Eyeing the Championships at Homestead-Miami: Weekend wins for Miami’s Helio (IndyCar) and two-time Sprint Cup Champion Stewart (NASCAR)

Helio Celebrates at Texas after passing teammate Briscoe in the closing laps to win for the third time at the track

Helio celebrates at Texas after passing teammate Ryan Briscoe for his third win at the track (photo: Shawn Payne/IndyCar Media)

Helio Castroneves rolled into Texas with a level of uncertainty. After a historic third Indy 500 win, the race in Milwaukee was a bit of a letdown. How would Miami’s own respond at Texas with his eyes focused on contending for the Championship at his home track of Homestead-Miami Speedway during the NextEra SpeedJam Championships Oct. 9-10?

…With a win, of course—his third at Texas Motor Speedway. Castroneves grabbed the lead off of a Lap 175 pit stop and went on to a 0.3904 of a second victory over Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe.

"It was an incredible day for Team Penske," said Castroneves, who resides in Coral Gables, just a short drive from THE Championship Track. "All the credit also goes to Ryan Briscoe and his team. They push us, and we push them, and together, we're pushing towards the top. Having first and second at Texas is not easy, so that's a compliment for everyone."

And all of this off of what Castroneves considered a disappointing qualifying round.

"I put the pedal to the metal, but it was just one of those days where there was not much happening,” he said after qualifying fourth at Texas, while Target Chip Ganassi’s Dario Franchitti earned his first pole. “It's too bad because we have a quick car, and we didn't qualify as fast as I thought we would. The fastest car is not always the winner at Texas, I've won from the pole, and I've won from third place. Overall, I'm happy to be starting in the second row….”

Scott Dixon, the defending IndyCar Series Champion and winner at Homestead-Miami in 2008, was third, and Marco Andretti finished a season-high fourth. Pole-sitter Franchitti was fifth and Danica Patrick finished sixth.

"We did the best we could, I just didn't have enough for Helio in the final stages," said Briscoe, who led 160 laps and took over the IndyCar Series championship race with 199 points. "The last 20 laps were some of the most frustrating I've ever driven. To lead the whole race and have the quickest car out there, I just couldn't pass Helio. The high line was slower.”

Castroneves, who currently sits fourth in the points standings, has never won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he will be seeking his first IndyCar Series Championship at the Firestone Indy 300 Oct. 9-10.

 
Points-leader Stewart eyeing Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Nov. 22

After being forced to start at the end of the field at Pocono following a practice crash, two-time Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart played the fuel consumption game and hung on for his 34th career win, becoming just the sixth owner/driver to win at Pocono. Stewart was able to stretch his championship lead over Jeff Gordon after gambling on fuel after his last pit stop. The win marked the first points race victory for Stewart as a car owner, although he did claim a win at Charlotte during the All-Star Race.

Stewart spun his primary car in the first practice Saturday and smashed the front end as he went from the pavement into grass. He completed 11 laps in the first practice and was third on the practice sheet.

“I was really happy with it,” Stewart said about the backup car. “I was happier with that car than I was the first one. I told them that if I knew the second one was going to be so good, I would have crashed the first one the first lap out. … I feel like we’ve got a good balance and we’ll fine-tune things.”

Stewart gambled that he could drive the final 41 laps without a pit stop and it paid off, helping snap a 19-race winless streak dating to last season. This victory stamped Stewart as a true threat to win his third Cup title when the series culminates NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Ford 400 Nov. 22.

Stewart is the first owner/driver to win a points race since Ricky Rudd at Martinsville in 1998. Carl Edwards finished second, followed by David Reutimann, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman.

Miami resident Juan Pablo Montoya gambled on fuel and came home in eighth-place. Montoya, looking to make his first Chase as a NASCAR driver, trails 14th-place Kasey Kahne by two points as the series heads to Michigan next week.


Target Chip Ganassi Racing Nabs Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Win at Watkins Glen

Defending Daytona Prototype champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas entered Saturday's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen still vying for their first victory of 2009, chasing Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty of Bob Stallings Racing.

The Pruett-Rojas duo in the No. 01 TELMEX Lexus Riley cruised to victory and took a share of the points-standings lead, en route to the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Championship to be decided during the NextEra Energy Resources SpeedJam Championships Oct. 9-10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Rojas and Pruett dominated the event by leading 142 of the 188 laps including the final 35 laps.

The point lead also changed in the GT class, with Dirk Werner and Leh Keen winning their second race of the 2009 campaign in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3. Miami resident Jeff Segal was the defending GT champ at Watkins Glen, and he and Emil Assentato, driving the No. 69 SpeedSource Mazda, chased Werner and Keen until the end.

"The championship is back to being a nail-biter," said Pruett, who scored his 20th Daytona Prototype victory. "It's going to be a fight with the SunTrust, GAINSCO and Penske teams. There are a lot of guys in the mix and a lot of exciting racing going on. It's going to go down to the wire at Homestead-Miami Speedway."

Last year’s series champions, Gurney and Fogarty, entered the event with an eight-point lead but had a frustrating day. Gurney needed four pit stops early in the race while the team worked on handling problems on the No. 99 GAINSCO Pontiac Riley, which dropped them to 16th. The pair battled to get back on the lead lap. Fogarty was running sixth with two hours remaining when he tangled with Brumos Racing driver David Donohue, spinning into a gravel trap and retiring with floorboard damage.

"It was just an all-around forgettable day," Gurney said. "We were reasonably competitive and thinking about the championship we just had a lot of things go wrong today. We were running fifth and we were in good shape - it was just unfortunate."

There are 10 drivers in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series that will head to France to compete in the 24 Hours at Le Mans before coming back to continue the march to championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 10.

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