Still searching: Castroneves finishes 14th, falls short of IndyCar title (VIDEO)

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Helio Castroneves put up as big a fight as he could muster in Saturday night’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway.

But the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion will have to wait another year to claim his first series title.

Starting from the pole position, Castroneves ran with the leaders throughout the night and was among the Top 5 when he prepared for his final pit stop with 34 laps to go.

But after going down on the apron, Castroneves slid up onto the track before coming down again to enter pit road. After his pit stop was completed, Race Control called him for a pit entry violation and forced him to serve a drive-through penalty.

And that was that. Castroneves ended up finishing 14th, and another championship bid went unsuccessful.

He winds up finishing 62 points behind Team Penske teammate Will Power, who won his first IndyCar crown with a ninth-place result.

“I was pushing extremely hard,” he told NBCSN afterwards. “I knew that the only way for us to get in front was through the pits and my in/outs seemed to be working really well except the last one, and I got a drive-through – my bad.”

As usual, however, Castroneves tried to stay positive after finishing runner-up in the series championship for the fourth time in his career. He congratulated Power on a well-deserved title before joking about how he hoped Power won’t raise the lodging rate for him in his house.

“At the end of the day, great season for Team Penske – No. 1, 2 and 4 for Juan Pablo [Montoya],” he said before adding with a laugh: “It’s another second.”

Down 50 points to Power at the start of Saturday’s MAV TV 500, Castroneves knew he had to go all-out in order to have a chance at claiming the Astor Cup.

After leading the opening few laps, he settled in among the Top 5 through the first half of the race. But following a wave of pit stops after the halfway point of the 250-lap event, Castroneves cycled all the way to the lead.

At that juncture, Power was running seventh and his championship lead over Castroneves was down to a single point.

But during a Lap 176 caution stemming from a Ryan Hunter-Reay solo spin, Castroneves was leapfrogged in the pits by eventual race winner Tony Kanaan and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon.

Then, after the restart on Lap 188, Power rocketed past him and both Ganassi drivers to take the lead himself while Castroneves dropped back to fifth.

It all led to the final pit stops of 2014. And it was in that sequence where Castroneves made his costly error.

Asked in the post-race press conference if this latest title near-miss was the most frustrating, Castroneves was reflective.

“It stings a little bit. But that’s what motivates me. It’s good to be frustrated with second,” he said.

For him, the quest to become a series champion continues.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).