McMurray posts first Top-5 in almost two years

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In Jamie McMurray’s mind, pace hasn’t been the problem for his No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team, but rather, the final moments of races.

But on Sunday, that wasn’t a problem for the former Daytona 500 winner, who collected a runner-up finish behind winner Matt Kenseth at Kentucky – his first Top-5 result since finishing fifth in the 2011 night race at Bristol.

“The team has had a lot of fifth to tenth‑place cars, but since Richmond, it has been a disaster, and it’s not performance‑wise,” said McMurray after just his third Top-10 finish of the 2013 season. “We’ve been really quick. Had really good cars. It’s just the last ten percent of the race, something has happened each week.

“Michigan, blew a tire; Dover, something fell off a car and went through our radiator; Charlotte, the radiator broke; last weekend [at Sonoma], had a flat tire with, I don’t know, 30 laps to go or whatever. It’s just every week, it’s been something. So it’s nice to have some good luck.”

McMurray also moved into the Top 20 of the Sprint Cup standings (he’s now 19th), and while he’ll still have to win a race in order to put himself in legitimate contention for one of the two wild card spots in the Chase, Sunday showed that isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

As for whether or not he could’ve caught Kenseth – he had whittled the gap down to under a second at the checkered flag – McMurray believed that the supposed advantage of clean air for Kenseth wasn’t as big as some may have thought.

“The truth is that the tires were worth something,” said McMurray. “[Kenseth] was probably the second‑best car all day. It was just the right amount of laps left at the end. But at the end ‑‑ I ran with him for a good part of the day and I felt like there was times I was a little bit better than him and times he was a little bit better than me. But with no tires those last ten laps, he was quite a bit slower than what we were.

“I think tires were important; it was just the right amount of time at the end.”

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.”