NBCSN crew make their picks for Indy 500 (VIDEO)

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The “Andretti Curse” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn’t stopping the NBC Sports Network team from making Marco Andretti (pictured) their popular choice to win the 97th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday afternoon.

Andretti will start on the outside of the front row and has utilized a race-first mentality in preparing for this year’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing, unlike last year where he put the bulk of his focus in qualifying. He led 59 laps last year at Indy but constantly had to battle an ill-handling car in the race and crashed out late in the running.

“People said ‘You had a great race car last year,’ but I hated my race car last year even though we led the most laps,” said Andretti on Thursday. “We were hanging on, and that’s why I was so animated on the radio. I knew that crash was coming. I was really hanging on to it, so this year we had a totally different approach.

“Last year, we got suckered in because for me, it was the first time I was able to go for the pole and we fixated on that. This year is the best-case scenario because we didn’t even focus on qualifying and I’m on the front row. And I have a heck of a race car.”

But while Andretti was the most popular choice amongst the NBCSN team on Carb Day (garnering the votes of both Robin Miller and Kevin Lee), he wasn’t an unanimous choice. Marty Snider picked Penske rookie A.J. Allmendinger for the win, while Wally Dallenbach gave James Hinchcliffe his nod. Jan Beekhuis thinks Helio Castroneves can become the first foreign-born four-time winner of the “500,” and Bob Jenkins, who returned to television for NBCSN’s coverage of today’s festivities, is going with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

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.”