End of multiple eras tonight at Homestead-Miami

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As noted earlier this week by my colleague, Tony DiZinno, there were multiple drivers in today’s Ford Ecoboost 400 that are set to jump to new squads in 2014 or may have just put the final period on their Sprint Cup careers a few hours ago.

We’ve already talked tonight about Kevin Harvick (who is leaving Richard Childress Racing and going to Stewart-Haas Racing), so let’s take a look at how the rest of these particular competitors fared at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the 2013 season finale.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex (pictured) completed his run with Michael Waltrip Racing nicely, posting a solid fourth-place finish and bringing a tough autumn for himself to a nice conclusion. Furniture Row Racing and its No. 78 car now beckon for the New Jersey native, but he made sure to thank his MWR team for supporting him over the last four seasons.

“I just can’t thank all these guys enough – [team owners] Michael [Waltrip] and Rob [Kauffman] and [sponsor] NAPA and Toyota and everybody that has made it possible the last four years to have such a good time…,” he said. “All the things we did together were special. [I’m] going to miss these guys and hopefully see them around a lot next year.”

Ryan Newman

Chase contender Newman finished 17th in his final effort for Stewart-Haas Racing before he takes over the No. 31 at Richard Childress Racing next year. He led the three-car SHR contingent at Homestead this evening in an altogether quiet effort.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya, a Miami-area resident, finished off his seven-year stay in Sprint Cup with an 18th-place performance on his home track that wasn’t anything particularly special. But there won’t be much time to ponder the end of his stock car career (for now), as he’ll be preparing for his IndyCar homecoming with Team Penske.

His future boss, Penske Racing’s Tim Cindric, has given Montoya a helpful reminder this evening:

Mark Martin

Time will tell if Sunday was truly the end for Martin, who has not dropped the R-word – retirement – but is not planning to compete next season. The Arkansas native, who has won 40 Sprint Cup races since his Cup career began all the way back in 1981, finished 19th for Stewart-Haas at Homestead.

Beloved just about universally by fellow racers and fans alike, Martin – the greatest driver to never win a Cup championship – will be missed. On Twitter this evening, he saluted those that have followed him over the years:

Kurt Busch

Busch helped the single-car Furniture Row team become a key player in the sport after making the Chase this year. In return, the team gave Busch a chance to rehabilitate his career.

So while Busch finished a sub-par 21st in his final race with FRR before he goes to Stewart-Haas, “the Outlaw” said he would cherish his time with the Denver-based squad.

“They gave everything they had to give and you can’t ask for anything more,” he said. “I made a lot of friends with this Furniture Row team and will always look back at this season with a special fondness.”

Jeff Burton

Burton, who has yet to announce his 2014 plans, finished 23rd in his last run with the No. 31 RCR Chevy. Reading the tea leaves, you’d think Burton will be back next year in a part-time capacity. The question is: Where?

Ken Schrader

Short-track legend Schrader capped off his Cup career with a 34th-place finish tonight.The 58-year-old had been a part-timer for several seasons. Final stat line in Cup: 4 wins, 64 Top-5s, 184 Top-10s in 763 starts.

Dave Blaney

With Michael Annett set to replace him in the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing machine, Blaney has indicated that he may spend 2014 doing more sprint car racing while pulling for his son, Ryan, as he rises up the NASCAR ranks. Blaney finished 38th.

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

All photos: IndyCar
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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.”

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