Texas Update: Jeff Gordon leads at halfway

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Texas A&M fans in the stands for today’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway are likely pleased at what’s occurred so far in the race, as Jeff Gordon – bearing a special Aggie maroon paint scheme – was the halfway leader after passing Kyle Busch for the lead on Lap 153 of 334.

Busch was second at Lap 167, followed by Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano to round out the Top 5. Bowyer and Kyle Busch had started 25th and 29th, respectively.

With some spots of the track still damp, the cars rolled out and then ran the first ten laps of the race under “green/yellow” conditions to help track dryers get rid of those patches.

However, multiple cars were forced to pit under the green/yellow after the dryers caused their hood flaps to pop open. Keselowski seemed to have the most persistent problem as his team needed to tape down the sides of the entire hood on his car. Also affected, among others, were Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick and Matt Kenseth.

NASCAR allowed those that had to pit for the hood flap issue to retain their starting spots, and the race finally had its “true” green flag at Lap 11. But just two laps later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the wall in the tri-oval after running his left-side tires through the wet infield grass.

The episode also sent debris and mud into the nose and windshield of teammate Jimmie Johnson, who was trailing behind Junior at the time. Johnson pitted multiple times under the subsequent yellow for fixes but had to restart in 41st.

The defending Sprint Cup champion had more problems a short time later when he suffered a rear tire failure around Lap 42, forcing him to pit again. He’s now two laps off the pace.

Johnson’s tire problem occurred after Kevin Harvick suffered an engine failure that caused him to slow dramatically on Lap 28 while running second to pole sitter Tony Stewart. He was later ruled out of the race, joining Earnhardt on the sidelines.

“It’s frustrating,” Harvick said in a Chevrolet PR release. “I don’t know what else I can say. I didn’t get any indication that anything was going wrong. Hendrick engines are among the fastest and most reliable engines in the garage.

“We’ll take it back to the shop and figure out what happened. But that’s a disappointing end to the day.”

A competition caution came out at Lap 48 and Stewart held on to the lead after pit stops. But on Lap 77, Keselowski was able to catch and then pass Stewart in Turn 3 to take the lead.

Green flag stops started up around Lap 90, and when the cycle ended around ten laps later, Keselowski was holding a small lead over Denny Hamlin.

That edge slowly went away over the next 20 laps however, and on Lap 122, Hamlin jumped ahead of the “Blanco Deuce” to become the new leader; Jeff Gordon then passed Keselowski for second on Lap 128.

Another round of green stops began around Lap 135, and Hamlin pitted from the lead at Lap 142. But NASCAR tagged the Joe Gibbs Racing driver for being too fast on pit road, forcing him to serve a pass-through and hand the lead over to teammate Kyle Busch.

The penalty dropped Hamlin to 16th, although he was able to stay on the lead lap.

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.”