Helio Castroneves waves to the crowd during introductions for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. File photo by Edwin Locke/UPI | License Photo
NEWTON, Iowa -- Finally, a fence to climb for Helio Castroneves.
The Verizon IndyCar Series driver who made victory celebrations a thing of Spiderman-like beauty ended a long losing streak Sunday in the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway, winning his 30th career race.
Winning for the first time in 54 starts couldn't have come at a better time for the Brazilian driver. Multiple media outlets have reported Team Penske could be shuffling Castroneves to the team's sports car program next season, pairing him with Juan Pablo Montoya.
It means this 20th IndyCar season could be the last for Castroneves, the series' most popular driver.
Castroneves, 42, last won a race in Detroit on June 1, 2014. If he is to leave full-time IndyCar driving at season's end, he wanted to dispose of the losing streak.
"Incredible," he said after climbing the fence. "This is so special, so unbelievable to win a race again. This is what we've been waiting for on the 3 car. I knew we could win again, and this shows it."
Winning No. 30 also made Castroneves the 12th driver in series history to achieve that mark. He broke a tie with Rick Mears, the most famous of the Team Penske drivers.
But not even Mears drove for Roger Penske's team this long, which makes Castroneves unique.
"Helio has added so much to our team, and he continues to show how strong he is in this series," said Penske, who declined to comment on his 2018 driver lineup, particularly as it relates to Castroneves.
Castroneves also is solidly in contention for what would be his first series championship. He has finished second in the standings four times, but Sunday's win, coupled with Scott Dixon's eighth-place finish, drew Castroneves within eight points of the series lead with six races remaining.
Castroneves led this race for 217 of the 300 laps and won by 3.9647 seconds. He also gave Team Penske its first win at this short oval in 11 tries.
JR Hildebrand equaled his career-best finish by finishing second with Ryan Hunter-Reay, a three-time winner at this track east of Des Moines, taking third.
"It's a great finish but kind of a bummer," said Hildebrand, whose first runner-up finish came at the 2011 Indianapolis 500, when he crashed in Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag. "We had a car to win, for sure, but I guess Helio had a better car. Congrats to him, certainly."
The race was relatively incident-free. Mikhail Aleshin lost control of his car crossing the notorious bump in Turn 2, and he spun into the outside wall without much damage and no injury.
The next two cautions were the result of A.J. Foyt Racing cars -- first Carlos Munoz, then Conor Daly -- drifting into the Turn 4 wall with cars they were struggling with. Neither car suffered significant damage, but any wall contact on an oval track is enough to throw a caution for precaution.
There was then a brief caution for light rain, but the heat of the late afternoon allowed the track to dry quickly.
NOTES: JR Hildebrand showed his bravery by nearly winning the pole on the first hot lap after his Turn 2 crash in practice. The repairs to the Ed Carpenter Racing machine were primarily to the rear wing. In a rare situation, Hildebrand's steering wheel came flying off in his crash in practice due to contact with the driver's knees. The steering wheel hit Hildebrand's helmet before soaring high in the air. ... Former Formula One driver Esteban Gutierrez performed well in his first IndyCar oval-track race, even leading a lap. The Mexican driving for Dale Coyne Racing stayed on the lead lap until the final set of green-flag stops late in the race and finished 13th. ... Ten cars finished on the lead lap and while Helio Castroneves statistically dominated the race, it was considered a much more competitive race. Will Power, Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden all showed well. ... The series gets back to work quickly. Practice for the Honda Indy Toronto street race begins Friday. The 85-lap race, the first of six remaining on the schedule, is at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday.