Over the past decade plus, you will find fewer more comprehensive winners than Helio Castroneves:
On the track with his first two Indianapolis 500s, three Indy 500s overall as part of 28 IndyCar races; on prime-time TV, as a victorious hoofer on Dancing With The Stars; in life, as a father of one, now living in Fort Lauderdale; heck, he even beat the federal government in court, acquitted of six counts of tax evasion a month before sweeping the 2009 Indianapolis 500 pole, pit stop contest and race.
About the only thing Castroneves hasn’t won is an IndyCar Series title.
That’s available to him if he can make up the 25 points on series leader Scott Dixon on Saturday in the IZOD IndyCar season finale, the MAVTV 500 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Cal.
“It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort or a great team and hard work,” Castroneves said by phone from California. “There’s no reason for it not to have happened. In racing, there are things outside of your control. It’s part of life. If I would’ve been upset about it five or 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be in this position today.”
That position looked much better before Castroneves experienced “Houston, we have a problem” during the twin races at Houston two weeks ago. After going in with a 49-point lead on the surging Ganassi Racing driver Dixon, he suffered gearbox problems that took him out of contention early in both races. Dixon, meanwhile, won the first race and finished second in the nightcap for a 74-point swing in the standings.
Before that, Castroneves assumed the lead by being a model of consistency. Despite winning only one race and one pole position, he led the points after 14 of the first 17 races this season by finishing in the top 10 15 times and always running at the finish.
Early in the season, the dominant teams of IndyCar’s last decade, Penske and Ganassi, couldn’t get into the draft of Andretti Autosport, IndyCar’s third power team, and smaller teams that took the first seven races of the season. If 300,000 fans can share a group snicker, it happened at the series showcase event, the Indianapolis 500, as many felt not a bit sorry about the also-ran status of the Penske and Ganassi cars.
“In the beginning of the season, you heard ‘Penske and Ganassi have not been able to get into the victory circle yet,’ ” Castroneves said. “It’s a long season. It’s not where you start, but how you finish. In the end, the hard work of the very good teams ended up prevailing.”
Also, after the seventh race, team owner Roger Penske, “The Captain,” took over as Castroneves’ strategist for the first time in Castroneves’ 14 seasons with Penske Racing. He won the next race, the Firestone 550.
“I feel for myself and the entire team and group, there’s a sense of leadership,” Castroneves said. “Right or wrong, at least we have a direction. It gets the best of us. His power of leadership translates to everyone.”
Whether that translates into a win Saturday, well, a car with Castroneves in the cockpit and Penske in his ear might cut into the sleep of even the unflappable Dixon. Dixon won the 2008 series title despite the second-place Castroneves winning the final race.
“We have to search for ways to attack as much as we can,” Castroneves said. “We feel in 500 miles, anything is possible. It feels exciting. I know I have the best team behind me. The whole season, I was the hunted, but now I’m the hunter.”
With one trophy to be bagged for the wall.