IRL headlines

1.      St. Pete win washes away '11 finish for Castroneves

2.      Barrichello has fun in debut race

3.      Inside the numbers - St. Petersburg

1. St. Pete win washes away '11 finish for Castroneves: An uncharacteristic 2011, in which Helio Castroneves' streak with at least one victory ended at 11 seasons and the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion finished a career-low 11th in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings, is as much history as yesterday's headlines.

The Team Penske driver said during the Sebring Open Test in early March that there was something missing, though his confidence never wavered.

"We never stopped believing," said Castroneves, who received a championship points jump by winning the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25. "It's important for us as a group to know that we can do it. Having the entire crew believing in me and never give up, it just proves this is a great group of guys. We need exactly everybody saying, 'We know what we can do.'

"Last year, unfortunately because of many issues -- some of them were mine, some of them were bad luck, some of them were because of the new rules we have with the double-file restarts -- I have to say I did not feel comfortable.

"I think now with a new car, new engine, it gives you a fresh start. This is just what we need to start a great season until the end. It's always important to start strong in the championship."

Castroneves, whose best title showing is second in 2008 and '02, tied Rodger Ward for 13th on the all-time Indy car victory list with 26. Johnny Rutherford and Scott Dixon, the runner-up for the third time on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit, are the next targets with 27.

"It's a great boost for the next race, to go out there and repeat what we can do," said Castroneves, referring to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.

Castroneves won the inaugural event on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course in 2010, and teammate Will Power won from the pole last April. Power, the championship runner-up the past two seasons to Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti, led the initial 11 laps from the pole position he earned with a series' track-qualifying record and finished seventh. Ryan Briscoe, driving the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske car, qualified on the front row and finished fifth.

"Certainly the work we did through the off-season is paying off," Castroneves continued. I have no doubt Ryan and Will are going to join me (in Victory Circle). I'm going to continue pushing, as well. That's why we're competitors."

For Dixon, whose best finish the previous four seasons on the temporary street circuit was 16th, the 42 points earned (he received two bonus points for leading a field-high 37 laps) also is welcome.

"I think it's important, especially for us, we've definitely struggled the last few years probably with the first four races," the two-time series champion said. "This race pays the same amount of points as the last one (at Auto Club Speedway on Sept. 15). Consistency, if you look backward with Dario over the last couple of years, that's what's won the championship."

2. Barrichello has fun in debut race: Everywhere Rubens Barrichello turned on pit lane before climbing into the No. 8 BMC-Embrase-KV Racing Technology Chevrolet for the start of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, he was greeted with handshakes and cheers from spectators waving Brazilian flags in the grandstand.

Barrichello, who was making his IZOD IndyCar Series debut after 19 seasons in Formula One, reciprocated throughout the pre-race festivities - soaking in the scene and sun with a smile.

It was a new setting for Barrichello and his wife, Silvana, but they felt right at home.

"I had fun out there," said Barrichello, who qualified 13th and finished 17th. "Unfortunately, we had a meter reading problem so I ran out of fuel at the end. However, I enjoyed the race and dicing with other cars, but would have liked to have been able to push more.

"It has been a good learning experience this weekend and I look forward to being back in the car in a few days for the next race."

That's what KV Racing Technology co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven projected on pit lane before the national anthem.

"It's going to take him a little time to get used to cold tires and double-file restarts," Kalkhoven said. "I'm expecting great things from him, but he'll grow into it. More than anything, he's just an outstanding driver and his feedback is remarkable. Then he's just a delight to be with."

Barrichello, who turns 40 in May, is the only driver in Formula One history to make 300 starts (322 of 326 entered) over his career that began in 1993. He was the F1 championship runner-up in 2002 and 2004, and earned 11 victories and 68 podium finishes.

Having the veteran, who joined KV Racing Technology on March 1 following two separate get-to-know-you test sessions, on the grid through the 16-race international schedule is a bonus, according to competitors.

"I think it's obviously huge for the series as Rubens has some real name recognition that he can bring to the IZOD IndyCar Series on an international level," two-time series champion Scott Dixon said. "With new cars and engine manufacturers rejoining our sport this year, the addition of Rubens just adds to the buzz surrounding IndyCar racing right now."

3. Inside the numbers - St. Petersburg: Some numbers to note from the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the season-opening event of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

2 - Previous Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winners that have gone on to win the IZOD IndyCar Series championship: Dan Wheldon in 2005 and Dario Franchitti 2011.

3 - Wins at St. Petersburg by Helio Castroneves.

5 -Wins at St. Petersburg by Team Penske.

7 -Teams represented in the top 10 of the series point standings… Drivers who have won the season-opening race and also won the IZOD IndyCar Series title: Buzz Calkins (1996), Sam Hornish Jr. (2001 and 2002), Scott Dixon (2003 and 2008), Dan Wheldon (2005) and Dario Franchitti (2011).

8 - Races won by Spencer Pigot in 2012. Pigot won five of six races in the Cooper Tires USF2000 WinterFest and has won three of the four Cooper Tires USF2000 races held this season.

10 - Lead changes among seven drivers, matching the most lead changes in the seven previous Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg…Drivers who have won their Firestone Indy Light debut, including St. Petersburg 100 race winner Tristan Vautier.

13 - Positions improved by Charlie Kimball, the most positions gained by any driver. Kimball finished ninth, matching his career-best finish.

15 - Top-five starts by Esteban Guerrieri, a Firestone Indy Lights record.

***

The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 1 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. The race will be telecast live at 2 p.m. (ET) by NBC Sports Network. The IMS Radio Network will also carry the race live on XM Channel 94 and Sirius 212. NBC Sports Network's coverage of the St. Petersburg 100 will be telecast at 5 p.m. on March 29. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Grand Prix of Alabama on April 1. It will be telecast by NBC Sports Network at 5 p.m. (ET) on April 5.


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