Helio Castroneves moved into a clear lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship race with a commanding victory in Saturday night's Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Castroneves, who came into the weekend tied in points with Marco Andretti, dominated most of the evening to eventually cross the line 5.2 seconds ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay. Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan completed the podium.
The race was all about tire management. Most drivers experienced extreme performance drop-off over the course of a 50-60 lap stint, but Penske driver Castroneves was almost alone in the field in being able to keep his tires' performance reasonably consistent.
"At the start of the race the car was already awesome, and we didn't do a change in the first stop," he said. "But most of the time it was managing the tires. We were running like a Swiss watch, and everything was great."
Hunter-Reay applauded IndyCar and Firestone's tweaks for the race.
"Man, the drivers had to drive it tonight, and that No. 1 DHL Chevy was great," he said. "We made the most of it and we kinda lost it there when that yellow (flag) came out, our strategy was such that we needed that yellow not to come.
"It was hard to even get by some of the slower traffic. You were just searching everywhere for grip; I had so many catches out there I thought were going into the wall."
The early stages were controlled by Andretti, who passed polesitter Will Power on the first lap, but a slower pit stop, different pit strategy and higher tire wear gradually dropped him back through the field.
"I think it (pit strategy) worked out for Ryan. He had a vibration and came in early. He went out, running some quick laps and he didn't catch a yellow," Andretti said. "We tried to do the same thing, we caught the yellow and the RC Cola car ended up a lap down. So, it's unfortunate and to top it all off the worst guy in the championship fight against me won, but congrats to him."
Unusually, the race was interrupted by just three caution periods, two of which were brought about by mechanical problems.
Pippa Mann's outing in the second Dale Coyne Racing car ended after a handful of laps when she suffered an apparent engine failure, while Scott Dixon triggered the yellows when he slowed with what would eventually become a terminal gearbox problem.
The only incident-induced interruption came when Oriol Servia spun and stopped at Turn 2, although he was able to get going again and finished the race.
Results - 228 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Engine Time/Gap
1. Helio Castroneves Penske/Chevy 1h52m17.4594s
2. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti/Chevy + 4.6919s
3. Tony Kanaan KV/Chevy + 11.6088s
4. Ed Carpenter Carpenter/Chevy + 17.6930s
5. Marco Andretti Andretti/Chevy + 19.5078s
6. Dario Franchitti Ganassi/Honda + 1 lap
7. Will Power Penske/Chevy + 1 lap
8. Josef Newgarden Fisher/Honda + 1 lap
9. James Hinchcliffe Andretti/Chevy + 1 lap
10. EJ Viso Andretti/Chevy + 1 lap
11. Takuma Sato Foyt/Honda + 1 lap
12. James Jakes Rahal/Honda + 1 lap
13. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt/Honda + 2 laps
14. Sebastian Saavedras Dragon/Chevy + 2 laps
15. Justin Wilson Coyne/Honda + 2 laps
16. Simona de Silvestro KV/Chevy + 2 laps
17. Charlie Kimball Ganassi/Honda + 2 laps
18. Tristan Vautier Schmidt/Honda + 3 laps
19. Oriol Servia Panther/Chevy + 3 laps
20. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon/Chevy + 4 laps
21. Graham Rahal Rahal/Honda + 5 laps
22. Alex Tagliani Herta/Honda + 5 laps
Scott Dixon Ganassi/Honda 61 laps
Pippa Mann Coyne/Honda 2 laps
All drivers use Dallara DW12 chassis