Castroneves Finishes 5th to Lead Team Penske in Finale

September 16, 2012

FONTANA, Calif.(September 15, 2012) – Will Power and Team Penske gave it everything they had Saturday night, but an early-race accident proved to be insurmountable as Power fell just short in his attempt to win the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship.

Helio Castroneves finished fifth to top Team Penske’s results in the MAVTV 500 at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway while Ryan Briscoe also suffered contact but went on to secure a 17th-place result in a tough season finale for the team.

While battling with championship contender and eventual series champ, Ryan Hunter-Reay, for position on track, Power caught a seam in the track and went high into the wall on the 56th lap of the 250-lap race. Although the crew of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet did amazing work to repair the damaged machine and allow Power to briefly return to the track, the Team Penske driver came up just shy in his title bid by a mere three points when Hunter-Reay secured a fourth-place finish.

It marked the third consecutive season in which Power has won the Mario Andretti Road Course Championship but finished second in the overall title standings after the final race of the season.

“It was a good season but I definitely feel bad for my Verizon Team Penske guys,” said Power. “We worked so hard and it’s tough to finish second, again, in the championship. It’s definitely frustrating when you look at the last three years in a row, we’ve convincingly won the road course championship. It’s the ovals and I can’t really put my finger on it. Tonight it was just a seam in the track and it really caught me out – totally took me by surprise.”

Power ultimately finished 24th on the evening as he watched the drama of the second half of the race unfold with Hunter-Reay needing to earn a top-five finish in order to claim the series crown. After the checkered flag, Power made his way down to pit lane to congratulate the new series champ. “I just told him congratulations. He definitely deserved it. He had a great season,” said Power.

Castroneves made a strong charge to the finish as the No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet pitted just before the final race restart with seven laps remaining to take on new tires. He passed several cars in the closing laps but couldn’t quite catch Hunter-Reay or fight for the win. With the fifth-place result, Castroneves finished in the top 10 in 12 of 15 races in 2012. As he claimed fourth in the final series rankings, Castroneves improved on his 11th-place championship effort in 2011 and it marked the fourth time in the last five years that the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner has finished fourth or better in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings.

“Man, I thought we had a winner tonight in the No. 3 Auto Club machine,” said Castroneves, who also finished fourth in the series oval track championship. “We had a fast car and just needed some help here and there to finish up front. The Auto Club guys really did a great job in making adjustments and we thought we could get by some people on the final restart with the new tires. I am disappointed we did not get the championship for Team Penske, but in the end it is a top-five finish for us and that is a good place to be.”

After running in the top five for the majority of the first 100 laps of the race, Briscoe returned to action after brushing the wall in his No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet midway through the race to finish six laps behind. His sixth-place finish in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings matches his effort from 2011.

“It was a disappointing result. The No.2 IZOD car was running really well at the start of the race,” said Briscoe, who started second and led two laps on Saturday to lead at least one lap in 10 of 15 races this season. “But at the end of the second stint there with Will’s crash in turn two we ran over his wing and I think it might have damaged our diffuser and we just struggled from then on throughout the night. I’m just proud of the guys, they did what they needed to do and it just didn’t go our way tonight.” 

But it was the entire Team Penske crew that was the story of the season finale, as more than 20 crew members worked feverishly to put Power’s damaged car back together after the accident. He eventually returned to the race in 25th position and ran 12 more laps in the Verizon car to pick up an extra spot for 24th place which forced Hunter-Reay to finish fifth or better to claim the championship. Unfortunately, the car was too damaged to continue and the No. 12 machine had fallen too many laps off the pace with the repairs to make up any more ground.

“There were definitely times where it looked hopeful, but full credit to my guys for getting the car out to do those 12 laps,” said Power. “It gave us a couple of (more) points. At the end of the day (Ryan) Hunter-Reay is definitely a deserving champion. A real fighter. Probably as far as all-around drivers go, one of the best in the series because he wins at each discipline. We’ll be back next year and definitely try our best to win this championship again.”

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