Helio Castroneves defends race tactics

NEWTON, Iowa -- The most intense battles in the Izod IndyCar Series are happening off the track this year.

Dario Franchitti was critical of the unfair aspects of the blind draw that set the field for the second of twin races at Texas Motor Speedway, and after winning last week at the Milwaukee Mile, the three-time IndyCar champion expressed his displeasure about the blocking tactics he believes that rival driver Helio Castroneves employs regularly.

Castroneves responded to Franchitti's criticism Thursday in an interview with ESPN.com.

"Being a father, the experts say when a kid is crying, you should ignore him," Castroneves said. "So I am taking the same approach, and maybe eventually it will go away. Hopefully Dario works it out like a big boy.

"All joking aside, Franchitti drove a great race [at Milwaukee], and he should enjoy his victory instead of focusing on the negatives. I saw the race, and I have no idea what he is talking about. I really don't know what happened. He is our champion this year, and he should act like one."

Franchitti elaborated on his blocking accusations during a Wednesday conference call with reporters.

"Helio was actually on the inside on a double-file restart, so, yeah, definitely, he was correct," Franchitti said. "He took that line the whole backstraight, and at that point, I was wrong. So I chose to go to the outside and had a run on Helio. I was alongside him and started to become further alongside him. Then he saw me and swerved towards me on the outside. So I don't change my view on that."

Castroneves said IndyCar Series officials never warned him about blocking and offered this rebuttal: "I had [spotter] Rick Mears in my ear and he was saying 'Outside, outside!' and I gave him enough room. What's funny is one of [Franchitti's Ganassi Racing] teammates [Charlie Kimball] was in front of us going slowly because of the wave-around, and I think it upset him because he couldn't try to make a move to the inside -- there was a car there."

For Franchitti, a racing-history buff who is deeply concerned about the ethics of driving, it's his perception that Castroneves repeatedly is at the center of blocking controversies that raises his ire.

"We all grew up in series around the world where blocking was allowed for years," Dario said. "We watched guys like [Michael] Schumacher do it. And then at some point, the IndyCar Series and Champ Car made a stance that blocking is no longer allowed; it spoils the race, blah, blah, blah.

"In a lot of cases, the first instinct is to block. But we have all managed to adapt, I would say, and Helio has not really. He continues to do it, and it's frustrating. I kind of voiced my frustration after the race, and that has not changed. It needs to stop."

Franchitti was indirectly involved in another controversy after the Milwaukee race. While entering his pit box for a routine stop, he clipped the right front tire that had been set out for his championship rival Will Power, whose pit for Team Penske was immediately behind Franchitti's Target Ganassi Racing pit box.

This year, the IndyCar Series bases the pit road order on qualifying results from the previous race -- in this case, Texas, where Franchitti qualified second and Power third, behind pole winner Alex Tagliani.

Before the Milwaukee race, IndyCar Series chief steward Brian Barnhart asked all teams to be respectful of their competitors in the tight pit lane at The Mile, where the pit boxes were shorter than usual with a 26-car field.

"We tell teams to see where your car is and pick up that tire to help the other guy," Barnhart told The Indianapolis Star. "That's common courtesy."

... Franchitti drove a great race [at Milwaukee], and he should enjoy his victory instead of focusing on the negatives. I saw the race, and I have no idea what he is talking about. ... He is our champion this year, and he should act like one.

-- Helio Castroneves

"I think there was some gamesmanship going on there, which is not something we have seen from those guys before," Franchitti noted. "Hopefully it's the last we'll see of it. Pit lane is dangerous enough without playing stupid games like that."

Franchitti and the IndyCar Series have an opportunity to put the off-the-track controversies on the back burner Saturday at Iowa Speedway, where the Iowa Corn 250 will be staged as a night race for the first time.

The Scotsman has won two of his three starts at the 0.875-mile bullring an hour east of Des Moines, and he was in position to win last year until his Dallara-Honda suffered a gearbox failure.

"I think I've been lucky to [have] great cars at Iowa," Franchitti said. "From the first year, I knew what I needed to have out of the car, and with my engineer and all of the guys on the Target team, we have managed to find that the last couple of years.

"I think Iowa really puts on good races, and being a night race, it will add an extra dimension to it this year."

Nearing the halfway point of IndyCar's 17-race schedule, Franchitti and Power are deadlocked atop the points chase. Oriol Servia of Newman/Haas Racing is 73 points back, leading a cluster of five drivers battling for third in the standings.

Power earned his first career oval-track pole last year at Iowa, which despite having the length of a short track races more like a flat-out 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.

"Last year we had a great race in the Verizon car at Iowa and it was actually quite fun," Power said. "We had a top-5 finish, so I will be looking to come back and have a strong result, and I think we'll have a good car this weekend.

"It's really important for us to have a solid result there and stay up top in the standings, since this is the last oval race for a while in the Izod IndyCar Series."

Team Penske has never won at Iowa Speedway in the track's four years of hosting Indy car races. Ganassi owns two victories, with Scott Dixon claiming the laurels in 2008 and Franchitti in 2009. Andretti Autosport is the only other team to have taken the Iowa hardware, with Franchitti in 2007 and Tony Kanaan last year.

The field is set at 25 cars this weekend, as Simona De Silvestro has not been cleared to drive at Iowa. The Swiss racer had a jarring crash during qualifying at Milwaukee but passed physical and neurological tests and started the Milwaukee race. However, she reported post-concussion symptoms and pulled in after 11 laps. Although she passed a subsequent ImPACT test this week, further evaluation by the IndyCar Series medical staff resulted in her removal from the Iowa entry list. HVM Racing has not announced whether it will field a replacement driver this weekend, and De Silvestro will be checked again before the Honda Indy Toronto in two weeks.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.