Helio was indeed No. 1 on Sunday. Photo Credit: Firestone Racing/Dennis Ashlock
The records will show that Helio Castroneves earned his first Edmonton Indy win on Sunday. The man himself, however, believes that he earned his second.
What cannot be debated is that Castroneves has officially thrust himself into the IZOD IndyCar Series' championship picture.
The Brazilian driver, whose blocking penalty late in the 2010 Edmonton race robbed him of a victory and set off a blow-up to end them all, was all smiles in Victory Lane after holding off a game Takuma Sato by .8367 of a second to earn his second win of the season. Castroneves also climbed to second in the standings and now sits just 23 points behind leader Ryan Hunter-Reay with four races to go.
His Team Penske teammate Will Power also gained ground on Hunter-Reay thanks to a strong third-place finish. He pulled within 26 points of the American, who wound up 7th.
Both Power and Hunter-Reay had to overcome 10-spot grid penalties for unapproved engine changes (Power swapped his motor this weekend, while Hunter-Reay did it after winning in Toronto two weekends ago). That left a chance for Castroneves to make an impact on the championship, and he took advantage.
"I hope it will be really tough," said Castroneves of the title fight ready to unfold. "Certainly, Will is an incredible talent. We have all seen that. And Ryan [Hunter-Reay has] fantastic momentum right now. In the end of the day, it's all about being there.
"Right now, I'm still playing cool, man. I just want to make sure we do what we're doing."
What Castroneves and his No. 3 Team Penske squad are doing is being consistent: The team has finished in the top-10 in all but two races this season. But a second win seemed necessary to put him alongside Hunter-Reay and Power as legitimate threats for the 2012 crown.
Castroneves put himself at the point on Lap 52, when after pitting one lap previous, he passed Alex Tagliani for P1 as the Canadian was coming off pit lane following his own service. Tagliani had started the race like a rocket -- charging from fourth at the green flag to the lead on the opening lap -- and had stayed out front up to that point.
But Tagliani faded with older tires in the final stint to an eventual fifth-place finish, and Sato rose up to be Castroneves' main rival for the win. After starting the stint in fourth, he got by Power for third and then passed a falling Tagliani for second on Lap 55.
The final 20 laps became a two-horse race as Sato drew within striking distance. The Japanese driver cut the gap down to as little as half a second.
But that was as close as he would get to Castroneves.
"I couldn't push him any harder than that," said Sato, who earned his second podium finish of the season. "To be honest, simply, there was not enough opportunity. I got close to the area, but by that time, he pulled away, too. He was obviously saving the tires, waiting for the moment that I'm catching up."
Castroneves also had a clear advantage in remaining "push to pass" time over Sato in the closing laps, which helped him hold on to P1 (each driver had 120 seconds worth of the overtake assist to use at Edmonton).
"I knew where I needed to be strong and where I needed to take it easy," said Castroneves. "That's what I was doing -- saving up 'push to pass' so I could defend myself. In the end, I just want to make sure I had enough to protect my position.
"That's what we did. For the last 20 laps, I knew [Sato] was strong, especially on the infield [section]. I knew my car was pretty good on both straightaways. With that, I was able to keep the lead and keep the position."
Meanwhile, as Castroneves and Sato dueled for the win, Power was putting the finishing touches on a sorely needed good finish after starting back in 17th position. In the first stint, the Aussie showed that he had one of the more stout cars in the field by rising into the top 10 before the majority of green flag stops began.
After staying out for a lap in the lead while others pitted, Power got his first stop of the day on Lap 27 and came out eighth. He followed the same game plan on his second stop, emerging in fourth place afterwards. He then passed Tagliani for the third position on Lap 57 and stayed there for the remainder.
"I think if we started 17th and there was going to be no yellows, and we thought we'd end up third, we'd take that for sure," said Power. "Man, good day. We're definitely tightening up the championship. It's great to have a good day with the Verizon car."
Graham Rahal came away with his first top-5 performance since last month at Texas, rising four spots to finish in fourth and gain some momentum for the last part of the season.
"We started the weekend off hot, but we kind of fell off there a little bit and ended up finishing off hot," said Rahal. "At this point in the season, to get a top-five and gain some points is really important, and that's what we want to do."
Tagliani led the most laps on the day, but was forced to settle to fifth in the end. Still, the Quebec native said he was happy with the result, which serves as his best of the season so far.
"When we put on the second set of tires that were a little old, I don't think we had as much speed as the other guys and it was hurting us," said "Tag." "You're going to learn throughout the season, but I have nothing to say. The team was doing a great job.
"We're competitive and I could not ask for more. If we keep doing it every race, then I'll be happy."
IZOD IndyCar Series -- Edmonton Indy
Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (5) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 75, Running
2. (3) Takuma Sato, KVRT-Honda, 75, Running
3. (17) Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 75, Running
4. (8) Graham Rahal, Ganassi-Honda, 75, Running
5. (4) Alex Tagliani, Herta-Honda, 75, Running
6. (1) Dario Franchitti, Ganassi-Honda, 75, Running
7. (11) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Chevy, 75, Running
8. (2) Ryan Briscoe, Penske-Chevy, 75, Running
9. (10) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, 75, Running
10. (18) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Honda, 75, Running
11. (23) Mike Conway, Foyt-Honda, 75, Running
12. (9) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Chevy, 75, Running
13. (7) Rubens Barrichello, KVRT-Chevy, 75, Running
14. (15) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Chevy, 75, Running
15. (12) Sebastien Bourdais, Dragon-Chevy, 75, Running
16. (16) EJ Viso, KVRT-Chevy, 75, Running
17. (13) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 75, Running
18. (21) Tony Kanaan, KVRT-Chevy, 75, Running
19. (19) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Honda, 75, Running
20. (6) Simon Pagenaud, SHM-Honda, Contact - Lap 74
21. (20) JR Hildebrand, Panther-Chevy, 74, Running
22. (22) Ed Carpenter, ECR-Chevy, 74, Running
23. (25) Simona de Silvestro, HVM-Lotus, 73, Running
24. (24) Oriol Servia, Panther+DRR-Chevy, Mechanical - Lap 65
25. (14) James Jakes, Coyne-Honda, Mechanical - Lap 43
Winner's average speed: 101.246 mph; Time of Race: One hour, 38 minutes, 50.9294 seconds; Margin of victory: 0.8367 of a second; Cautions: 0; Lead changes: 5 among 4 drivers
Tagliani 1-25, Briscoe 26, Power 27, Tagliani 28-51, Power 52-53, Castroneves 54-75
Hunter-Reay 362, Castroneves 339, Power 336, Dixon 301, Hinchcliffe 286, Kanaan 279, Pagenaud 276, Franchitti 258, Briscoe 241, Rahal 237.
Aug. 5, Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, 1 pm ET on ABC
All quotes were taken from INDYCAR trackside reports and a transcript of today's post-race press conference.