Waltrip: Vickers and Martin’s part-time efforts made deal possible

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Michael Waltrip’s No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota has done an excellent job of carrying the flag for part-time driver lineups over the last two years, while Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. have raced full-time in the other two cars.

But as for the part-time No. 55, Waltrip was quick to give credit to both Brian Vickers, his new full-time driver for 2014, and Mark Martin, who helped lay the foundation with his setup work and mentorship to the team.

“We wouldn’t be sitting here if Mark Martin didn’t join the team,” Waltrip said at today’s introductory news conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. “I got to run a few races but we needed a guy for a few other ones and that was Brian Vickers. We loved Brian’s enthusiasm and how he wanted to race that car. It wasn’t about money for him then, and it’s not now. It’s abut him being a champion driver. Mark has given so much to our team.”

Vickers, too, paid tribute to Martin’s role.

“To have a mentorship with Mark was great. I only wish it would have happened 10 years ago when I was a rookie!” Vickers said. “I wish we didn’t have to wait so long! There’s still a lot to learn through the process.”

For Vickers, just being able to race again was half the battle after his blood clots diagnosed sidelined him in 2010.

“Yeah, when the doctor told me I’d never race again,” was Vickers’ answer to a question when asked if he thought his career was over. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs through the whole process. When I brought up racing, my bedside manner wasn’t the best. But fortunately we learned it was a fluke event. I can’t take credit for it. Just never give up.”

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.”