So long, Avenger: Dodge Dart to make highly-anticipated NHRA Pro Stock debut at this weekend’s Gatornationals

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After back-to-back Pro Stock championships in 2012 and 2013, a Mopar-record 27 national event wins and 28 No. 1 qualifying positions, the Dodge Avenger is on its way out in the NHRA Pro Stock class.

Two of the class’s top teams, five-time and defending PS champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. and former PS champ Allen Johnson will debut brand new HEMI-powered 2014 Dodge Darts in this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

While Dodge as a company dropped out of NASCAR after the 2012 season, the company and its Mopar brand is still very strong in the two-lane blacktop series, with several Charger R/Ts in Funny Car and Dodge Challengers in the Sportsman class.

With the Dart, Chrysler Group LLC worked hand-in-hand with Johnson, Coughlin and other Pro Stock drivers to develop a state-of-the-art ride that promises to be as competitive – if not more so – than the four-door Avenger, which became one of the most competitive rides on the NHRA PS circuit during its tenure.

While Johnson and Coughlin will debut their new cars this weekend, other drivers will join the Dart club in the coming races, including Vieri Gaines (also known as V. Gaines), who is closing in on the completion of his new ride.

“We are very excited to launch the Dodge Dart, and along with our Mopar fans, to see what Allen (Johnson) and Jeg (Coughlin Jr.) can accomplish with this new vehicle as they vie for a third championship in the high-performance and ultra-competitive Pro Stock division,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group’s service, parts and customer-care brand. “The new Dart is a testament of how Mopar uses the motorsports program as a technological proving ground with Chrysler’s own leading-edge technology and production processes. We have great expectations for its on-track success.”

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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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.”