Kentucky Speedway

Castroneves has winning fuel strategy in Kentucky Indy 300

Helio Castroneves of Brazil celebrated in victory lane after winning the IndyCar Series' Kentucky Indy 300 auto race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta on Saturday.
Helio Castroneves of Brazil celebrated in victory lane after winning the IndyCar Series' Kentucky Indy 300 auto race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta on Saturday. AP

SPARTA — The last time Helio Castroneves was involved in a fuel-mileage battle at Kentucky Speedway, the race ended with him grabbing his head in frustration after watching his team's grand scheme backfire.

On Saturday night, Castroneves' squad was forced to take another strategic risk with fuel on the Sparta tri-oval. This time, instead of watching their ebullient driver toss his helmet in frustration, the No. 3 Team Penske squad saw the three-time Indy 500 winner thrust his arms in the air in celebration.

Two years after running out of fuel while leading the final lap at Kentucky, Castroneves worked his strategy to perfection Saturday to capture the Indy 300 over pole sitter Ed Carpenter for his second triumph of the season.

Though Castroneves was running 10th with about 27 laps to go, his team's plan of coming in to top off after a miscommunication in the pits earlier in the night cost them several spots on the track ended up paying some sweet dividends.

While all the leaders had to come in for a splash of fuel inside the final 10 laps, Castroneves was able to stretch his last fill-up over the final 53 laps. Thus, the three-time Indy 500 winner suddenly found himself cycled to the front in the final few laps — just as Team Penske president Tim Cindric promised him earlier.

"I think it was our first stop we had a bit of a miscommunication and ... we ended up losing about 10 spots," said Castroneves, who earned his first win at Kentucky and 18th IndyCar Series win overall. "Thankfully, the genius Tim Cindric came with a great idea and said let's stop at the end of this yellow (caution) and hope for the best at the end.

"He told me I had to make this (mileage) number and then flashes of the race in 2008 started coming back to me. But, thankfully, the misfortune of what happened in the pits ended up being the key to this win."

Though Castroneves hadn't engaged in his signature fence-climbing celebration since winning in Alabama back in April, the quick-witted driver pointed out this was actually his third time finishing a race as the leader this season.

Castroneves crossed the finish line first at Edmonton in July but was dropped to 10th for blocking teammate Will Power.

"At the end it was meant to be today," said Castroneves, who qualified eighth. "When the team told me to save fuel, I was just trying to keep it up and stay in the draft. With about 20 laps to go, I believed (we had a chance)."

Carpenter, who was seeking his first career IndyCar Series win, earned runner-up honors in the race for the second consecutive season.

Dan Wheldon, who was leading when he and Dario Franchitti came in for a splash of fuel with five laps to go, ended up third after leading a race-high 93 laps.

"The ending was unfortunate. I am bummed the ending didn't turn out different," Wheldon said. "But it will motivate us for the last two races."

Tony Kanaan rallied after starting 26th in the 27-car field to get fourth; Franchitti finished fifth.

Power, the IndyCar Series points leader, finished eighth after dominating the middle portion of the race and leading 83 laps. Power's advantage over Franchitti dropped to 17 points with two races remaining.

Defending race winner Ryan Briscoe was taken out of the race on Lap 80 when he was caught up in a three-car crash involving Simona De Silvestro and Vitor Meira in Turn 3.

Briscoe, who came into the night fourth in the points standings, was flexing his left leg after climbing from his car, but he said a heavily bruised foot was his main ailment.

"It's disappointing because we had real potential to get to the front tonight and win this," Briscoe said.