It could have been a lot worse for both men, but neither Helio Castroneves or Scott Dixon felt too pleased with their lot after the penultimate round of the IndyCar Series dealt tough hands in the battle for the championship crown.

Both men took turns to lead what became a two-hour timed race around the picturesque Belle Isle circuit in Detroit, but neither would win after making questionable judgement calls at either end of the race.

Dixon's faux pas only came when he allowed the Target Chip Ganassi team to determine his strategy, and followed the call to pit under yellow on lap 19 of the event. That move left him struggling to make up either time or places after becoming mired in the pack, allowing Castroneves - and others - to pull out an advantage that would prove crucial later on.

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"I don't think it was much of a race, to be honest," the Kiwi sighed post-race, "It was pretty pitiful. The car was clearly quicker than anybody's and we were saving a ton of fuel up front and having a merry old day, but changed pretty quickly.

"We left with a half tank after that caution, but I think I was probably the only person, or maybe a couple of others, [to pit at that point]. It's just a hard situation when you're in when nobody else pits and you have a lot of slower guys that pitted early on and have a lot of fuel and you have to try to pass them. That was pretty much the race. From that point on, we were just trying to pull up there."

Dixon, who continues to lead the standings heading to the final round at Chicagoland Raceway on Sunday, admitted that, while he had not personally made the call to pit under the early caution, he was not going to start apportioning blame for what proved to be a strategic mistake.

"It's not calls or anything - we win as a team, we lose as a team," he accepted, "I think my anger or whatever is just from frustration. I think we clearly had the quickest car today. Nobody was going to touch us, and still we ended up fifth. So I think that's disappointing. I think that's what makes it tough to deal with. I had already seen that movie, and it's not a good movie to watch. It's unfortunately fresh in my mind [after Sonoma].

"We passed two or three people, but [Alex] Tagliani was very tough to pass, and those are the guys that are obviously going a long distance. At some point, you think you're going to be maybe 20 laps behind them, so it's very tough to dive in there, especially when you're fighting for a championship too. You have a lot of things you have to balance out, but it's not a pretty picture, especially when the leaders go out and pull a big lead, come in, pit, and then get fresher tyres and more fuel than you. It's pretty frustrating."

The picture could have been even more dismal for the five-time race winner, however, for his sole remaining rival, Castroneves, looked to be on course for a second successive victory that would have slashed the gap between them to just 20 points heading to Sunday's showdown.

The Brazilian, however, committed his own error of judgement on the final run to the flag, opting to block Justin Wilson's passing attempt and earning himself a sanction from race officials that saw the Briton given free passage to assume control of the field. Castroneves was clearly unhappy with the decision, notably the lack of an initial warning from race control, as he alighted from the #3 Penske machine

"I very surprised with the call," he admitted, "My opinion on that, I have to say, if you're going to pull a ruse, you've got to start it from the beginning, not towards the end. Since I've been [in the IRL], since 2002, I always did that, and you got a warning - if you do it again, now you're penalised. But it was all of a sudden, now I've got to give the position to him.

"It's not something that we see many, many times. It was just an unusual call, and I really don't know why they did that. I'm very surprised. I don't know if all the teams or people were putting pressure, but [IRL competition president] Brian [Barnhart] is not the typical guy to receive that.

"But you've got to be consistent. You've got to start fresh and not towards the end of the season., especially [when we're] battling for a championship anyway. That was a very difficult situation.

"I argued back [to Penske CEO Tim Cindric] once, and he said there's not much we can do. I would like you guys to ask Brian why he did that, what's his decision and why, all of a sudden, [did he do] something like that. If it's personal, well, I wish he'd come to talk to me about it and not retaliate on the racetrack. But I don't think it's like that. I'm just very surprised, very much surprised about this call."

Barnhart, meanwhile, insisted that there was nothing untoward with the decision to tell Castroneves to cede the position.

"We talk about blocking every week in the drivers' meeting and I tell them what they can and can't do and what the code of conduct is on the racetrack," he insisted,
"You can't officiate based on points or who's involved or what position they hold. You have to do it out of fairness and competition. [Helio Castroneves] clearly moved his car to impede the progress of a following car and moved his car in response to the actions and the line taken by a following car.

"That's what I tell them in the drivers' meeting every week. We made the same decision early in the race with the [Darren] Manning and [Bruno] Junqueira cars, and unfortunately you have to call it like you see it. I think Helio and everyone associated knows that it's not what's expected and not what's accepted of how we race out there. We want to race clean and fair and we need to call them like we see them."

As a result of taking his record-braking eighth second place finish of the season, Castroneves closes to within 30 points of Dixon in the standings, having been 78 point adrift heading into last weekend's round at Infineon Raceway. And the Brazilian believes that he can still take the battle as close to the wire as Dixon and 2007 champion Dario Franchitti managed last season.

"To be honest, I didn't throw everything away," he insisted, "We still had one more race to go. If I didn't have anything to lose, I would have stayed there, but I can't let this bother me for the next race. We have next weekend, so what are we going to do? Turn the page tonight.

"The good news is we're still battling for the championship. If it's 30 points less or behind, I don't know the math, but I know we're going to have a lot of work again, so we know what we need to do. We know we're going after a good team, but I trust my guys, I trust my team, and I know we can do it."