NEWS
09/21/2011 12:41 EDT | Updated 11/21/2011 05:12 EST

Castroneves ramps up criticism of Barnhart, IndyCar's chief steward

SAO PAULO - Helio Castroneves is not done lashing out at IndyCar chief steward Brian Barnhart, saying the official has "lost it" and is a "serious problem" to the series.

Furious with Barnhart's decision to punish him after Sunday's race in Japan, Castroneves has decided to go all out against the official and is not mincing words to express his disappointment.

The rant started with several strong-worded posts on his Twitter page after the race in Motegi, then became even stronger in a column published by a Brazilian newspaper on Tuesday.

"IndyCar has a serious problem and it's called Brian Barnhart," was the title of Castroneves' column in the Metro newspaper.

"I acknowledge that (Barnhart) has done a lot for the series, but he has definitely lost it," the three-time Indy 500 winner said. "It's impossible to accept the decisions of a race director who is inconsistent, who issues different punishment to identical situations and who is condescending with some and harsh with others."

Castroneves called "absurd" Barnhart's decision to move him from seventh to 22nd place in the Japan race after he made a pass under yellow on the last lap. The driver acknowledged his overtaking manoeuvre was illegal, but said he should've received a one-spot penalty instead of being sent to the back of the field among those on the lead lap.

Castroneves said similar situations in the past prompted more lenient punishment from IndyCar.

"Why does the race director do something like this when it comes to Castroneves but acts differently when it comes to other drivers?" the Brazilian wrote in his column.

Barnhart defended his decision and said there had not been any similar incidents of passing under a local yellow on a road course. He said Castroneves was likely trying to draw a parallel to when the series reset the order under caution at Indy at the end of the last two races there, but said it wasn't the same situation.

"It's comparing apples and oranges," Barnhart said in an email to The Associated Press. "As far as I know, since we have been road racing this was the only example of a blatant disregard of a local yellow, combined with a direct order from race control, that we have ever experienced."

In his column, Castroneves praised the series and said he is proud to be part of it, but said something has to be done about Barnhart.

"A professional series like IndyCar shouldn't have to deal with inconsistent and amateurish decisions by a race director," Castroneves said. "I'm not asking (IndyCar) to fire Barnhart, not at all, but something has to be done. He either changes his concepts or the (series) has to change the professional in the area."

As the series' chief steward, Barnhart is responsible for nearly all of the racing decisions, including those dealing with driver and team punishment.

"It is sad to see one person being responsible for bringing down an entire series," Castroneves had said on Twitter after the race, also adding: "Making the famous (Paul Tracy's) words mine: Brian Barnhart is a circus clown!"

Castroneves' feud with Barnhart is not new. He had already been upset with the steward's decision to award a blocking penalty that cost the Brazilian a victory in last year's race in Edmonton. Castroneves was irate at the time and confronted officials after leaving his car.

"I've always tried to keep my cool, even after Edmonton," Castroneves said. "But this time it was enough. I wanted to publicly talk about what is happening."

The 36-year-old Castroneves, who gained fame after winning "Dancing with the Stars" reality TV competition, is having one of his worst years at IndyCar, sitting 10th in points after 16 of 18 races.

Barnhart also came under fire for his decision to revert the finishing order to what it had been before the crash-marred final restart at New Hampshire on Aug. 14. An IndyCar panel upheld Barnhart's ruling, though he admitted after the race that it was a mistake to restart on a damp track.

Following a dismal start in which he was involved in a series of accidents — many of them admittedly his fault — he is trailing points leader Will Power, his Penske teammate, by 240 points.

Castroneves has only three top-five finishes and has led only 34 laps, his worst performance in both categories since IndyCar took over the series in 2001. He has won at least one race every year since then, but is winless so far in 2011.

Castroneves, known for his fence-climbing victory celebrations, won the Indy 500 in 2001, 2002 and 2009 — the last one just months after being acquitted of tax evasion in a trial that could've ended his career.

His contract with Penske ends this year and he is negotiating to remain with the team.