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Getting it right always tricky at Indianapolis 500

Saturday - 5/25/2013, 3:35am  ET

In this May 19, 2013 photo, Marco Andretti, leads Helio Castroneves, of Brazil, into the first turn on the second day of qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. Graham Rahal and Andretti have all the ingredients the IndyCar Series has been craving. They have famous family names, have reached Victory Lane and seem to enjoy playing up their growing rivalry. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Roger Penske has won more Indianapolis 500 poles and races than any owner in history.

Yet his team still runs into its share of bad luck.

A year ago at Indy, Will Power was collected in the race's first crash and a bouncing wheel wound up hitting the car of his teammate, Helio Castroneves. In an instant, the chances of two of Team Penske's three drivers winning the race took a major hit.

The year before, Power left the pits without a left rear tire, forcing him back to pit row. Penske's most competitive driver that year, Ryan Briscoe, wound up hitting the wall with 42 laps left when Townsend Bell didn't see the car next to him.

It happens.

"Last year was a little frustrating because they were changing the rules on the turbo in midseason and we could have been much better. The year before, we didn't quite get it right, so it was a kick in the butt," said Castroneves, the first foreign-born three-time Indy 500 winner. "It's never easy here."

At Indy, perfection is usually rewarded with a trip to Victory Lane. Anything less might end with a trip back to Gasoline Alley.

Nobody knows that better than Penske, whose pursuit of perfection and uniformity changed IndyCar racing forever. His teams routinely practice pit stops and emphasize the need to do well in Indy's annual Carb Day pit-stop competition (and they did this year, with Castroneves' team winning), understanding that if they do well then, they should do well on race day. The rest of the IndyCar teams have followed suit.

Even Team Penske makes mistakes, though. In 1995, his team tried everything to get its cars into the starting grid. When nothing worked, Penske headed home and didn't return until 2001, when Castroneves won the race. And it's not any easier now. Over the last three years, Penske drivers have been victimized by botched pit stops, crashes and miscues, making the once unbeatable team look fallible.

"These days it's so tough to get everything right because if you want to be quick you've got to be wide open, for the most part," Power said before qualifying sixth, the outside of Row 2. "This year, there are 24 girls or guys who could win this race, could win any race."

The risks on Indy's 2.5-mile oval are much greater. There are four distinct turns, and track conditions can change at any whim Mother Nature throws out -- hot or cold temperatures, windy or still conditions and especially moisture. Thirty-three drivers must contend with those dangers for three to 3
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