Jimmie Johnson tops shortened final practice at Indy (UPDATED)

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Four-time Brickyard 400 champion Jimmie Johnson has topped final practice for Sunday’s main event with a lap of 189.298 mph in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

The session was originally scheduled to run from 9-10:50 a.m. ET, but early morning rains led to a delay of almost an hour and a half for track drying around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A few minutes before 10:30 a.m. ET, NASCAR allowed the cars to hit the track for an abbreviated session that only ran until 11 a.m. ET due to today’s schedule of events – Nationwide Series qualifying at 12:10 p.m. ET, Sprint Cup Series qualifying at 2:10 p.m. ET, and the Nationwide Series’ Lilly Diabetes 250 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Johnson was among four drivers in the Top-5 during the session with Hendrick-powered engines. Stewart Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was third-quickest (188.363), while Jeff Gordon (187.856) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (187.758) of Hendrick Motorsports were P4 and P5 respectively.

But Team Penske also appears to have lots of horsepower on hand at Indy. Brad Keselowski, who won the most recent Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire and has won two of the last three races, was second-quickest in his No. 2 Ford at 188.494 mph.

One of Keselowski’s teammates also was fast in final practice. Verizon IndyCar Series driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who is making his second Sprint Cup start of the year, was sixth-quickest at 187.688 mph.

Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle made up Positions 7-10.

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.”