It sure looks like Iowa is where Indycar drivers go to lose back monkeys. Yes, the story of the day was that Helio Castroneves was finally able to break some unfathomable three-year winless streak, but really there was reason for all three podium drivers to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Everyone, enjoy the champagne. And the pizza.
Ryan Hunter-Reay has consistently placed among the highest Honda drivers in practices this season, but race days have been a different story. Unbelievably, he’s only managed two Top 10 finishes leading into Iowa. It’s reminiscent of that “Gloom Despair and Agony on Me” tune from Hee Haw that goes “If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all.” Even with the podium finish here he’s only up to 14th in the Championship standings. Does anyone honestly think he’s the 14th best Indycar driver right now?
And then there’s JR Hildebrand, who had his second podium finish on a short oval this season for Ed Carpenter racing. He’s definitely the equal of the Team Penske foursome on these tracks, where the Chevy aerokit has an observable advantage. Heck, were it not for an ill-timed pass attempt of Alexander Rossi late in the race JR might have actually one this race. I could note that another ill-timed pass attempt led to Hildebrand’s other career second place finish, but that would be cruel.
(“Drive through penalty for cruelty.” – The Spotter)
At any rate, Castroneves took advantage of Hildebrand’s brief misfortune and never surrendered the lead. The victory of course let to the patented “Spider-Man” fence climb, which seems more than a coincidence on a weekend the “Spider-man Homecoming” was released nationally. That is. . .an amazing coincidence. After the win Castroneves is now a strong second in the standings behind Scott Dixon, exactly where he finished for Dixon’s championships in 2008 and 2013. Same as it ever was.
Here’s something to consider: while much is made of the fact that Castroneves has never won the Indycar series championship, since the 2002 season (that’s the last 15 years, folks) he has only finished worse than 4th four times. He was 5th in 2015 (another Dixon championship), 6th in ’05 and ’07, and 11th in ’11. He may not have the trophy, but for over an entire generation he’s been one of the drivers that factored in the championship.
And if reports of his imminent move to sports cars are correct, we’re nearing the end of an incredible run.
Lastly let me also add that your humble host watched this race with more than a twinge of jealousy. The weather was hot (90 degrees) and humid (50 percent) and the fans were probably sweating like Major Striker at the end of “Airplane!”, but sweet mother of overtake did they have a fun race to watch on their 7/8ths mile oval in the middle of nowhere. Juxtapose this with a nice April evening here in Phoenix a few months ago and on our short oval where the passing looked like it was rationed by Communists. Seriously, I don’t understand aero kits.
Honorable mention this week include:
Simon Pagenaud, for being a great teammate by being the first to congratulate Helio on his emotional win. And also for wearing neon yellow sunglasses that matched his car.
Graham Rahal, who after a dismal start to the season has become the top Honda driver not named “Dixon” this year, finishing in the top 5 in four of the last five races. Right now he’s like Honda’s constancy equivalent of Pagenaud.
Esteban Gutierrez, or as one twitter user called him, “Steve Guttenburg“, for completing his first oval race without crash damage. One of the finest 13th place performances you may ever see.
Race control, for stopping the race with a red flag rather than ticking off excitement-free laps under yellow during a brief shower.
Final Lap: So, we’re all rooting for Helio to win the championship now, right?