NASCAR not just losing Hamlin, but his buzz

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Denny Hamlin’s being out of action for at least six weeks is a greater loss than just his driving ability. Hamlin’s been in the eye of the media storm since before the green flag even dropped at this year’s Daytona 500.

Hamlin told The Dan Patrick Show on the eve of Daytona that Danica Patrick, had, in fact, garnered too much media attention given her results. But the attention she brought to the series was a net positive.

After Daytona, when Patrick won the pole and finished eighth, Hamlin and his now former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano began their budding rivalry. Hamlin wasn’t pleased with Logano’s moving around the track, not holding his line, in his Penske Racing debut.

A tweet addressed to Brad Keselowski from Hamlin read, “sorry I couldn’t get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time.” Clint Bowyer responded momentarily saying “2nd that,” while Logano later responded, “I remember when you were MY genius teammate. #LoveYouMeanIt.”

The year of Hamlin’s opinions, barely controversial although they were viewed that way in NASCAR’s eyes, continued after Phoenix when he said the series’ new Generation 6 cars had some ways to go to match the old cars in competitive terms. Hamlin was fined $25,000 by NASCAR for comments detrimental to the sport.

There was Bristol, where Hamlin spun Logano as Logano chased Jeff Gordon for the lead.

Finally, there’s this latest course of action where his contact with Logano has left him sidelined with a broken vertebrae. It’s the second straight year where an injury has taken a major star out of the sport (Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out two races after suffering a concussion incurred at Talladega).

It’s also, in an amazing stat reported by the Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass, the first time in 21 years of JGR in NASCAR that a driver has been forced out due to injury. In 2011, Kyle Busch was suspended for the fall Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Texas, and Michael McDowell subbed for him in the latter event.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”