Pocono Update: Stewart-Haas trio leading at halfway

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Tony Stewart currently leads a 1-2-3 run for Stewart-Haas Racing at the halfway point of today’s Pocono 400 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono Raceway.

Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick all jumped leader Brad Keselowski off a restart at Lap 76 before a caution came out for a Dave Blaney spin at Lap 80.

Keselowski leaped to the front on the opening lap after starting third behind the front row of Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch. However, Keselowski made contact with Hamlin on the way to P1, which made the Joe Gibbs Racing driver unhappy.

While Hamlin fumed, Keselowski held the lead through the first round of pit stops that began at Lap 25. After the cycle ended, the first caution of the day on Lap 31 came out – not for a garbage bag that was spotted floating around the frontstretch in the opening laps, but for a small grass fire on the inside of Turn 3.

The field took the restart at Lap 36 with Keselowski able to keep the lead and Kevin Harvick passing Jeff Gordon for second place.

Four laps later, Sprint Cup points leader Matt Kenseth sustained serious front-end damage after making contact with Jamie McMurray. After falling to the rear of the field, Keselowski lapped him shortly after Lap 50.

Harvick began the second cycle of pit stops with a stop on Lap 56 from second place, while Keselowski came in for service at Lap 57 along with the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But a piece of debris in Turn 3 brought out the caution at Lap 60 in the middle of those stops (Kyle Busch earned the free pass).  Some drivers – including Hamlin and Carl Edwards – had not yet pitted under green and did so during the yellow.

Meanwhile, Kenseth’s JGR team went to work trying to fix his wounded Toyota:

Keselowski managed to hold off a charge from Harvick on the Lap 65 restart, and the two built up a gap between themselves and third-place Kurt Busch. That gap was erased on Lap 71 when J.J. Yeley had something fall from the back of his car, bringing out the caution again.

That brought a solid amount of the field to the pits, led by Jimmie Johnson. Unfortunately for him, he made contact with Marcos Ambrose while coming out from his two-tire stop and was spun around.

Johnson, who had worked his way up into the Top 5, took right-front damage in the incident and had to back into his pit stall for repairs.

The front four – Keselowski, Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Tony Stewart – stayed out and on the restart at Lap 76, Keselowski was swallowed up by the three Stewart-Haas Racing cars.

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.”