The previous full-course caution-free Indy car road/street race was at Portland in 2007 under Champ Car sanction. The last caution-free oval race was in June 2011 at Texas Motor Speedway.
"It's strange. With all of the marbles we have out there, you'd expect someone to go off or spin or something," said IZOD IndyCar Series championship points leader Ryan Hunter-Reay, who advanced four positions to finish seventh in the 75-lap battle on the 2.24-mile, 13-turn City Centre Airport course. "I was praying for a caution and it didn't come."
Others joined the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident. But while it was another highly competitive race with some incidental banging of car parts and tires scrapping concrete barriers, nothing prompted the yellow flag to fly and give drivers a shot of overtaking leader Helio Castroneves on a restart.
Castroneves emerged the victor by .8367 of a second over Takuma Sato, the hard-luck story of the Indianapolis 500 in May who posted an IZOD IndyCar Series career-best finish. His second win of the season, combined with Team Penske teammate Will Power's third-place finish, vaulted Castroneves to second in the title chase.
Hunter-Reay, the pole winner who slid down the starting grid because of a penalty for an unapproved engine change following his victory on the streets of Toronto two weeks earlier, had his margin cut from 35 to 23 points. Power, a championship finalist the past two seasons, is third (26 points back), and Scott Dixon remains in the hunt trailing by 51 points.
Four races remain (two road courses, one street course and one exceptionally taxing 500-miler on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval to close out the season), and it appears likely that the finale will decide the series champion for the seventh consecutive year.
"To me, it's the most competitive field I've ever raced in," said Power, the 2011 and '09 Edmonton Indy winner. "I've never had to search so hard for speed in my life. Man, it's going to be a fight to the very end."
The top three are searching for their first IZOD IndyCar Series title, while Dixon is a two-time series champion. Castroneves has three Indianapolis 500 victories, 27 career Indy car wins to tie Johnny Rutherford for 13th on the all-time list and 39 career pole starts among other accolades in his three-decade career covering more than 250 races. An overall major title is one milestone he's yet to nail down.
There have been previous opportunities in season-long battles with Team Penske teammates Sam Hornish Jr. and Gil de Ferran, in addition to Dixon and Dario Franchitti. Heading into the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Aug. 5, he's in the thick of another.
"Now we're closer and we're taking the opportunities," said Castroneves, who's driven the Chevrolet-powered No. 3 Team Penske car to nine top-10 finishes in 11 races. "We are always there, maybe playing a little bit quiet and silent, which I like it, because many, many more years were aggressive. Continuing to work in that low profile, and at the end of the day at Fontana, that's the day it counts."