominating victory in the Firestone 550K at Texas Motor Speedway.

Castroneves became the seventh different winner in eight races this season, posting his 28th career victory. It was his fourth win at the track, the most by any driver in the series but his first on an oval since he won in Japan in 2010.

The Brazilian also took the series points lead, breaking a tie entering the race with Marco Andretti, who finished fifth.

| Castroneves finished 4.7 seconds ahead of reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in a race.

"We were not only able to manage our tires and manage our fuel, but it was the (car) setup," Castroneves said. "We did our homework and thank God it paid off."

Castroneves is bidding for his first series title, the missing piece in his decorated career. He last won 11 races ago, in Edmonton.

The win pushed Castroneves to 12th in IndyCar career wins, breaking a tie with Johnny Rutherford.

Team Penske's last win had been in August at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway when Ryan Briscoe won. Briscoe is no longer with the team.

Five cars finished on the lead lap Saturday night. Tony Kanaan had the freshest tires in the final segment, allowing him to overtake Ed Carpenter for third place in the closing laps. Carpenter finished a season-best fourth.

Andretti led the first 57 laps but wasn't happy with traffic. He gave a not-so-friendly hand wave to Sebastien Bourdais after one intense sequence.

Andretti trails Castroneves by 22 points heading to next weekend's oval race in Milwaukee.

The Texas race didn't feature the pack racing that this track has been known for over the years, but that was just as well. There were no accidents, not only in the 228-lap race but during the entire two-day event.

Oriol Servia, who was taking his turn in the Panther Racing machine vacated by JR Hildebrand, had a lazy spin in Turn 2 on Lap 113, the last caution of the night.

"We probably should have come in two or three laps before that because we were already very loose," Servia said. "Then on one of the bumps the rear just went (around), which was unfortunate. Luckily, we saved the car (from hitting the wall)."

That was the extent of the accident, but it didn't mean driving the cars was easy.

The drivers asked Firestone to deliver a tire compound that made it difficult on them. The degrading through the fuel stint meant a big drop-off in speed. Some of them said they were just hanging on until it was time to pit again.

"Oh, man, that was interesting," Hunter-Reay said. "It was a battle out there. It was like, at times, a race against yourself just to save the tires and keep yourself off the wall.

"It was just a very challenging race."

The race was the series' first on national television in prime time.

"I hope the race was good for the national television audience," Carpenter said. "This place is one of the toughest ovals on the series now. The cars are a handful here."

While there were no accidents on the track, three crew members on Scott Dixon's car suffered minor burns on pit road when a gearbox issue became a small explosion during a Lap 75 stop. The burns from the grease were to their hands and face, but Tyler Rees, Adam Rovazzini and Greg Shuker were treated and released from the infield care center.
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