STEPHEN HAWKINS,AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Helio Castroneves’ fourth IndyCar victory at Texas was much different than his other ones.
Instead of driving flat out and side by side with other cars at more than 210 mph almost every lap on the high-banked, 1 1/2-mile track, this time it was about managing tires along with a different aero package providing less downforce. And just holding on.
“A lot of cars were going forwards and a lot of cars were going backwards,” Castroneves said. “Because of that, it just changed and you had to be ahead of the game.”
Team Penske and Castroneves nailed the setup and their strategy Saturday night to finally get their first victory this season.
Castroneves led the final 132 laps and finished 4.7 seconds ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay. His other three Texas victories — in 2004, 2006 and 2009 — were by a combined margin of just over 1 second.
“Oh man, that was interesting. … It was like, at times, a race against yourself, just to save the tires and keep yourself off the wall. It was just a very challenging race,” Hunter-Reay said. “I was searching around for grip, getting into a rhythm, but definitely have had the full range of racing here at Texas Motor Speedway from 2008 to now.”
The top five finishers were Chevrolets, and those were the only cars to finish on the lead lap. Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan was third, followed by Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti.
Hunter-Reay led 35 of the 228 laps, all of his up front in the first half of the race.
“It’s so difficult to get the package exactly right with the downforce and the tires and the degradation of the tires,” he said. “As a series we’re working toward that.”
Texas, always known for some of the fastest and closest IndyCar races, was the first of four consecutive oval events for IndyCar. The Milwaukee Mile is next.
Kanaan, a past winner at Texas, was already ready to talk about the package for next year in the Lone Star State after what he described as an exciting and long night.
“I don’t know what happened behind me, but I can tell you that I had my hands full,” Kanaan said.
Asked what it’s like on the high-speed track when the tires start going away like they are designed to do, Kanaan responded, “It’s extremely uncomfortable. Because here, you’re along for the ride.”
Hunter-Reay described a lack of predictability about what will happen without tires and with less downforce.
“The car gives you a feeling and then it does something different,” he said. “It does not want to get into the corner at all. … The car does not want to come up out of the bank. Once it does, the rear just snaps loose, and I had some major ones, corrections. I’m sure everybody did.”
Castroneves held on for his 28th career victory, and became the seventh winner in eight IndyCar races this season. He also took over sole possession of the points lead, breaking a tie with Andretti, who dropped 22 points back and is still without a victory.
Will Power, Castroneves’ teammate who was the polesitter, finished seventh.
Penske got his eighth IndyCar win at Texas, along three NASCAR victories there (two Sprint Cup, one Nationwide).
Chip Ganassi’s team, which has won four IndyCar races at Texas, is still looking for a win anywhere this season.
Dario Franchitti was the highest-finishing Honda in sixth, while Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon was 23rd in the 24-car field after finishing only 61 laps because of an apparent gear shaft problem.
Andretti led the first 53 laps after starting on the front row, before giving up the lead on a green-flag stop. He led only four more laps before Castroneves went high around him late on lap 96 and stayed in front.
“The car was absolutely on rails,” Castroneves said.
Before Oriol Servia spun out right in front of him on lap 113, Castroneves had built a 14-second lead over defending race winner Justin Wilson. Castroneves was able to get around Servia’s car without any issue, and his ensuing stop under caution ended a sequence of 61 laps without a stop — after an early 54-lap run.
“We knew we wanted to run as long as we could, and the tires were so good when we took them off the first time, we didn’t have to worry,” Penske said. “We just stayed steady the whole time. … Helio did a great job. He drove all night long and coming up on cars that are 10-15 miles an hour slower and is able to maintain his speed and the distance between cars behind him.”