NASCAR: Menard, McMurray end seasons with top-fives

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Perhaps the unfortunate part of the last race of the season is that if you’re a driver who has a great race or great finish but isn’t in either win or championship contention, you get overlooked.

Witness Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray, who finished fourth and fifth to round out the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and finish the day the best two drivers who didn’t qualify for the Chase this year.

Menard qualified 16th but started from the rear of the field after being penalized for unapproved pre-race adjustments. But Menard was quickly into the top 25 by Lap 12, and methodically worked further forward the rest of the day despite having a cut rear tire. Menard’s fourth-place finish marked his fifth top-five and 13th top-10 finish of the season, both record highs, en route to a 21st-place finish in points in the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing entry.

“I’m proud of my guys and how hard they worked today to get us that fourth-place finish,” Menard said, via the team. “This year was good for us. We’ve made big gains and learned a lot. I’m looking forward to next year and what we can do as a team.”

McMurray started 19th and banked his seventh top-five finish of the year after another consistent run. He finished 18th in the points standings, one spot behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and 2014 top rookie Kyle Larson, but both drivers were better than their final standings would indicate. McMurray’s crew, led by crew chief Keith Rodden, brought the No. 1 team’s performance forward all season.

“We really struggled with the set up on our car tonight,” McMurray said, via the team. “Keith and all the guys did a great job making adjustments throughout the race and not giving up.  We took a gamble on a two tire stop in the closing laps and it worked out great for us.  The car really came to life and we were able to pull off a top-five finish to end our season.  I really want to thank all the guys on this team for everything this season and most importantly a huge thanks to all of our partners who have supported us throughout the year.”

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.”