Despite coming up 17 points short of overhauling Scott Dixon for the IndyCar Series title, Helio Castroneves paid tribute to his Penske team for giving him the chance to challenge in the final round.

The Brazilian made his job harder by repeatedly running below the white line during qualifying, which resulted in him being sent to the back of the field for the start of the PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, but carved his way through the 28-car pack to lead most laps and go head-to-head with his rival over the last few laps.

The race ended up being decided by the second-closest margin in series' history, and there was a modicum of confusion over which car had actually crossed the line first. Eventually, even after Dixon had been wheeled into Winner's Circle, it was confirmed that Castroneves had indeed completed his rise from the rear by pipping the Kiwi by 0.0033secs.

"When I looked, I thought I won," the Brazilian claimed, "But that was very close, guys. Darn it, whew. Second closest is close enough for me.

"He was trying to do everything to keep me behind, but I have to say I saw some stuff back there that was worse than what he did. I was just trying to make sure that I kept out of trouble. With five or six laps to go, you're going to go for it. Everybody's trying everything they can, but I was able to pull alongside [on the last lap] and said to myself 'okay, now we got to do what we got to do'. It was a lot of fun.

"I wasn't quite understanding [what happened on the final restart]. I thought Scott was a little bit slow-paced, and kept weaving a little bit, warming his tyres, which I understand you're not allowed to do. I was just trying to stay away from him, in case he would slow down and clip my nose, if I would hit him, spin out, you know. It would be like a big mess. They kept saying I have to be nose-to-tail but I was just trying to stay a little bit away from him, as close as possible, to make sure nothing would go wrong."

Finding himself in unfamiliar territory as he attempted to make his way through the field on the fast-paced 1.5-mile oval, Castroneves was pleased to find a pack willing to race cleanly.

"It was good," he confirmed, "At the beginning, I was just trying to make sure I kept cool. I didn't want to have any problems. Looking at the files from last year, lap 35 is when the first yellow happened - I'm not sure what lap it was this race, but I knew everybody would stay cool."

With remarkable symmetry, the first caution of the 2008 finale came on lap 37, when the otherwise impressive Ed Carpenter was pitched into the wall by a mechanical failure, but Castroneves was not prepared to let anything interrupt his progress towards the front.

"I found some good partners out there, some good people that were able to work with me," he said, "Again, every time you have to save fuel, it's the worst scenario and [Penske CEO Tim] Cindric was telling me to save fuel, save fuel. I'm like 'look, I need to go to the front because I don't want to lose that pack', but we were able to save fuel, do what we were able to do.

"When the pit-stop came, I think I was in the first ten and, when we came out, we were still in the top ten. I was just trying to play cool so, when I got behind Danica - I'm not sure what the position was - and Tony [Kanaan] was leading, I'm just going to stay here. There are still too many laps to go. Then, all of a sudden, Wheldon [who was ahead of Patrick] had a problem and, all of a sudden, I was able to pass those guys. Same thing again when I ended up passing Dixon. So everything was happening very smooth - nothing wild, nothing out of control.

"When we got to the lead, it was like 'okay, now we just have to stay here'. Through that whole situation, I kept cool. I was pretty much under control, not having any issues at all. We only touched the car a little bit inside the cockpit. Other than that, it was an exciting run.

"I had a great team-mate pushing me as well and, coming from the back, we execute our plan. Unfortunately, Ganassi and Scott, they were right there. We did our part."

Despite missing out on the title again, Castroneves was in far better mood than he had been after his blocking penalty last weekend in Detroit, and even after his qualifying demotion on Saturday, admitting that it had been a pleasure to battle for the title with Dixon.

"It was an awesome season, and I have nothing that I would have done different," he insisted, "We've been very consistent and, if it would have been normal circumstances, I have to say we'd be the champion today. Unfortunately Team Ganassi and Scott Dixon, they had a little bit better luck and they end up winning the championship. Hopefully, next year, we'll start like that and finish just a little bit better in the championship. In the end, Scott did a helluva job, playing us well, just staying back there, so it was great to win on the last minute - or last inches. I'm still trying to sink in what happened out there - and I'm just upset that I did not climb the fence!"

The Brazilian was quick to pay tribute to his rival, who he has been competing against for the best part of a decade.

"I respect Scott as an incredible racecar driver," he stressed, "The guy can not only run well on the road courses, but also on the ovals. Despite his character being a little bit cold and quiet, he has always been fair with everyone. Like I said many times when we finish races, I feel that he respects me, and I feel the same way - with a lot of respect. That's why, towards the end of the race, you're able to run side-by-side, inches wheel-to-wheel, without worry that he's going to play dirty or something. I'm glad that we were able to do what we did."

The 17-point margin of victory for Dixon also erased any question as to whether the penalty Castroneves picked up in Detroit had unfairly affected the outcome, but the Brazilian insisted that was already in the past when he arrived at Chicagoland.

"Like I said, I turned a page," he claimed, "Even if you would finish [within] ten points, with the situation there was nothing we could have done. It's the same thing that happened when we had a flat tyre in Iowa, the same thing that happened when we ran out of fuel in Kentucky. You have to approach that scenario and turn the page. I moved on, and that's why I was able to do the race that I did."


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