Nationwide Series has spotlight to itself tonight at Kentucky

2 Comments

The ongoing battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship visits the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway tonight for the sixth and final stand-alone event of the 2013 NNS calendar.

With the Sprint Cup regulars all in New Hampshire, the main focus will be on Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon, who are first and second in the NNS standings respectively, separated by 17 points.

Both have three NNS starts at Kentucky, but Dillon has the stronger record with two wins and a sixth place result earlier this year. However, Hornish hasn’t been a backmarker, either, with results of sixth, second and ninth in his three runs at the facility outside Cincinnati.

With the season winding down, a victory would be critical for either driver. But it might be even more important for the likes of Regan Smith (-36 points) and Elliott Sadler (-44 points), who need to start cutting into their deficits to Hornish and Dillon if they want to stand a chance at the NNS crown.

Sadler, in particular, took a major hit last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway when he was tagged from behind; the incident helped relegate him to a 19th-place finish, and more importantly, caused him to lose 16 points to Hornish.

That has forced Sadler and his team to take a more aggressive tack going forward.

“[Hornish and Dillon] are probably going to play off each other a lot I think in the next couple weeks…When one pits, I think you’ll see the other one pit and they’ll be racing kind of each other,” Sadler explained Friday at Kentucky.

“So what we have to do is we do the opposite. If they take four [tires], we need to take two. If they’re going to be conservative on gas, maybe we need to try to stretch it on gas, because we’re in a little bit different situation than they’re in.”

Meanwhile, Hornish will be seeking a more balanced strategy tonight in Kentucky.

“We still have a little room for improvement in terms of getting the car where we need it to be at the end of the race, so we can go after the win,” Hornish said in a Penske Racing statement.

“We have to be smart and yet still have the tempered aggression that it takes to win. The points battle is so close that we have to be mindful of whom we are racing. We’ve come a long way, but a lot can happen over the next seven races.”

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
Leave a comment

You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski