NEWTON – Helio Castroneves bounded into a post-qualifying news conference.
His good-natured, fun-loving attitude made vague references to changes and future decisions by Team Penske, which opened the weekend by filling the front row and boasting a NASCAR Nationwide Series win by A.J. Allmendinger.
Castroneves had blown the field away, comfortably winning the final heat race ahead of teammate Will Power Saturday after setting a track record for fast-lap qualifying.
But, it will be Power starting at the front of the field for the IZOD IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 on Sunday at Iowa Speedway, beginning at 1:30 p.m. The race will be televised on KCRG-TV9.
The dominating performance gave way to Team Penske’s decision to switch engines, resulting in a receive 10-spot grid penalty for unapproved engine changes. The move dropped Castroneves the 11th starting spot, while Power moves to No. 1 and Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe slides to the outside of Row 1.
Castroneves mentioned being short on time with work to do on the car before taking questions. He didn’t share the pending decision.
“You guys going to find out very soon what’s going on … Can’t say,” said Castroneves, adding with a laugh, “I might be over Power, that’s what I’m saying so I want to make sure I get my voice heard, my opinion, it counts.”
Castroneves was dialed in all day. Tony Kanaan recorded the fastest lap time in practice, but Castroneves ignited Team Penske by posting an impressive lap speed of 185.687 miles per hour and circling the 0.875-mile track in 17.3324 seconds.
It was good to move him into the final heat that he won, leading from green to checker for his 38th career pole.
“The car is really good,” Castroneves said. “We were watching the other ones, first heat and second heat, so that we can learn something. It’s the toughest one, because you want to make some change, but you don’t know what. It was in the end the right decision what we did, again.
“So this weekend seems that we are making the right choice on the changing of the car.”
Castroneves is still credited with the pole victory and the points that accompany the heat win. He was able to extend his overall season points lead on Ryan Hunter-Reay, who failed to reach the final heat.
“Nine points right now, it’s really welcome to be honest,” Castroneves said. “Very excited what we achieved, Jonathan and John and everyone did a hell of a job.”
Power becomes the beneficiary of the engine change. He finished third, but ran strong in the heat race. He could have challenged Castroneves late, but settled for second – at that point. It is his second front row start, winning the pole in 2010.
“The car was very solid,” Power said. “Obviously, everyone’s going to go back and work on theirs tonight, but you know, hopefully we have a good car tomorrow and another good result, because we need to keep chipping away on the points.”
With all of the success Team Penske has produced, it does not include a win at Iowa Speedway. The display it put on Saturday could be a sign that winless streak here comes to an end. Power isn’t focused on it.
“Yeah, you can never tell in these races, there’s so many competitive people,” said Power, who is 11th in points. “Hopefully, yeah, I really need to gain some points on those guys, Helio, Hunter Reay, everyone in front of me. There’s a lot of people in front. But at some point the championship is going to become out of reach.
“But, I’m not racing with a head like that. I’m just racing to be smart and get a solid result each weekend.”
Power was glued to a television in the media center after the heat races, watching Allmendinger celebrate his first Nationwide win. He said he was happy for Allmendinger, knowing his effort and emphasis on success.
It could be the start of a huge weekend for all of Team Penske.
“It’s great for Roger, too,” Power said of the team owner. “He’ll be enjoying his vacation with a win in the heat race and a NASCAR win. Hopefully they can do it at Sonoma tomorrow, too, and we can do it here.”
Hinchcliffe thought his wish of an outside front row start slipped away when Power slipped by him with 20 laps left of the 50-lap heat race. He was fast Saturday and eventually got his wish to start in the first row.
“Huge credit to the Andretti (Autosport) guys because they gave us a car we could move up,” said Hinchcliffe, who started fifth and finished third. “We didn’t see a lot of guys making passes today, and we were able to move up from where we started.”
Hinchcliffe’s teammate, Marco Andretti, who won here in 2011, will start in the third position. He will be next to Ed Carpenter in Row 2.
Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato joined the final heat with a top-two finish in the opening heat. Dixon held the pole, posting the eighth-fastest qualifying lap placing him in the contest featuring the even-numbered qualifiers from eight to 24.
Dixon qualified fifth, but dropped in more engine penalties. Josef Newgarden, James Jakes, Takuma Sato and Ana Beatriz dropped 10 grid spots as well.
Graham Rahal and Carpenter earned a spot in the final heat, placing first and second, respectively, in the first heat, consisting of qualifiers seven through 23. Carpenter made a jump, qualifying seventh overall and starting fourth in tomorrow’s race after the penalties.