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Archive for Monday, July 31, 2006

Castroneves first at Firestone Indy

Penske driver races to 400 victory, grabs IRL points lead

July 31, 2006

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— Helio Castroneves took advantage of a superior car and an aggressive strategy to win the Firestone Indy 400 on Sunday, ending team owner Roger Penske's open-wheel drought at Michigan International Speedway.

Castroneves beat Vitor Meira by 1.62 seconds, earning his series-high fourth victory of the season and moving past teammate Sam Hornish Jr. for the points lead in the Indy Racing League.

The average speed of the race was 193.972 mph, third-fastest event in the IRL's 11-year history. The race took 2 hours, 10 minutes - 20 minutes less than a rain delay.

"Our car was very fast," said Castroneves, who won the pole with a lap 2 mph faster than Tony Kanaan, who started third.

Castroneves took the lead for the last time on lap 177 after his final pit stop. He navigated through a pack of drivers a lap behind to build a 3-plus second lead over Meira.

He won the 11th IndyCar series race of his career, and first at MIS.

Meira, who led more than a third of the race, was followed by defending champion Dan Wheldon, Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter in the top five.

Penske won his 10th open-wheel race at MIS, a track he owned for more than 25 years, and his first since 1991 when Rick Mears earned his last career win.

Hornish, who finished just 61 laps because of an engine problem, started with a 25-point lead over Scott Dixon, but earned just 12 points with his season-worst, 19th-place finish and has 368 points with three races left. Castroneves has 376 points.

Danica Patrick finished 17th in the 19-car field, and she stomped around the track in anger when her race was over because her car was slow and having technical problems. Patrick was coming off consecutive fourth-place finishes, her best of the season.

"It was a brutal day," she said. "I wish I would have brought the car home in seventh, where it should have been."

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