Kurt Busch tops first Saturday practice at Phoenix

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Kurt Busch led the first of two Saturday practice sessions at the Phoenix International Raceway, logging a lap of 26.458 seconds (136.065 mph) in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet.

Busch, who will start eighth in Sunday’s Advocare 500 and is trying to stay within the Top 10 of the Sprint Cup championship, told Fox Sports that he was pleased with the No. 78’s balance but noted that his team will have to keep on top of the changing track conditions.

“Going out at 9:30 a.m. [MT] in the morning, it’s so cool and it seems to camouflage a lot of the ill handling in a car,” he said. “So now, we just kind of keep an open mind.

“There’s going to be a two-hour break and then we’re gonna have a lot more rubber and heat in the track, so we’ll see how the car changes and make [set-up] changes from there.”

Second in the session was Kevin Harvick, a three-time winner at PIR, at 135.491 mph in the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Chase leader and pole sitter Jimmie Johnson was third-fastest (135.481 mph), followed by Jeff Gordon in fourth (135.394 mph) and Martin Truex Jr. in fifth (135.384 mph).

Johnson’s rival for the championship, Matt Kenseth, was ninth-fastest (135.074 mph).

In regards to best consecutive 10-lap averages, Johnson had the fastest set with his first 10 circuits around PIR averaging 134.768 mph. Harvick, Busch, Mark Martin and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the Top 5 on that chart.

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.”