IRL notes: Castroneves stays out front in points

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Helio Castroneves loves to win, but consistent finishes are just fine with him for now.

The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner has never won an IndyCar Series championship and he will head for Indy next month leading the points after finishing fourth in Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

So far this season, the Brazilian has finished fourth, second, second and fourth and goes to Indianapolis holding a lead of six points over Scott Dixon and nine over Kansas winner Dan Wheldon, both former series champions.

“Thankfully, we were able to stay out of trouble and bring home a fourth-place finish, which keeps us in the championship lead heading into Indy,” Castroneves said. “We’ve run consistently well the first part of the season, and I have no doubt that the team will continue to give me the car I need to go for my third Indianapolis 500 win next month.”

Ryan Briscoe, his new Penske Racing teammate, finished seventh on Sunday.

“The final laps were a little frustrating because I think I had better than a seventh-place car,” said Briscoe, who was driving a sports car for Penske last season. “I was just trying to play it safe, looking for a solid finish. I thought it was a good day for me and I feel like I learned a lot out there.”

OVAL DEBUT: Teenager Graham Rahal felt pretty good about his first IndyCar oval race Sunday.

The 19-year-old driver, who last month won on the street circuit in St. Petersburg, Fla., becoming the youngest winner ever of a major open-wheel race, finished 20th in the 27-car field, just one lap behind the leaders on the 1.5-mile oval.

“I was pretty happy with the competitiveness of the car,” said Rahal, whose only other oval race came in 2005 when he finished second in a low-level professional series at Pikes Peak International Speedway. “Especially with the teams that we thought we would be competing with. I was pretty happy with it.

“The biggest thing today was to learn who you can trust, who you can’t, where you could run and where you can’t,” the son of longtime racing star Bobby Rahal said. “To get confidence to run on the high line takes quite a bit of guts. It takes some heart to run up there and know that the thing is going to stick and you’ll be all right.”

Rahal, moving from the now-defunct Champ Car World Series to IndyCar with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, added, “It’s just nice to get a full 199 or whatever laps. That’s what I am most happy about. … It wasn’t the easiest thing I have ever done, but the biggest thing is to get your rhythm coming in and out of the pits. I’m just glad we finished.”

Teammate Justin Wilson, who ran in the season-opener on the oval at Homestead — which Rahal missed due to a crash in testing — finishing ninth on Sunday.

“The car was great in traffic and when I was in a draft,” the Englishman said. “It was great to be able to keep up and start to race people. I was enjoying myself and having fun.

“As soon as we lost the draft we struggled to keep up with the pace. That’s the part where these other teams have had years of experience on us so, hopefully, we will work that out over the next couple of weeks and close some of that gap.”

TRAGEDY AVOIDED: Simon Morley, chief mechanic and a tire changer for the car driven by Tomas Scheckter, escaped serious injury when the car driven by Marty Roth slid into him during a pit stop.

Morley was kneeling alongside the right front of Scheckter’s car when Roth hit him from behind with the left front wing of his Dallara. Morley was able to jump up and hurry away. His only injury was a cut on his hand.

Several of Scheckter’s crewmen then tried to help get Roth going again and one of them gave Roth a hard slap on the helmet after the driver appeared to run over his foot as he moved away.

The IRL hit Roth with a drive-through penalty for contact with a crew member. Roth finished went out of the race with a handling problem after 41 laps, finishing 26th.

GANASSI DAY: Team owner Chip Ganassi had a very good day Sunday.

Not only did his IndyCar drivers Wheldon and Dixon finish first and third, but former open-wheel star Juan Pablo Montoya was second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega and Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas combined to give Ganassi’s team a victory in a Grand-Am sports car race in Virginia.

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