Johnson dominates, but winds up second at Indy

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At several points during today’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson was making it look easy. But while he led a race-high 73 laps before finishing second after a slow final pit stop, the five-time Sprint Cup champion admitted that having the clean air while leading was critical to him doing as well as he did.

“It wasn’t the easiest [car] to drive,” Johnson told ESPN. “I was real tight in and loose off [the corner], and if I had clean air and the track to myself, I could get my mind right and run the laps I needed to. But in traffic, it was a little tougher than what I wanted.

“It was still an awesome race car. We just came up a little short today but we’ll load up and go to the next one and try to win next week.”

Johnson, along with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (who finished seventh), was seeking to become the first five-time winner of the ‘400.’ But while he was in front for extended stretches, he could never completely shake Ryan Newman, who showed that he had the pace to challenge for the win.

Then came Johnson’s four-tire stop with 27 laps remaining, which went long at 17 seconds and cost him the lead after Newman quickly pitted for just two tires on his own final stop. When both of them were back on the track after service, Newman had an initial gap of more than seven seconds over Johnson. The cushion was more than enough for Newman, who went on to win by more than two and a half seconds to the delight of his home fans.

“Ryan was fast all day long,” Johnson said. “I can’t take anything away from him. At the beginning of the race, he was pacing everything for a long time. Then he got mired back in traffic for a while there, and then toward the end of the race, he worked his way back to the front. He was plenty fast.”

Johnson led a strong day overall for the Hendrick camp, which also got a third-place effort from Kasey Kahne and a sixth-place run from Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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.”