LEXINGTON, Ohio — Scott Dixon watched Helio Castroneves move his No. 3 Honda a couple car widths to the outside entering Turn 1 at Edmonton two weeks ago, in an attempt to cut off Penske Racing teammate Will Power.
Uh-oh Helio, Dixon thought. That's a no-no.
IndyCar officials agreed, black-flagging Castroneves for blocking with two laps remaining, a ruling that helped Dixon pick up his second victory of the season while Castroneves was bumped to 10th.
The typically affable Brazilian erupted afterward, earning himself a $60,000 fine for grabbing an official. Castroneves apologized for his behavior but still believes he did nothing wrong on the track, arguing the rule is too vague.
“The calls have been very inconsistent and I felt I should not have been black-flagged and the rules do not say that,” he said. “They change. So it's sad.”
His fellow drivers disagree, claiming the first turn at Edmonton is one of the easiest spots in the series to police.
The turn comes at the end of a long straightaway that's actually an airport runway. A series of black tire marks highlight the typical path of a race car. Castroneves appeared to go well outside it to keep Power in his rearview mirror.
“I don't know what all the fuss is about,” said Dario Franchitti. “It's such a blatant disregard for the rules. What's the problem?”
Yet drivers understand Castroneves' frustration. Blocking in IndyCar is akin to holding in football or charging in basketball: something that's entire up to the eye of the beholder.
“It's a hard call to make because half the time you don't know if it's going to be called or not,” said Dixon, who has been penalized three times for blocking during his career.
IndyCar president of competition Brian Barnhart said race officials do the best they can trying to make sure two dozen drivers racing in close quarters at high speeds remain on their best behavior.
It isn't easy, particularly when dealing with people whose livelihood depends on getting around the next corner ahead of everyone else. Barnhart maintains blocking “is being as consistently enforced as we can do it” but that the rule is constantly evolving.
“We try to make it as clear as possible,” Barnhart said.
Even if it doesn't always appear that way to fans.
Driver Graham Rahal watched the Edmonton race with his girlfriend. When he saw Castroneves hop outside to shut the door on Power, he immediately knew Castroneves had crossed the line. His girlfriend didn't see it that way.
His message: sorry, this isn't NASCAR.
“I think that the beauty of our sport is the clean racing,” said Rahal, who posted the fastest practice time on Friday for Sunday's race at Mid-Ohio. “Stock cars it's like ‘Oh, I'm going to get by this guy so I'm not going to break this corner and take him out.' That's not racing. That's bumper cars.”
Barnhart stressed the rules against blocking aren't there to prohibit drivers from racing, it's to protect them from each other.
Unlike NASCAR, where “rubbing is racing” is part of the show, IndyCar drivers have to be more careful. If officials loosened up the rules, Barnhart fears races would turn into nothing but a three-hour caution-filled parade with drivers taking turns knocking each other out. For a series trying to rebrand itself, that's not exactly a good business plan.