Jeff Gordon’s turnaround impressive since last year’s Watkins Glen crash

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Rewind to last year’s Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International. Jeff Gordon entered the afternoon winless in 2013 but in the Top 10 of the Sprint Cup standings.

But on Lap 14, Gordon bounced off the outside barrier in the esses before hitting the inside barrier on the backstretch.

The crash relegated him to a 36th place finish, knocked him out of the Top 10 in points, and helped keep him out of that year’s Chase until NASCAR put him into the postseason after the manipulation incident in the final regular season race at Richmond.

However, since that wreck, Gordon has been able to find the consistency necessary to finally capture the fifth Sprint Cup title that has eluded him for more than a decade.

In the remaining 14 races of the 2013 season, Gordon earned a win at Martinsville, three Top-5s and eight Top-10s. Barring his 38th-place finish at Texas in November, he finished no worse than 17th (Michigan) in that stretch and the Martinsville win put him in title contention with three races to go – until his crash at Texas took him out of it.

Gordon’s late-season run showed that a fifth championship was still a possibility, and in 2014, he’s made sure that possibility has grown larger with an additional two wins (Kansas and the Brickyard 400), seven Top-5s, and 15 Top-10s in 21 races.

Altogether, that’s three wins, ten Top-5s, 23 Top-10s and a strong average finish of 9.7 in the 35 races since his accident one year ago at the Glen.

This year, Gordon is comfortably locked into the Chase. He’s been the Sprint Cup championship leader since Pocono in June and has been either first or second in the championship since Texas in April.

And back problems aside, Gordon’s having fun running as competitively as he has been.

This afternoon during Sprint Cup qualifying at the Glen, he immediately shouted “Hell yeah, boys! Whoooo!” after he popped off the lap that would earn him the pole for tomorrow’s Cheez-It 355.

The difference between where he was at this time last year and right now is really remarkable.

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.”