BROOKLYN, Mich. Helio Castroneves came here proud and flushed with optimism as the defending champion of the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Castroneves was hoping past success at MIS would end a rash of poor performances elsewhere he had been eliminated from three of the previous seven races by accidents.
He did not get his wish.
Castroneves and Vitor Meira got tangled up crossing the start/finish line in the front straightaway 58 laps into the race, and both slammed into the wall in front of the main grandstand. The cars remained pinned to the wall for a long slide and left a long trail of sparks and debris before coming to rest in the grass inside turn one.
A fuming Castroneves gestured wildly and had a vigorous exchange with Meira, and then Castroneves stomped and stormed all the way back to the infield care center a walk of more than half a mile refusing assistance or a ride along the way.
He ll have his point of view, and I ll have my point of view and my point of view is he moved up, Meira said. We re both man enough to look at it and analyze it and go on to the next race. It s a shame, because the car was good, and we were competitive.
Castroneves complained of pain in his knee when he was examined after the crash, and when he left the track to fly home to Miami well before the end of the race. He was on crutches.
I have a lot of respect for Vitor and his driving abilities, but I think he was being a little too aggressive for so early in the race, Castroneves said. Unfortunately, we touched, and it resulted in a short day for us.
Meira finished 19th in the crash-marred race, while Castroneves was one place ahead of him.
SAM S DAY: Defiance native and IndyCar Series defending champion Sam Hornish Jr. started yesterday s race in the second position, battled up front for most of the early-going, then finished in ninth after getting caught up in a seven-car crash on the backstretch with about 60 laps left in the race.
Hornish spent most of the afternoon battling mechanical problems that rendered the weight jacker on his car inoperable.
ATTRITION RATE: A field of 20 cars started yesterday s Firestone Indy 400 at MIS, but just seven were running when the race ended, almost eight hours after its scheduled start. Single-car crashes claimed Jon Herb, Sarah Fisher and Darren Manning, while Helio Castroneves and Vitor Meiro hooked up and hit the wall, knocking both of them out of the event. Seven more drivers were taken from the field in a wild crash at the front of the field on lap 143, while mechanical trouble forced Milka Duno out of the race. There were six caution periods for a total of 63 laps.
POINTS PICTURE: Dario Franchitti entered yesterday s race at MIS with a narrow 24-point lead over Scott Dixon in the IndyCar Series points race, and following all of the chaos and mayhem on the track that saw Franchitti lead for 101 laps but both drivers get knocked from the race in the same huge crash they ended the race in the exact same position, with Franchitti holding a 24-point advantage.
UNSER S CALL: The long-awaited call to start the engines came almost five hours after the scheduled start of the race, and from a familiar voice four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Sr.
Unser, who took part in 33 Indy car races at MIS between 1968 and 1989, was a winner here in 1974, and served as the grand marshal for yesterday s Firestone Indy 400.
Unser led 345 laps at MIS, and finished in the top 10 in half of his open-wheel starts here.
FOYT FOLLIES: A.J. Foyt, a four-time winner of the Indy 500 who is now a team owner in the IndyCar Series, said he was fortunate to be part of the festivities at MIS after a close call with death last week.
Foyt was operating a bulldozer near his home in Texas when an earthen bank gave way, sending him and the huge dozer into a lake.
The 72-year-old Foyt said his life was likely saved by the metal cage that surrounded him, preventing the upside-down dozer from crushing him.
Foyt had to crawl through the cage, and then swim to the surface.
Oh, I was real scared, because I m not that good a swimmer, and I ve got these bum legs and all, Foyt said.
There wasn t much I could do when I was falling, and it was real hard to swim with all my clothes on. It was an ordeal.
Foyt continues a run of bad bulldozer luck: Two years ago he was using a dozer to clear land on a different piece of property and disturbed a bees nest, and was stung more than 200 times.