Former Marine, Iraq War vet honored this weekend as namesake of Brickyard 400

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We may have been calling this weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by its original handle of the Brickyard 400, but indeed, that’s not the official name of this year’s running.

The race will go down as the “Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com.” I’ll leave it up to you on whether or not that somewhat cumbersome title will have you buying Canadian whiskey or country music albums.

But there’s one part of the name that’s fully exempt from any sort of snark, and that’s the part involving Deeds, 35, of Erlanger, Kentucky – a former Marine gunnery sergeant who won Crown Royal’s “Your Hero’s Name Here” competition after his wife, April, nominated him for the honor.

Deeds, a longtime NASCAR fan who medically retired from the Corps in 2011, has proven his valor in and out of uniform. In 2005, while serving in Iraq, he found an improvised explosive device (IED) as he was setting up a vehicle checkpoint. With the lives of fellow Marines on the line, he exposed himself to the device in order to save them. He has had many surgeries as a result of the blast but received multiple military accolades for his courage, including a Purple Heart.

Then in 2008, while on a family vacation, Deeds risked his life again to help save three people that got caught in a rip tide off the coast of North Carolina. According to Deeds himself, the harrowing episode came just five weeks after he had gone under the knife for abdominal surgery.

This weekend at Indy, Deeds will enjoy a VIP race experience with many perks: Meet-and-greets with the drivers, participation in Sunday’s post-race trophy ceremony, and kissing the famous Yard of Bricks with the winning team.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen,” Deeds said earlier this week to USA Today. “To give an everyday person the naming rights to one of the biggest races that NASCAR has at one of the most, it not the most, historic track in the world, is amazing.”

This is the second year that Crown Royal has held the “Your Hero’s Name Here” competition in conjunction with the Brickyard 400. Last year’s Cup race at Indy honored Alabama firefighter Curtiss Shaver.

As for who Deeds would like to see triumph on Sunday, he told USA Today that while he likes Kevin Harvick’s “passion for the sport” and Kurt Busch for his extensive work with the military, he thinks his favorite driver on Sunday “will be whoever wins the race.”

Here’s hoping he has a fantastic weekend at the world’s greatest racecourse.

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

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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.”