After waiting 1,135 days to score his 30th career Indy car victory, it's more than just a bit ironic that Helio Castroneves used a bit of good old-fashioned patience to deliver the win.
The 20-year veteran coolly figured out what he needed to dial in his car during the Iowa Corn 300 on Sunday by using the early going to get it right and then pulling away from his challengers when it counted in the final laps.
“Everything was always well-calculated,” said the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet driver, who cruised to a comfortable 3.9647-second victory at the tight Iowa Speedway.
“Today, experience really paid off. I'm aggressive when I have to be and I take it easy when I need to.”
The victory couldn't have come at a better time for the 42-year-old, who continues to chase his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship despite sitting 12th in all-time wins with 30 and scoring three Indianapolis 500 championships. He is now eight points behind leader Scott Dixon with six races to go in 2017.
The win in Iowa made Castroneves the ninth different winner in 11 races so far this season, which underlines the difficulty any driver will have building a points cushion as the battle continues.
Patience comes in handy in that regard, too, as the advantage seems to swing from race to race.
“We've just got to carry good momentum, and with that, we just keep doing what we're doing, putting ourselves in good position to win races,” Castroneves said.
“This is exactly what we need. Now, we're going to Toronto to another place that we run really well in the past, and I am really looking forward to that one.”
For a while, it looked like the No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet that won last year's Iowa Corn 300 would return to the winner's circle, this time with JR Hildebrand at the wheel of the Ed Carpenter Racing car.
Hildebrand battled Castroneves for the win until late in the race when the Penske driver ditched patience and became aggressive when he needed it most. Castroneves used a bit of traffic – Marco Andretti, who was the race leader from a different strategy but struggling all day – to get past Hildebrand just after his final pit stop and then stretch his legs.
“I think we probably had Helio's pace — I got jammed up in traffic, which is when he got by,” said Hildebrand, who led 38 laps in the early going.
“I think if I could have kept him behind me for longer and I'd have been in front and we were just kind of battling it out, he would have had a heck of a time getting by me as I was in more clean air. I felt like we definitely had a car that could have won today, just kind of based on outright pace.”
Unfortunately for Hildebrand, Castroneves decided early in the race to bide his time and get the car where he needed it to be for the finish. He used the early running with Penske teammate Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) to tune his car for the late going.
“When we started the race, I tried to take the lead because I want to be in clean air to save a little bit of the tires,” Castroneves said. “But as soon as I knew that it was going to be a little bit rough, I decided just to take my time, and once the traffic gets in — I knew, I knew.”
The race wasn’t completely straight-forward. Castroneves struggled a bit to keep pace with Hildebrand early due to the way the car was set up for the start.
In the end, Castroneves led 217 of the 300 laps and, when push came to shove, patience ensured that he found all the speed he needed to snap his winless drought of three years and a month.
“I was just confident that maybe I would be a little bit better, and I was,” he said.
“In the beginning we missed a little bit on the set-up, then we made some adjustments after the first stop or second stop, and the car was fantastic. I didn't have anything more to do.”