ST. PETERSBURG — A pack of cars rounded Turn 1 in the final three laps of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, with Helio Castroneves in second and close enough to imagine he might pull ahead.
After all, Castroneves had the experience, having monopolized Victory Lane here with two straight wins. That seemed likely to be the edge he needed to make it a three-peat, especially since he was stalking 19-year-old Graham Rahal, who was making his first IndyCar start.
But Castroneves also knew he was approaching a treacherous turn on a slippery track, which had already claimed its share of cars. Rather than go for it all, he played it safe.
The cautious approach wasn't enough as Castroneves took second, 3.5192 seconds behind Rahal.
"It was so close," Castroneves said. "Team Penske did everything we could to set the car up well. ...But in the slow section, the car was pushing and I couldn't take a chance."
Castroneves, who started fourth, stayed in contention throughout.
He made his move on Lap 61 when he decided to forgo tires on a fuel stop. That helped him jump seven spots to third on a restart on Lap 64.
His best shot at winning came in the final 19 laps of the timed race. On Lap 69, he passed Ryan Hunter-Reay for second. Ten laps later, Castroneves was 0.041 seconds behind Rahal.
If ever there was chance to take control, this was it.
But he was not willing to take any big risks around the turns, a move he said was too dangerous. He did not want to jeopardize points he could earn chasing his first season championship.
Instead, Castroneves watched as Rahal pulled away at the end.
"Obviously, Helio is very successful and has won a lot of races, but at the same time I knew we had the pace and I knew if I could just keep calm we could pull away," Rahal said. "We were pulling away before and we were aggressively fuel saving, so I knew if we could attack the car we could pull away."
By finishing runnerup, Castroneves earned 40 points and leads the standings by 10.
"Second place is good," Castroneves said. "I wanted to win the race, but I'll take it. In terms of the season championship, second place is worth a lot."
Bob Putnam can be reached