Jimmie Johnson remembers early Brickyard struggles

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It seems hard to fathom now, but Jimmie Johnson wasn’t always a threat to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Before claiming his first of four Brickyard 400 wins in 2006, Johnson earned just one Top-10 in his first four Sprint Cup races there.

“There are certain tracks that are very difficult to get sorted out and to know how to lead your team, and for me, this was one of the toughest ones that I came to,” Johnson recalled this morning at IMS before today’s sole Cup practice on the 2.5-mile oval.

“It took me a long time to get it, and the light finally turned on in my head – maybe it was, ’04, ’05. Mid-race, I’m like, ‘Man, I haven’t driven this track long since practice opened.’ I set my car up wrong and led my team in the wrong direction, and then in the race, it really dawned on me.”

But now, the six-time Cup champion is an almost regular challenger for victory whenever NASCAR’s top series visits the world’s greatest race course.

In order to reach that point, Johnson said he had to go against what he calls his “natural tendencies” as a driver. And as he said today, he still has to remind himself to do that every time he races Indy.

“I had to make a conscious effort to drive differently and I’ve been playing that movie in my head coming here and getting ready for this weekend’s race,” he said. “There are tracks where your natural driving tendencies suit you, and [Indy] just isn’t one of them for me.

“I’ve got to really change my game coming here and I’ve been able to identify [what I need to do]. I think that’s half the battle, just to understand that – don’t do what you think you need to do, try to think in an opposite manner to find speed.”

Johnson may have to go about things differently at Indy, but it’s definitely been working for him. He has finished first or second in four of the last six Brickyards.

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.”