Castroneves furious over penalty, more news and notes
DETROIT -- One of the biggest complaints about Brian Barnhart is that the IndyCar President, Competition Division, is usually "all bark and no bite" when it comes to enforcing penalties, that he often warns drivers against the sins of blocking but rarely penalizes offending drivers.
That changed in Sunday's Detroit Indy Grand Prix as Barnhart took a big bite out of Helio Castroneves' bid for a second straight victory.
Castroneves and Justin Wilson were engaged in quite a battle when the green flag waved on Lap 69, but when it became obvious that Castroneves was blocking, Barnhart ordered Castroneves behind Wilson on the 72nd lap.
What some found curious was that Barnhart made the call with Castroneves in a battle with Scott Dixon for the season title. There is a term in basketball when late in the game the officials let the outcome be "determined on the court" and often "swallow the whistle," overlooking some physical contact rather than calling a foul. But Barnhart had no choice.
"You can't officiate based on points or who's involved or what position they hold," Barnhart said. "You have to do it out of fairness and competition."
Tim Cindric is president of Team Penske and calls the shots for Castroneves, while team owner Roger Penske calls the pit strategy for Ryan Briscoe. Cindric is a master at understanding the rule book and objecting when he feels his team is right, and he was dumbfounded by the decision that helped Wilson win the race while Castroneves finished second.
"Hey, I just want to know what the situation is before we start," Cindric said. "We haven't seen that before. ... We're disappointed with second place when you are running for a championship."
Cindric said there is no reason to appeal the call -- they just have to accept it and move on to the final race of the season at Chicagoland, trailing Dixon by 30 points.
"Consistency is the only thing I ask for," Castroneves said. "I've been in this series since 2002 and we never had a situation like this. We always have a warning and then if you do it again, then you are going to be penalized.
"All of a sudden, I didn't get any warning. It was, 'Move over. You're going to get black-flagged.' It was uncalled for. I know that Brian Barnhart is trying to put pressure on and make everyone disciplined, but two races to go for the championship, I don't think it's the right thing to do."
Dixon denied championship clincher
It could have been a day when Scott Dixon wrapped up the second IndyCar Series championship of his career. Instead, he left Detroit feeling like anything but a champion after finishing fifth.
Not to worry, an eighth-place finish or better in the final race of the season (this weekend at Chicagoland) will give the New Zealander his first IndyCar championship since 2003. Even knowing that didn't make him any happier about Sunday's outcome.
Dixon was foiled by a pit strategy that had him come into the pits after leading the first 18 laps. The yellow flag waved after teammate Dan Wheldon and Jaime Camara crashed in the ninth turn.
It seemed like a smart move by Target/Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull, who calls Dixon's pit strategy. But when Castroneves and the other contenders decided to stay on the track, it left Dixon stuck on that fuel strategy.
"I didn't decide it," Dixon said of the strategy.
One of the admirable qualities about Dixon is his sincerity. He is perhaps the most sincere and honest drivers in the IndyCar Series, which means he always gives an answer from his heart rather than taking the safe, political approach.
And while his assessment about Sunday's pit strategy may not have been supportive of the team, he admitted his thoughts after the race were clouded by frustration.
"No, it's not calls or anything," Dixon said. "We win as a team; we lose as a team. But I think, you know, my anger or whatever is just from frustration.
"I think we clearly had the quickest car today. Nobody was going to touch us, and still we ended up fifth. So I think that's disappointing. I think that's what makes it tough to deal with. So for the moment, we weren't the quickest car. We maybe had a top 5, at best, in the 6th position. But I think when you lose like that, it's very tough."