Jimmie Johnson on Richmond: “I need to figure this place out”

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With three wins on the season, Jimmie Johnson need not worry about the free-for-all that’s to ensue for the final two Chase spots on Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway

But while he says that he’s relaxed going into the Federated Auto Parts 400, he’s particularly focused on trying to recapture his previous form at RIR.

Johnson has won three times on the 3/4-mile oval, including a sweep of the spring and fall events in 2007. But he has not earned a Top-10 result at this track since he finished sixth in the 2012 spring event.

“I would love to win; I’d love to be racing for the win,” said Johnson, who finished 32nd at RIR this past April thanks in part to late-race tire issues. “But this track has been really tough on us for whatever reason. So, I feel like I have much less pressure on myself due to the Chase-side. But a lot more pressure on myself from the personal side. I need to figure this place out.

“There was a point in time when I was competitive here. But of late, this has been one of our worst tracks. So, from my standpoint and the pressure I’m putting on myself, there’s more pressure here than you would ever expect because I just hate having these huge weak spots in the schedule and at certain race tracks.”

Still, Johnson and the 48 camp appear to have recovered from their mid-season slump with back-to-back Top 5s in the last two races at Atlanta and Bristol (both fourths).

The only question is how Johnson will be seeded for the Chase, where he’ll be gunning for a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championshi.

However, Johnson says he’s not feeling the pressure of pulling even with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr., and won’t feel it until it’s pretty much staring him in the face.

“Right now, it’s an opportunity to win this year’s championship,” he explained. “And it’s kind of been that way for me over the years, even when we had that consecutive streak going [2006-2010]. I didn’t feel the pressure of that streak, and I don’t think I’ll feel the pressure to try to tie our two greats in our sport until it’s right there in front of me.

“Right now, it’s just the championship. If I get to Homestead and have a chance and I’m one of the four – as much as I want to push that out of my mind that I’m racing for history, it will be there and I won’t be able to hide from it at that point.”

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.”