SAO PAULO – Helio Castroneves doesn't mind benefiting from the misfortunes of his closest title contenders in the IndyCar championship. Not even from a controversial penalty that led to criticism of his team.
At this point in the season, Castroneves is taking all the luck he can get.
He knows he got lucky on Sunday in Sonoma when Scott Dixon lost a chance to win the race after being penalized for running into a pits member working on the car of Will Power, Castroneves' Penske teammate.
Castroneves finished only seventh but still increased his points lead thanks to the penalty given to Dixon, who crossed the line 15th and fell 39 points behind with four races left.
"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," the three-time Indy 500 winner said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I've been in the other side of these calls many times before. That's the way it goes sometimes."
The Chip Ganassi Racing team accused Power's tire changer of getting in front of Dixon's path on purpose to draw the penalty. Dixon didn't hide his frustration after the race, saying "If that's the way they want to try and win, that's pretty bad."
Castroneves took none of it.
"Rules are rules," said Castroneves, who is seeking his first IndyCar title. "That same situation happened to me before in other occasions, including with their team involved, and I lost positions because I was blocked by a tire while trying to leave the pits."
Castroneves himself has received his share of penalties and has been vocal against IndyCar racing officials in the past, including against Beaux Barfield, the race director who levied the Dixon penalty over the weekend.
A couple of years ago, he lashed out at then-director Brian Barnhart after being penalized on the last lap of a race in Japan. Castroneves had already been upset with Barnhart after a blocking penalty cost him a victory in Edmonton in 2010. Castroneves angrily confronted officials after leaving his car.
Castroneves defended his team of any wrongdoing on Sunday but said he was not offended by Dixon's words.
"I think we all say a lot of things when we are frustrated," Castroneves said. "I'd also be disappointed if that happened to me. But everybody knows that it's not going to be that call alone which will decide the championship. One race result cannot erase all the good work that we have done so far throughout the season."
The penalty could become crucial in the championship, though, as Dixon was leading the race and could've reduced the gap to Castroneves to less than 10 points had he stayed ahead. The 33-year-old New Zealander, a two-time series champion, has put pressure on Castroneves recently with a remarkable run that included three wins in the last five races.
The result could've been even worse for the 38-year-old Castroneves had he failed to avoid serious damage after a series of incidents throughout the race in California.
"I was surprised I could finish the race. I have to say that some of my co-workers were a bit aggressive during the race. We were a bit lucky in that sense too," Castroneves said. "It was a very positive result in the end, we have to thank the guy upstairs for helping this time."
Castroneves had contact with other drivers several times, including near the end when his car was sandwiched and touched from both sides during a restart. Marco Andretti was one of the drivers involved in that incident, which prompted Castroneves to personally complain after the race.
"After the race he saw what happened and understood why we were a bit frustrated," Castroneves said. "He's also in the championship race so there's no reason to take unnecessary risks in certain situations."
Castroneves said he talked to other drivers, too, because he felt that as the points leader he has become somewhat defenseless against opponents who have little to lose.
"Some of them are not driving the same way as they had been driving in the beginning of the year," he said.
The Brazilian has only one win this year but has been consistent from the start. He has 11 consecutive top-10 finishes and is the only driver to complete every lap the entire season.
Castroneves has been in contention for the title in four of the last five years, but it's the first time that he has the points lead with four races left. He was runner-up in the series in 2002 and 2008.
The next race is in Baltimore this weekend, where he was only 10th last year and Dixon was fourth.
"I'll keep trying to win races but we still have to know when to pick our spots and be aggressive," Castroneves said. "This strategy has worked so far and we will stick to it. We know that the championship remains wide open."
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