LONG BEACH, Calif.-- As the IndyCar Series sped into Southern California for the biggest street race in North America, many intriguing elements came out of the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
None were bigger than a crash involving Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power, which dramatically changed the complexion of the race and left Power so upset with the situation he was speechless. It was the second time in three races this season Castroneves had braking issues on a start or restart, and this one kept Power out of Victory Lane and left Castroneves trying to stay out of the Penske Doghouse.
That wasn't the only headline. Mike Conway scored his first IndyCar win less than 11 months after he suffered serious injuries in a horrific crash at the end of last year's Indianapolis 500.
1. How is Helio going to dance his way out of this one? Power is generally a man of few words, but after getting rear-ended by Castroneves on a restart with 18 laps to go, he became a man of no words. Three attempts to get Power to speak at the Team Penske paddock area after the incident were met with a resounding shake of the head by the driver who started on the pole and led two times for 29 laps. Instead of scoring another victory on a street or road course, Power finished 10th and dropped out of the points lead, now trailing Dario Franchitti by seven points heading to Brazil in two weeks.
Power tried to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay in the first turn on a restart on lap 67, and that is when Castroneves ran into the rear of Power's car. Other drivers involved included Scott Dixon and Oriol Servia. Further up the track, Takuma Sato, Charlie Kimball and Sebastian Saavedra also crashed for a full-course yellow with 18 laps to go. The crash was triggered when Graham Rahal got into the back of Sato's race car.
"I was braking so early I don't know what happened," Castroneves said. "It's terrible. I feel terrible. It's unacceptable especially when it happens to teammates. I apologized to Will Power afterwards. We went into Turn 2, and as soon as we released the brake and braked a little bit more the car just went straight. It's something outside of your control. I tried to brake early. I didn't brake deep. I really don't know what happened. It was silly mistakes, and I hate taking one of my teammates out.
"Hopefully, Will will forgive me. It's getting under my skin for sure. This time at least we had a space, but as soon as we got to the front it was getting more claustrophobic there. I don't want it to sound like an excuse. I don't know what happened. To be so stupid like that and have a mistake so horrendous -- it's a team I really care about. I feel disgusted at the moment."
It was the second incident that Castroneves was involved in. Earlier, he knocked Justin Wilson out of the way in the hairpin Turn 11 but did not get penalized. A few laps later, Paul Tracy received a penalty for virtually the same move when he made contact with Simona de Silvestro.
"How the hell Helio doesn't get penalized I have no idea," Dixon said after the race. "He ruined Justin Wilson's day by spinning him out in the hairpin, he takes his teammate out and wrecks my car. That's garbage. I don't understand that. Obviously, he has free reign to crash whoever he wants. It's frustrating. I don't know if he is nervous or trying to get points or Will Power is getting to him a little bit because he is waxing everybody so he has to make big moves in the race."
Castroneves needs to keep it clean and turn his season around if he is going to become a factor. For now, Team Penske must regain some harmony among teammates.
2. Conway's comeback is complete. When Conway's car went airborne and tore down the catchfence in the north short chute at the end of last year's Indianapolis 500, he suffered severe leg injuries that ended his season. Some wondered if it was the end of his career. But just three races into his comeback, Conway is an IndyCar winner after scoring a decisive six-second victory over Ryan Briscoe.
When teammate Michael Andretti added Conway to the team after Tony Kanaan departed last season, some wondered if the owner was taking a chance.
"I don't think it was a chance," Andretti said. "I think Mike showed a lot of signs of brilliance last year at the beginning of the season and then unfortunately had his accident. Coming back, I had no question in my mind. I personally felt like he was going to be hungrier than ever coming back, and that's exactly the way it came about. The first time he got in a race car for us, he was literally up in speed in about four or five laps after being out of a car that long. I never felt like it was taking a chance."
For Conway, it was simply a matter of believing.
"Initially I saw the injuries I had, and I just wasn't sure when I'd get back," Conway said. "Things like that can definitely stop your career. But I was just determined to not let it, determined to get back, back to fitness and back in a car. As soon as we were kind of talking to Michael, it was really exciting times knowing that we could possibly be with such a good team like Andretti Autosport. For it to finally come together was awesome."
Conway's comeback is one of the more inspirational stories in recent IndyCar history. But this driver has the talent on the road and street courses to win a few more races this season.
3. Briscoe dug himself out of a hole. After crashing in the first two races of the season, Briscoe knew that he was digging a deep hole and had to start climbing out of it if he was going to be a factor for the championship. He was the fastest driver on Friday but had trouble in Saturday's qualifications and started 12th. He had a great race Sunday, and his second-place finish helped minimize the early-season damage.
"I needed this real bad," Briscoe said. "Points, confidence, the team, everybody. It means a lot. We've been performing well, and I really think the 6 car in general from myself, my engineer, everybody, we're really motivated this year. I think we've picked up the game. We're stronger as a team, and it's just been real heartbreak not to get the results in the first few races because we've been up in the front, and we've been strong. So coming here, you know, we didn't qualify very well. To get this result means a lot more than just points. I think it's just going to strengthen us as a team moving forward."
Briscoe moved up to eighth in points, 56 behind Franchitti.
4. Franchitti could be on his way to title No. 4. With a third-place finish combined with Power's misfortune, Franchitti jumped into the points lead. He has the talent, the team and the experience to keep it. By staying out of trouble on the streets of Long Beach it could put him on the path to another title.
5. One of the world's greatest street races. The only street race bigger than the Long Beach Grand Prix is the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco that winds through the streets of Monte Carlo. Sunday's race was the 37th running of this great event, and with a three-day attendance announced at 175,000, including 75,000 on Sunday, this is more than a race. It's a festival of speed, sun and fun.