Allmendinger, McDowell lead Nationwide practices at Mid-Ohio

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The first public times for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course road course were revealed after the two practice sessions held Thursday for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200.

Three of the top five in Practice 2, where the fastest nine lap times of the day were set, have a substantial amount of road course experience and are victory contenders for the weekend. Road America winner AJ Allmendinger clocked in fastest at 95.550 mph (1:25.074) in the No. 22 Discount Tires Ford for Penske Racing, with Owen Kelly third in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports and Michael McDowell (pictured), who led Practice 1, in fourth in the No. 18 K-Love Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Parker Kligerman, in the No. 77 Bandit Choppers KBM Toyota, was an impressive second and Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top five in the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Ford for Penske Racing.

Times should decrease as drivers get more comfortable with the braking zones and as the track rubbers in over the weekend. In the interim, here’s a look at the fastest times set by the five series in action at the track two weeks ago, the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200. The Nationwide Series runs much heavier cars than do these others, but it’s interesting to note where they stack up.

  • IndyCar: Pole: Ryan Hunter-Reay, 124.385 mph (1:05.3519)
  • Indy Lights: Pole: Gabby Chaves, 110.851 mph (1:13.3306)
  • Pro Mazda: Fastest Race Lap: Diego Ferreira, 1:20.216, Race 2 (Qualifying held in the rain)
  • USF2000: Pole: Neil Alberico, 100.555 mph (1:20.839)
  • Pirelli World Challenge: GT Pole: Alex Figge, 99.325 mph (1:21.840)

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.”