Unheralded rookie Tommy Joe Martins fastest in second Nationwide practice at ‘Dega; Jeffrey Earnhardt second-fast

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Nationwide Series rookie Tommy Joe Martins will have one heck of a story to tell his children and grandchildren one day.

The Como, Miss., native, who drives for his family’s Martins Motorsports, will be able to regale his heirs with the tale of how for at least one practice session, he was the fastest NNS driver at one of the most challenging tracks there is, Talladega SuperSpeedway.

Martins covered the 2.66-mile track, NASCAR’s largest oval, at a field-best 185.891 mph, the fastest speed in the second of Thursday’s two Nationwide Series practice sessions for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312.

Another surprise at second-fastest was Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt, who was just .014 behind Martins at 185.877 mph.

Third-fastest was Kyle Larson (185.823 mph), followed by Trevor Bayne (185.226), who was fastest in Thursday’s first practice session (and at more than 5 mph faster at 190.378 mph).

Fifth-fastest was Brendan Gaughan (185.136), while sixth- through 10th-fastest were Ryan Sieg (185.122), Brian Scott (185.097), John Wes Townley (184.455), Dakoda Armstrong (184.242) and Josh Wise (183.561).

One of the other big surprises – actually, more of a shock, given he’s already won two NNS races this season – was series points leader Chase Elliott, who was just 26th-fastest at just 175.748 mph. In the earlier afternoon practice session, Elliott was 19th-fastest at 184.573 mph.

Only 29 drivers took to the track for the latter afternoon practice (compared to 36 drivers who practiced in the earlier afternoon session).

Thus far this season, Martins has qualified and raced in five of the first eight NNS races, with his best finish being 30th three weeks ago at Darlington. It was also the only race he’s finished this season, albeit six laps behind the leaders.

Martins, who is ranked 30th in the NNS standings coming into Saturday’s race, has recorded DNFs in the four other races he’s competed in this season.

He did not enter the season-opening event at Daytona and withdrew from both Phoenix and Bristol.

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

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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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.”