“We had a tough, tough beginning of the season. We had a tough Indy 500. We had a tough midseason,” Ganassi said. “Then, of course, the Sonoma incident, the Baltimore incident. The guys on this team never, never, never gave up. These guys don’t know the word `give up.’ They don’t know how to give up. They hung in there, hung in there, hung in there.”
The next day, Castroneves made a mistake, driving wide over a bump in the track which caused his gearbox to break. Dixon finished second and now had a 25-point lead in the standings headed into the finale.
All he had to do Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway was be safe and smart as Castroneves tried to win the race.
“Having the big gain we saw in Houston, you understand you could be in that situation come Fontana as well. That’s why it’s so tough, these championships, because you have the highs and lows through the season,” Dixon said. “When it comes down to the last race, you know you have a real shot at winning it, do you have the mechanical problem, a silly spin you could have avoided, do you run something over on the pit stop, do something stupid?
“The biggest thing for me, and Chip says it in every race meeting, is `This race pays the same amount of points as the first race of the season.’ You can’t single out places. You can’t say, `That’s why I lost a championship.’ You’ve got to get it together for all of them.”
But Castroneves did think he could point to why he lost the championship. After leading the points for 14 races, he wound up second in the standings because of a three-race collapse at the end of the year. On Saturday night, team owner Roger Penske called him into the pits before pit lane was open, drawing a penalty, and contact with Dixon teammate Charlie Kimball led to a broken front wing that dropped him off the lead lap.
“I can’t take for granted the season we had. Yes, so close, but so far,” Castroneves said. “One weekend unfortunately for us cost a lot of points. Unfortunately it was nobody’s prediction. We did everything we could to avoid any kind of mechanical failure. The only time we had a mechanical failure in the whole season, that’s what cost the season.
“We can’t look back. We’ve just got to continue working hard. This is part of racing.”