Castroneves holds off Briscoe at Texas
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Helio Castroneves keeps smiling -- and climbing.
Castroneves, who last month won the Indianapolis 500 for the third time after being acquitted of federal tax evasion charges, became a three-time winner at Texas Motor Speedway when he beat Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe off pit row after the final stop and stayed in front Saturday night.
"I have no reason to not smile," Castroneves said. "Life is too short. I love doing what I do. That's why I smile all the time."
Briscoe was dominating the race, with more than a 10-second lead before a caution flag on the 150th of the 228 laps bunched the field after an extended stretch of green-flag racing.
When everybody went into the pits for the final time, Castroneves had a 6-second stop, beating Briscoe and Scott Dixon out by more than a half-second and led the final 46 laps of green-flag racing.
The winning margin was 0.39 seconds, and Castroneves celebrated as usual by climbing the fence.
"It feels fantastic," Castroneves said. "The last pit stop, I jumped in the front and that was it. That was incredible. ... It was pedal to the metal, let's drive like we stole it."
It was the 16th career victory for Castroneves, whose racing career was in jeopardy earlier this year before a jury acquitted him on most charges. The remaining count was finally thrown out before his Indy win.
Briscoe finished second for the second consecutive week, and took over the season points lead from Scott Dixon, who had won two of the last three races.
Castroneves won at Texas for the third time in the last six races. Penske has won four of the last six on the 1½-mile, high-banked oval and has five victories overall, matching Panther Racing for the most by a team.
The only other three-time TMS winner is former series champion Sam Hornish Jr.
Briscoe built his big lead over Andretti before that caution for debris, the first time the race pace was slowed since the opening laps.
"I didn't see any debris. That's what killed us," Briscoe said. "We got beat by Helio in the pits. ... I didn't have enough speed to get around Helio at the end."
Castroneves acknowledged that he didn't see anything either, but didn't question the call by IndyCar officials.
"At those points, you have to trust the call. You can never know if there is debris and what that can effect," he said. "I trust those guys. When you're in the lead you don't want to see a yellow. But you have to trust those guys."
There was then the short run before the unquestioned caution for Foyt's accident that set up Castroneves' race-winning stop.
"It was so evenly matched that it was so hard to pass. It was frustrating knowing I was going to come in second," Briscoe said. "It's bitter when you come so close and it falls away."
Graham Rahal got loose on the second lap, that mishap collecting E.J. Viso and Milka Duno and knocking all three of them out of the race. After the restart on lap 10, there wasn't another yellow flag until the debris caution that cost Briscoe his huge advantage.
Franchitti led on the first restart, but Briscoe went around the outside to take the lead when they passed on the frontstretch again, then stayed in front after completing the pass in the first turn.
Briscoe had a 3-second lead over Dixon after 80 laps, and kept increasing that advantage. He spent much of that time driving alone on the track.
"We didn't have the speed Briscoe did. It was an all right night," Dixon said. "When everyone is this close in speed, it's not really racing, it's more follow the leader. We just need to open a few things up and see how it works."
Dixon crossed the finish line as the winner at Texas last year under caution. No IndyCar driver has won consecutive races at the track.
Briscoe, in the No. 6 car that Hornish drove before making the move to NASCAR, is the only driver to complete all 1,038 laps this season.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press