Short tracks have been good for Richard Petty Motorsports this year

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For the first time since the passing of his wife, Lynda, seven-time Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty has returned to the track this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

And with “The King” present once again, his “knights” at Richard Petty Motorsports – Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola – will both be pushing even harder to get good results in tonight’s Toyota Owners 400.

RPM has put up a strong effort so far this season on the short tracks, so the 3/4-mile Richmond bullring could play into their favor this evening.

In the most recent short track race last month at Martinsville, Ambrose earned a fifth-place finish and Almirola claimed eighth on the half-mile paperclip.

And earlier in March at the high-banked half-mile of Bristol, Almirola was part of a 1-2-3 sweep for Ford thanks to a third-place run while Ambrose wasn’t far behind in fifth.

Tonight, Ambrose and Almirola will start 11th and 15th on the grid respectively after rain washed out yesterday’s qualifying and had NASCAR set the field on speeds from the opening practice.

Going into the weekend, Almirola put down tire management as a key to doing well tonight at RIR.

“The fun thing about Richmond is that the tires fall off really bad,” he said in a release. “You get slipping and sliding around and forward drive is really important. It’s the one race track we go to that you wish you didn’t have 900 horsepower. Halfway through a tire run, we literally can spin the tires at the flag stand. That just becomes a huge challenge.

“…We’ve really hit on our short track setups this year and shown a lot of speed. If we can keep that up this weekend, we will be able to make a run at a win.”

As for Ambrose, he’ll have even more incentive to perform well as he’ll claim a $1 million donation for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals with a win tonight.

A runner-up performance will secure a $500,000 donation to CMNH, while a third-place result will secure a $250,000 donation.

“It would be the highlight of my career to be able to win this Saturday night for these kids,” Ambrose said about the challenge.

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.”