The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season will forever be known as the year Will Power finally broke the reign of bad luck to capture the championship. The Aussie had previously been a 3-time championship runner-up from 2010 – 2012. As deserving a champion as Power is this season, lost in the joy is the heartbreaking defeat of this year’s runner-up, Helio Castroneves.
Only one of them could deliver the Astor Cup to team owner Roger Penske at Auto Club Speedway Saturday night.
After starting on pole and being in the mix for victory much of the night, the Brazilian made an error coming to pit road by not keeping all four tires below the commitment line. The result was a drive-thru penalty that pushed him down the running order and behind Power. A little more than 20 laps later the checkered flag waved, the crowd roared with celebration as Power smoked the tires on the ensuing cool down lap coming to pit road.Fan favorite Tony Kanaan, longtime friend of Castroneves, won the race, his first with Chip Ganassi Racing. An exhausted Power took center stage, celebrating with family and team members, hoisting the championship trophy in celebration.
As the confetti rained down all around him, Castroneves was left to wonder what could have been. For the 39-year-old Brazilian, the 2014 season now marks the 4th time he has finished runner-up for the IndyCar Series championship.
In 2002, he lost the title by a mere 20 points to Panther Racing’s Sam Hornish, Jr. During the 2008 season Castroneves made an incredible run, finishing the final six races no lower than 2nd, including a win in the season finale at Chicagoland Speedway. It wasn’t enough however, as New Zealand’s Scott Dixon held on and won the championship by 17 points over the Team Penske driver. The 2013 provided new hope, but the ending was much the same, once again he finished behind Dixon, this time by 27 points.
This season was his biggest defeat in terms of points behind, finishing 62 behind Power. It may be the most crushing after being in position to win it for a majority of the race.
The career of Castroneves is one many drivers would dream of having, placing himself among the all-time greats with 29 career wins. On the grandest stage in all of motorsports, the Indianapolis 500, he has kissed the bricks, climbed the fence, and put his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy on three separate occasions.
Is the measure of being the Indianapolis 500 champion greater than being the IndyCar Series champion? Every driver wants to win both, of course, but one is the greatest race in the world while the other proves you are the greatest on all disciplines of tracks (ovals, road courses, street courses).
For decades open-wheel drivers could and would race well into their 40’s and in some cases 50’s, but in today’s modern day racing youth is all the craze. This puts the 39-year-old in a precarious position. He is obviously still in incredible racing shape, but like NFL running backs that hit 30, everyone is waiting for the drop off. The focus, the discipline, the passion of Castroneves is what makes it seem that he can become that old school driver in a new generation and still succeed.
The greater question might be, how long will Roger Penske keep Castroneves with massive amount of talent springing up around the series? Every single rookie this season finished on the podium, proving to be one of the most talented in series history.
Many expected last season’s rough ending to be his downfall, an emotional result that would keep Castroneves unfocused and a non-factor for the championship this season. We know now that wasn’t the case. Entering next year, will he show the mental strength and fight once again, this time possibly even breaking his own curse and hoisting the Astor Cup? Or does he wither to the heartache after with coming so close for a second consecutive season and become average?
All these questions remain to be answered, but will be during the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
The title was more important for Power’s legacy, who had lived in the shadow of curses prior to Saturday night. The career of Castroneves is well document, he could hang up his helmet tomorrow and be known as a legend. However, the Brazilian has other plans, because the legend isn’t complete until he is the one dancing on the stage next to the trophy that proves he is the best.