Kyle Larson “surprised” to be part of wild Fontana ending

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Lightning almost struck twice for Kyle Larson at Auto Club Speedway.

One day after he bested Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick for his inaugural Nationwide Series victory, the 21-year-old from Elk Grove, California found himself battling Busch once more on the final lap for what would have been his first Sprint Cup triumph.

The two shot to the front of the field on the final lap of a green-white-checkered finish in today’s Auto Club 400, but this time, Busch had enough to keep the sensational young gun at bay.

But even with the near-miss, Larson admitted he couldn’t have asked for more from the Fontana weekend, even if he said he was “surprised” to be in contention to win today in the first place.

“We were probably a 12th-place car for most of the day,” said Larson after his runner-up performance. “We struggled with our Target Chevy being too loose on exit but still too tight in the center. We tightened the exit up and got way too tight in the center.

“My guys worked really hard all day long to find that right balance, and right there on the last pit stop, we were able to make good enough adjustments where we could go hard for a couple laps.”

Larson lined up ninth after pitting under yellow prior to the green-white-checkered finish. This initially worried him as he figured to be on the bottom line, which in his eyes had not been the quickest line on restarts heading to Turn 1.

But somehow, Larson was able to carve his way through traffic and find his way to Kyle Busch, who led him past Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart on the last lap.

“I came out in fourth there, I think, and then got to second off Turn 2 the next lap, and thought I might have a shot at Kyle depending on where he’d go into Turn 3, but he was good enough to keep it on the bottom and stay ahead of me,” he said. “But we’ll take a second.”

Able to dodge the tire problems that plagued some of the other teams during today’s race (“I think it was a little bit of camber issues or something,” he surmised), Larson was able to get to crunch time and then once again showcase his talent for getting up on the wheel.

It was another impressive display that should have NASCAR fans thinking about what he can do in the future as he gains more seasoning.

“[It was] a long race and definitely didn’t expect to run second, so I’ll take it and head back to North Carolina with a smile on my face,” he said.

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.”