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Tom Fox/Staff Photographer

Motor sports: Helio pulls away for win

Profile image for By Matt Crider / Staff Writer
By Matt Crider / Staff Writer

FORT WORTH — Helio Castroneves battled fellow points leader Marco Andretti for the lead during a round of green-flag pit stops Saturday night and pulled away to win the Firestone 550K at Texas Motor Speedway.

Defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay had led 35 consecutive laps when he pitted on lap 94. As the rest of the frontrunners made their stops, Andretti and Castroneves emerged in a side-by-side battle.

Castroneves scooted ahead in turn 3 on lap 96 and led the rest of the 228-lap event. The Brazilian won for the fourth time at TMS, breaking a tie with Sam Hornish Jr. for the most victories at the track.

“The car was absolutely unreal,” Castroneves said. “Most of it was managing the tires.

“We were running like a Swiss watch, to be honest. Everything was smooth. At the end of the day, pit stops were great.”

It was the 28th career win for Castroneves and his first this season. Andretti finished fifth — the last car on the lead lap — and now trails Castroneves by 22 points in the series standings.

Hunter-Reay finished second, followed by Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and Andretti. Chevrolet swept the top five spots, as Dario Franchitti was the highest-finishing Honda driver in sixth.

The third and final caution came out on lap 113 when Oriol Servia spun in turn 2. Because of two long green-flag runs, there were only seven cars on the lead lap. All seven leaders pitted, and Castroneves maintained the lead during the caution and after the restart.

E.J. Viso dropped from contention when he had to serve a drive-through penalty for a pit road safety violation. Several drivers who had stopped before the caution got their lap back when the leaders pitted, putting 12 on the lead circuit.

Castroneves pulled away from everybody, though, and led second-place Will Power by nearly 15 seconds on lap 170. Castroneves made his final stop on lap 174 and got back up to speed with a four-second lead over Kanaan, with Andretti in third.

Even as Castroneves’ lap times slowed as his tires wore out and he conserved fuel, he continued to be unchallenged up front as he lapped opponents including Power and Franchitti.

Team owner Roger Penske picked up his eighth win in Denton County.

“I’ve been around this a long time and leading with five laps to go, so I never count our chickens until it’s ended,” Penske said. “The big move was when he went back by Franchitti [with nine laps remaining], because we let Franchitti go by. There was no reason to wear the tires out trying to stay ahead of him.”

Andretti led the first 51 laps before pitting under green. Scott Dixon brought out the second caution two laps later when his car suffered a mechanical failure coming off pit road and he slowed on the backstretch.

The first caution flag flew on lap 5 when Pippa Mann slowed on the track with an engine fire.

MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906.